Posted by: mattamorphosis | January 6, 2012

Being The Change I Wish To See In The World (Starting Within Me)

My name is Matt and I am a PhD student in a research-intensive department. Most of my life I have been one of those over-achiever teacher’s pet types and was always very disciplined in my my pursuit of various goals ranging from getting A’s in school to playing competitive organized basketball. In my first couple years of graduate school, the intensity with which I operated increased exponentially. I was awake by 7am and would work until 2am or later at least 5 days per week. Usually, my dinner break consisted of running to a dining hall on campus and then going to the gym to lift weights, do some cardio, and play intramural basketball (and eventually, inner-tube water polo). On weekends, I would usually get up and work in the library / lab from 10am until 3pm and then go to the gym for a couple hours. I would go out some nights of the weekend some of the time.

At this strenuous pace, I configured a lab replete with undergraduate research assistants, experiment schedules, and an inter-university research consortium to expand the research participant pool tenfold. In my first semester, I ran two experiments. By my sixth and final semester, I was running an average of ten experiments per semester. Some did not work, but many, many of them did. I found myself underwater with my manuscript writing, but slowly worked my way through most of those data and published more than a dozen papers before heading to my doctoral program. In short, I accomplished more than any other student my Master’s degree adviser ever had. In my last year in the program, I actually published more papers than any of the professors in the R-02 university other than my direct mentor. In doing so, I won many awards and was accepted into what is one of the top graduate psychology programs in the country.

I entered this program in 2009 and was a bit intimidated, as I had previously admired not just the great professors in the department, but also many of the students I had previously mistaken as professors at conferences. I also did not feel particularly welcomed by many of the students (I later learned that, upon seeing my vita and before ever meeting me, some of them had aimed to “knock me down a peg”). And, the girl I had been dating on and off for the previous three and a half years dumped me… the week after my birthday. With all this, I found myself dealing with major depression. I went to therapist and a psychiatrist, and after refusing medication for much of my earlier adult life, I acquiesced to my doctor’s suggestion. It took about two months to properly titrate the medication / dosage. I started to feel better in mid-November 2009. However, I never reestablished my productivity.

I don’t know that I want to work the way I used to, but I do feel the need to become more productive than I currently am (which, is productive enough for me to be progressing through my degree and get a decent job upon its completion). So, I want re-build myself so that I can be more productive, yet still lead a healthy lifestyle. Part of my inspiration for creating this blog and devising a set of resolutions came from reading Gretchen Rubin’s excellent book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. In that book, Rubin, a brilliant and highly-motivated former clerk of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, tries to apply psychological research on promoting well-being and happiness to improve her life by making small changes to daily routine. (see AJ Jacobs’ Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection for a similar book with a greater emphasis on promoting physical well-being — for an 8-minute summary of this book, you can watch the talk he gave at TEDMED entitled “How healthy living nearly killed me”)

As a scientist, I like things to be evidence-based. Thus, everything I do in my pursuit of a better, happier, healthier me will have some evidentiary basis. (in fact, this blog is entirely publicly viewable and this makes me publicly accountable for everything I resolve to achieve, for experimental evidence of this check out Jen Lerner and Phil Tetlock’s research, and Bob Cialdini and colleagues’ research)


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