Student Voices: Virtuous Life

Doctoral Researcher, Christophe, shares how he has improved his wellbeing and achieved his goals by creating a better work-life balance.

By Christophe Place (Doctoral researcher, Initiative for Leadership and Sustainability)
Image Credit: Blanco Tejedo Aarón. Person’s hang reaching out sunlight. Unsplash.

Being a postgraduate researcher for three-and-a-half years now, I had the opportunity to experiment several holistic approaches to studying, learning and wellbeing, and particularly the intricate relationship between wellness (i.e. physical and mental health) and efficiency (i.e. productivity level) and efficacy (i.e. achievement rate).

Like some of my research colleagues, I always perceived the doctoral research as a solitary quest and a sacrificial journey to finally obtain the Holy Grail. Obviously, as every hero’s journey (Campbell, 1949), the process of a great work (magnum opus) to discover the philosopher’s stone (lapis philosophorum) always goes through various phases or stages (nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, rubedo) of peaks and troughs—to conclude this alchemical metaphor. Certainly, one longs for celebration after having climbed the peak, but we are not obliged to suffer in the sunny ups and rainy downs of the endless plain. The research process must be as important and joyful as the research goal—otherwise what’s the point in putting your life on hold for so many years! To have a fulfilling journey, make it happen!

Admittedly, at the end of the day, the best way to overcome the counter-productivity of the impostor syndrome, over-ambitious perfectionism, and procrastination is to “just do it” and “crack on” in the here and now—always remembering that “good enough” is always better than “not good enough” and that in the end “you can’t please everyone”—as my beloved mother used to say! But the how and the why to do it are always imperceptible and we are too often left to our own devices. As was probably the case for you, I groped for a long time before finding what worked for me-and may not work for you—but trying and refining costs nothing, so happy experimenting! Indeed, if just one of these many ideas could change your life forever—as it did for me—wouldn’t it be worth a try?

Inspired by the Integral Life (Wilber et al., 2008), Dragon Dreaming (Croft and Elanta), and PERMA model (Seligman, 2011) (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement)—as well as the famous Francesco Cirillo’s ‘pomodoro technique’ of a 25-minute timer and the canonical Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ method to always fill in the boxes—I decided to create my own schedule and activities to not only meet my own needs and achieve my own goals, but also improve my wellbeing and have a Virtuous Life (Place, forthcoming)—in order to combine business with pleasure for a better work life balance—as presented herein below.

Productive time

The idea behind this was to hack the brain by having a low expectation to start a ‘productive activity’ (i.e. 25-minute task only to warm up the engine) and to finish an average day of productivity (i.e. 5-hour day only to shift up a gear) in order to consider all extra work as a pure bonus and avoid any frustration if working less than 7 hours a day. If I ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ of 12 boxes of 25-minute tasks a day—6 days a week and 4 weeks a month—I will visualize my productivity just by filling in some boxes. By hiding any notion of the time of the day revealed by a clock and by only measuring my small boxes of 25 minutes with a timer, my relationship with time is totally changed. Now, for me, it doesn’t matter at what time I start or finish to work, the most important thing is to fill in the boxes on any condition—especially the one I didn’t fill in because of a slump or illness.

Achievement celebration

Looking forward (plan) and producing consistently (do) are as important as stepping back (check) for the continuous improvement (adjust) of any research project management (cf. plan–do–check–adjust). But these moments of assessment of the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly achievements also need to be a space to dream and celebrate in order to reconnect deeply with the notion of creativity and pleasure—and to nourish the will and motivation to keep going in a virtuous cycle. Therefore, to keep up with this daily, I built some personalised and virtuous rituals with continuous improvement for both morning and evening (e.g. diary, praying, meditation, fitness, etc.). Every achievement needs to be considered as a victory—even those that seem the most insignificant—and every dream needs to be visualized on a dream board—even those that seem most unattainable. The cathedrals all began with a drawing, so don’t underestimate the power of dreams and handwriting! As far as I am concerned, I draw my dream boards at the beginning of each year—after writing a letter to myself to open each new year after (i.e. about the accomplishments of the past year and the dreams for the next year).

