Why “just do more yoga” is beside the point: Performance Pressure in Academia

This is just a quick post to tell you, in case you needed to hear, that it’s completely natural to ever be grappling with performance pressure in academia. And why advice like “just do more yoga” is beside the point. Doing more yoga may be a means of short-term stress relief (cheers to that!) but that’s not all you need. It doesn’t solve any underlying issues. So don’t feel like a failure if the simple strategies people are recommending don’t seem to improve things for you. I’ve been there.

Our worth is not determined by our achievements

While I’m actually feeling a lot better at the moment, I do have my moments of having to grapple with performance pressure quite a bit. I think this all relates to the mindset many of us grew up with where we absorbed that our worth is determined by our achievements (see this post explaining why you’re not “a natural workaholic” – as if that were a character trait). Academia fosters a workaholic culture and normalizes extreme work ethics.

Reject the scarcity mindset

We experience pressure in academia because the whole environment builds on high performance. On the one hand, there is actual scarcity (not many jobs) but living in that environment puts us in a scarcity mindset. You can read more about that in Cathy Mazak, Making Time to Write: How to Resist the Patriarchy and Take Control of Your Academic Career Through Writing (Morgan James Publishing 2022) – or read the blog. Thanks Astrid for recommending!

Doing more yoga doesn’t solve underlying psychological issues

Most people accept that that’s how it is and people have suggested that I should just do more yoga, but that hasn’t really helped. Because I’m already doing yoga and I’m still stressed. It probably has to do with my upbringing and how I was socialised. I have absorbed since childhood that I am my performance and my achievement. I was in this career program for women, where everybody thought that it was their character trait to be a workaholic, but I really don’t think that’s anybody’s character trait. It’s a learned trait, a coping strategy, maybe not the best one, and not a sustainable one either. However, just doing yoga will not solve that psychological problem that you think you are your achievement, and academia, the system we’re working in, isn’t really helping with that either.

Competing with peers where everybody is excellent forces us into a scarcity mindset, thinking we just need to push harder and have an awful work ethic. Until we burn out. And no, doing more yoga doesn’t fundamentally change anything. You need to fix the scarcity mindset first.

Yes, doing yoga (or any other stress-relieving activity of your choice) can be helpful. But yoga, while helpful, is not a solution to the systemic issue of performance pressure in academia.

Everybody has their coping strategies but don’t forget to check in with yourself every once in a while if they’re actually serving you

We all need to find sustainable coping strategies for ourselves to manage performance pressure and anxiety. I’m definitely affected. My upbringing taught me to equate self-worth with achievement and I’m afraid that if I don’t outperform others by always doing more, something will happen. I’m not even quite sure what I think will happen but my subconscious knows: it’s bad. I know that this belief doesn’t serve me and I’m aware that I have it. I’m working on it but it’s not like years of conditioning will just fall off once you realize a belief is not serving you anymore. It’s a process. I’m working on it. It’s getting a little better all the time but you need to keep working on it. All in all, I think I can’t complain. But even though I’m doing relatively well with a comfortable Postdoc position for three more years, the mindset and stress doesn’t just go away.

So this is your reminder to work on your mindsets. You have to make time for that at least, even if you can’t make it to yoga practice 😉 Promise me!

More importantly, promise yourself.

Cite this blog post
Sarah Lang (2024, February 7). Why “just do more yoga” is beside the point: Performance Pressure in Academia. Epigrammetry. Retrieved April 25, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/vrxm

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