One of the things my yoga teachers are constantly reminding us about is that using supports is not a sign of weakness. Sometimes, in order to get the benefit of a pose, you need to use a block or a strap or modify the pose in some way.
We are not all the same biologically, psychologically, or any other way. Sometimes as you practice, your practice shifts something and you can do a pose without the support but some people will always need supports. You are just built that way.
When I go into yoga class I pick up a couple of blocks, a strap, a blanket, a bolster and anything else I know I might need.
When you look at the successful academics around you, are you assuming that they don’t use any supports?
When I was in my first year of graduate school I felt like I shouldn’t need deadlines to drive my work any more. I was getting papers in on time but I wasn’t really working on them until the deadline was looming.
I mentioned this to a very experienced professor in the department. She just brushed it off saying something like “Oh, I never write anything until the editor is bugging me for the piece.” Hearing that lifted a huge weight from me.
When I had my first meeting with my PhD supervisor and she asked me what she could do to support me, I told her about the deadlines and she agreed to set deadlines for me. No shame. No weirdness. Every time we met, we would set a date for our next meeting and agree what I would have done by then. Simple.
Of course once you finish the PhD, you don’t have a supervisor to do that for you any more (and not everyone has that kind of supervisor as a doctoral candidate either). That doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to get the support you need to do your best work.
Whatever you do, don’t tell yourself that you are a grown-up now and shouldn’t need the support. You can do yourself an injury that way.
What do you need?
What works for me, or for your colleague, may not work for you. You may need to experiment a bit to find out what you really need and what works for you.
Ask seriously. Write down what comes up.
Poke at some of the things that come up to get really clear on the need underlying them. Sometimes we think we need one thing but there are actually several ways to get the underlying need met. Try to get to the underlying need so you can be flexible about how to meet it.
Take each need, one at a time, and brainstorm all the possible ways you could meet that need. Do not censor yourself. Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down everything that comes up.
Things friends and colleagues do. Things people have suggested. Stuff that seems crazy but just might work. Superheros and fairy godmothers can definitely go on the list.
Pick one thing that seems like it might be possible and try it. Figure out the steps. Decide how long your experiment will last.
It is important to only try one thing at a time. You need to know what caused the effect you are seeing. That said, life is not a scientific laboratory. Your experiment might have several elements. If it works you can keep doing it. If it doesn’t quite work you can tweak elements experimentally.
You will probably need to tell other people, particularly those who you want to help you. For example, if you decide to form a writing group, you’ll need to be able to tell others what you hope the group will do and how long you want to try it for. Be up front about some of your process.
You can say something like: “I realized I need more support to get x done and I would like to try y. I’m going to re-evaluate in a month. Would you be willing to help/join me/whatever?”
Be clear about what you are asking other people to do. Come to a meeting once a week? Communicate by e-mail? Join a private Facebook group and post regularly? What?
Review and evaluate
At the end of the period, review how it’s gone. If it is a group thing, do this collectively. Is this meeting everyone’s needs? Do you want to stop? Do you want to change something?
If you want to tweak things, keep the scientific method in mind – change one thing at a time so you know what created the effect you observed.
Paying for support
Somehow paying for support is even more difficult than recognizing you need support in the first place.
We live in a society in which money is the primary way we denote value. That is not going to change any time soon. In addition, the fact that you have paid for something might give you that extra little nudge you need to do the thing you want to do.
Just like some people need deadlines to get down to a writing project, you might need that extra nudge from having paid for support. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Even the people who teach my yoga class are pretty open that it is really hard to maintain a practice at home on their own and that paying for classes helps them keep up their practice.
The important part is to identify what you need. If a paid service looks like it will meet your needs, try it. Review regularly to make sure that it is still meeting those needs.
Sometimes you need to pay for support to build habits that you can then maintain on your own. You can experiment with that, too. Or, you might find that you can combine some paid support with other sources of support. I pay for some yoga classes, and have some MP3 and DVD yoga things that I do on my own at home, for example.
Edited and recategorized Sept 22, 2015; related posts added August 24, 2017.