Nourishing activities

The most beautiful machine ever created by man is the human being as such, because unlike a mechanical robot, even with artificial intelligence, our biological and energetic bodies are endowed with extraordinary capacities such as creativity or intuition. But to achieve such a feat, which requires a certain amount of energy, we have to recharge our batteries on a regular basis (cf. ultradian rhythm, circadian rhythm). And the best way to do this is to investigate and find out these specific virtuous activities that nurture you—and are unique to each being. Because even before being able to radiate around yourself, you have to know yourself and nurture your inner self—by taking care of yourself first before others! Usually, after my 100-minutes sessions (4 boxes of 25-minute tasks), I take 25-minute breaks of ‘nourishing activities’ (e.g. walk, meditation, micro nap, quick chat, housework, helping others, etc.). For example, I knew that not only were fixed mealtimes too restrictive for me, but also that food could take a lot of energy to digest. So, I decided to only eat light during these 25-minute breaks (e.g. fruits and nuts at breakfast, salads/soups and seeds at lunch, light meal at diner)—regardless of when they are.

Schedule (flexible)
  • Daily
    • 25-minute morning ritual and planning of the day
    • 25-minute tasks of ‘productive activities’ interspersed with 5-minute breaks (cf. ‘pomodoro technique’)
    • 100-minute sessions (4 tasks) interspersed with 25-minute breaks of ‘nourishing activities’ (cf. ultradian rhythm)
    • 5-hour days (3 sessions before 2 p.m. and/or after 4 p.m.) interspersed with 7-hour sleep (cf. circadian rhythm, ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ method)
    • 25-minute evening ritual and achievement of the day
  • Weekly
    • 6-day weeks interspersed with 1-day off work with ‘relaxing activities’ (weekend)
    • 25-minute assessment of the achievements of the week
  • Monthly
    • 4-week months interspersed with 2-day off work with ‘celebrating activities’ (long weekend)
    • 25-minute assessment of the achievements of the month
  • Quarterly
    • 12-week quarters interspersed with 1-week holiday with ‘rewarding activities’ (holiday)
    • 25-minute assessment of the achievements of the quarter
  • Yearly
    • 2-hour assessment of the achievement of the year and the planning of next year
Activities (not exhaustive)
  • ‘Productive activities’
    • Writing and/or reading and/or thinking
    • Proofreading and/or referencing
    • Collecting and/or analyzing
    • Classifying and/or searching
    • Organizing and/or planning
    • Contemplating and/or daydreaming
  • ‘Nourishing activities’
    • Just being and not doing
    • Walk and/or run outside
    • Meditation and/or praying
    • Fast and/or eat
    • Micro nap
    • Quick chat
    • Housework
    • Helping others
  • ‘Relaxing activities’
    • Same as above
    • Walking and/or rambling
    • Cook and/or restaurant
    • Bath and/or spa
    • Concert and/or music listening/dancing
    • Theatre and/or book reading
    • Cinema and/or movie watching
    • Social event
    • Just being and not doing
  • ‘Celebrating activities’
    • Same as above
    • Hiking and/or trekking
    • Celebrate and/or feast
  • ‘Rewarding activities’
    • Same as above
    • Explore and/or discover
    • Travelling and/or journeying

Campbell Joseph (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books: New York City, p. 416.

Croft John, and Elanta Vivienne (2017). Dragon Dreaming [open-source method online]. Western Australian Gaia Foundation, Dragon Dreaming International, Dragon Dreaming Institute.

Place Christophe (forthcoming). Virtuous Nation [provisional title]. Lancaster University [doctoral thesis]: Lancaster.

Seligman Martin E. P. (05 April 2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Atria Books: New York City, p. 370.

Wilber Ken, Patten Terry, Leonard Adam, and Morelli Marco (08 September 2008). Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening. Integral Books: London, p. 388.

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