First, I should assure you this is a question about life in academia.
I am currently studying for a Master's degree in mathematics at a top university. I also have a Master's degree in Artificial Intelligence from another top university.
I get a lot of pleasure when I study and understand new ideas. I won't say studying mathematics is easy but in general I do not encounter significant difficulties to understand theorems and proofs when I sit down and go through them. I have also done a fair amount of research. I am preparing for publication my previous Master's dissertation and my current supervisor wants to take me on for a PhD.
I know I can handle research and I know I can understand thoroughly a subject. However, I feel extremely superficial. I almost always do the bare minimum. For example, the way I study for an exam involves reading all of the lecture notes to get a feel for the general ideas. Then I understand how these ideas fit together. I go through some of the details and I ensure that in principle I could understand them.
At this point I get in a conflicting state. I feel complacent because I have determined that in principle it is just a matter of time to work out the details and this just feels tedious. When I do try to work out the details I feel extreme repugnance. Forcing myself to do it leads to breakdowns but I've learned to manage that. This struggle continues with the result that I usually get an A or a B or the bare minimum to satisfy my supervisor if I'm working on a research project.
I cannot overcome this dreadful feeling and this issue often stands in the way when I try to develop my own ideas. The first glimpse of understanding the principles of a concept leads to inability to invest any more effort in developing my ideas. Then, I find myself reading some easily digestible article on the internet.
I want to continue doing research and stay in academia. But I often feel helpless. I have tried a lot of schemes to motivate myself, including trying to talk myself into persisting, reading self-help books, and devising an axiomatic system to explain to myself what it means to be interested in something.
There is of course incremental improvement but far from efficiency. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else but research. However, I feel that once I get into pure research and there is no more explicit structure I would get completely lost.
How can I motivate myself to persist in such a situation? How can I overcome such complacency?