I mentioned in my previous post, "How do you write?", as well as several times before, that I once received advice that maintining a positive daily attitude is crucial to being a productive writer. In brief, the suggestion was that more positive your attitude is, the more likely it is that you will want to put in all the time and effort it takes to be productive. I then shared one method for fomenting and maintaining such an attitude: a daily free-write of 3-5 pages, without editing, before one moves on to other things.
Today, I'd like to dwell a bit more on the broader issue of maintaining a good attitude and personal well-being, and their relationship to work. Although my experience is anecdotal at best, one think that has really struck me the past several years is just how strongly tied together a good attitude, personal well-being, and productivity seem to be (at least in my case). On the whole, it seems to me that the happier I've been, the more productive I've been, and the better the results I've received as a teacher and researcher. On the whole, my experience has been very simple: the better, the more positive I feel, the more effort I put into my work, and the easier things seem to be. When things aren't going so well -- when I'm frustrated, for instance -- I just seem to have a vastly more difficult time (A) solving philosophical problems, (B) getting things written, (C) putting good class lectures together, and (D) performing well in class.
In short, I've found that maintaining a really good attitude -- and overall personal well-being -- is crucial for me. I just seem to perform better all around when I'm enjoying life, and perform worse when I'm not. While I realize this may not be true for everyone (people like Wittgenstein and Nietzsche immediately come to mind as counterexamples!), I suspect that most people do better work when they are a positive frame of mind. The question then is: how does one do it? What steps can one take to promote a good frame of mind and overall well-being as an academic?
I do not, of course, have all the answers here. Everyone is different. But allow me to offer a few suggestions. The single best piece of advice I think I ever received on this score came, funnily enough, from my mother. The advice was simple: be good to yourself. I know it sounds trite off hand, but I've found just reminding oneself of it works wonders. As difficult as things may be -- whether you are struggling with your dissertation or having a nightmarish season on the job market -- be good to yourself. Don't shut yourself up in your room and ruminate. Have beers with friends, go to sporting events, go on daily runs with your dog, cook dinner with your partner -- whatever. Be good to yourself. You will thank yourself later. ;)
Another thing I think I've learned on the same score is that it is important to take an occasional rest. Look, I'm a damn workaholic. I expect many of you are, too. There are always so many things to do: lectures, conference, publications, etc. But sometimes, I think, you need to take a break. Every several months, after working my tail to the bone, I just get this feeling like I need to take a short break. This happened to me last week (on my Spring Break). The previous Friday, when break commenced, I felt excited to...spend my spring break revising my book manuscript. Then, however, when Monday came around (I don't work on weekends), I just felt tired. I realized that I was exhausted by the last several months of hard work. I felt in my bones that I needed a break, and I let myself have it. Truth be told, I felt uneasy about it for a part of the time (you workaholics will know what I'm talking about!). But still, I did not give into my unease. I realized I was tired, and so I forced myself to take the week off. As spring break went further along, it really dawned on me just how much I needed it. I literally felt like I was recharging my batteries. It was good. And now that I'm back to work, I feel great. So, I say, if you feel like you need a break, try to find the time to take one. We all need to recharge from time to time.
Or so say I. What say you, my fellow Cocooners? What strategies have you found help you to maintain a positive, productive mood and well-being?