Out Of Your Comfort Zone?

I know what makes me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s possible to avoid things outside of my comfort zone; I’m self-employed so I have a certain degree of control about the kind of work I do, or the conditions I work in. Sometimes stepping out of my comfort zone is necessary though. For those situations I’ve had to figure out how I can best proceed; I’ve figured out how I can make the most of those situations even thought they’re not comfortable.

In some cases, like public speaking, I’ve even come to like something that was previously way out of my comfort zone!

It’s useful to figure out your comfort zones so you can work well, and especially useful for PGRs nearing the end of the PhD process. If the thought of the viva makes you feel uncomfortable then I think the best thing you can do is stretch yourself in advance. Stretch by presenting, by discussing, by working to build your confidence. Find more ways to practise, even small ways to get more experience and learn what you can do to make the situation better, more comfortable. Like me, you might even find a way to make the process more enjoyable for you.

Perhaps your viva will be closer to your comfort zone than you expect.

Stressors

It’s not nice to feel stressed or anxious. Trying to unpick why you feel that way can sometimes feel like a difficult task too. What if, by paying attention to it, you end up feeling even more stressed? I know that’s been the case for me in the past. I’ll find something stressful, focus on it, and then find myself unable to take that focus away. What happens? More stress!

I think, though, part of the problem for me has always been to focus on thinking it through. Reflection is good, but it only becomes useful if it leads to action.

There are lots of reasons you could feel stressed about the viva, and it is good to unpick why you might feel that way. But then you have to do something about it.

Worried you’ll forget something? Why? I feel I have a poor memory! OK, what could you do about it? Read my thesis, make some summaries.

Nervous about getting questions about your contribution? Why? What if my examiners are critical?! OK, what could you do about it? Explore the value of what I’ve found through my research.

Concerned about explaining your results? Why? They’re tricky! OK, what could you do about it? Have a mock viva and prompt supervisor to ask questions about that chapter.

It’s not nice to feel stressed or nervous, but those feelings don’t tend to just go away by themselves. Ask yourself why you feel that way, then think about what you could do to improve things. Then do it. Keep doing it. You might not be able to get rid of every stressful thought, but you’ll do something to build your confidence and talent for the viva.

White Knuckle

I really don’t like rollercoasters. I’ve been on two, hated them both, and don’t intend to go on any more. They’re just not for me, but if you’ve never been on one you should give one a go if you can.

Rollercoasters can be scary, but you have total control about how and when you go on. No-one is ever surprised to find themselves on a rollercoaster. And having done one, you don’t have to do another. You might hate it, just like me, or you might love it. It’ll spin you around either way, and then it’s over. In some ways, the anticipation – the thought of simply being on a rollercoaster – might be more stressful than the ride itself.

The viva can feel like a rollercoaster for some candidates.

Tension grows as you prepare, going higher and higher until the day and then zoooooom! It’s all over almost as soon as you’ve started, you don’t remember every part and you leave slightly stunned. “Wh-? Did that just happen?!”

And for some people the anticipation of the viva might end up being more stressful than the viva itself.