Ok... so I have hated graduate school since day one but have slogged through because I couldn't find anything else to do (I have applied for hundreds of jobs as an escape route with no success). It has been an enormous amount of ungratifying work, especially because I am not interested in the subject I am studying and am not interested in the obtuse contributions of the study. But I am only a dissertation away from completing my PhD and being finished with my poor decision, but I am having enormous difficulty finding motivation to write it. I sit down every day and nothing comes out. I can't find the energy to read any more boring articles I need to cite or find the energy to write a complete sentence. Every time I start I find an excuse to distract myself and I don't know how to find external motivation since I lack internal motivation.
Exacerbating my lack of motivation is that I am skeptical that this degree will lead to employment (if I would want it in this field of study anyway): as I haven't been interested in my subject I haven't made the connections and done all of the networking I think is necessary to get a job with this degree, so I feel it is pretty useless to finish because I will likely have to reinvent myself after I am finished anyway. But leaving without a degree seems wrong somehow, given all this wasted effort (aren't we all subject to the sunk cost fallacy?). Any ideas on how to find the final burst of energy to finally finish?
I should add, I have already written 3 chapters and am about half through the fourth. I only need to finish the fourth, revise the 3 earlier and then write an intro and a conclusion. Plus I will need to find the energy to defend something I don't care about to my committee and the public before I can call it over. But even after all of this work it seems impossible to find the energy to write another sentence.
I wanted to thank those who chimed in and offered me kind and sincere advice. Thank you for taking time to help me, a stranger, with my life's problems. I think your suggestions were solid, practical and generally useful. I have been thinking about your advice for the month since I first posted this, and I unfortunately have to admit these strategies haven't helped me find any motivation to make much progress on my dissertation.
I thought I would respond to a few of your suggestions and see if anyone has additional thoughts or considerations.
There was the suggestion that I should go visit a counselor and to be screened for depression. I had been seeing a counselor using the services provided by the school. It is a very nice service and I have had access to what I felt was a high quality counselor, they screened me for depression and gave me the all clear. I am not depressed, although disappointed at my decisions (or lack thereof).
I like the suggestion to talk about my work with an interested person but do not think that my work is interesting in anyway, and have no pretense that the work is contributing to make the world a better place. I don't feel the need for the work to make a difference is required to get it done and think trying to convince someone it is interesting is wasting my time and theirs.
I think Paul Garrett hit a nerve with his comment that is at the root of my conundrum. I know continuing with something that I don't care about is a waste of my time, but the social (personal) obligation looms large and quitting this close to the finish line seems so foolish (and ire provoking for my program and committee). But despite these social pressures finding motivation to complete the daily tasks has eluded me. I know I need to finish, but the only motivation I have is to Be Finished and that isn't helping me with the daily drudgery.
To Wolfgangs comment: part of me fully agrees with you (that I should finish because of the unknown channels that may open if I complete the phd) but part of me feels the same logic applies if I quit. I will never know the future and perhaps not completing will open up doors that wouldn't exist had I completed... and anyway because of the lack of success in getting job interviews my career counselor has suggested that I leave the phd off my resume for the jobs that are outside of academia (which are the bulk of the positions I have been applying for and don't require the phd as a qualification). This is again another factor that has sapped at my motivation to complete the degree. And this brings up a side question of how I am supposed to spin the 4 years as a phd student on my resume without saying I was a phd student (but I will ask that as a separate question at a later date).
Given my current degree is so poorly valued by the market (or maybe it is myself) I have set a deadline of 400 job applications and if I haven't gotten an offer by that time I am going to reinvent myself (such as a job in customer service, which will have the benefit of paying more than my graduate stipend). I am at 290 now, and I only got one interview. It went well but they cancelled the position (the grant fell through).
My tails of the job market is winding away from the original question of this post and I need to return to that. And I need to comment on the solid advice from Peter. I think is is exceptional advice and I should implement all of these practices into my life, but unfortunately I don't feel this advice pertains to this situation as doesn't help me with the core underlying issue: that I lack any interest in my work and do not have any internal motivation that comes from connection and passion about the research I am doing. All of these practices, in my estimation, would help one to train and develop ones internal motivation, but I have little internal motivation (only guilt) for completing my work, and think it is late in the game to try and find personal connection and interest in the work and think that external pressure should be good enough (although it hasn't been enough).
I am very happy for the people in this world who have developed a personal connection to their work and to their jobs, but I don't think that everyone is so lucky as to be personally connected to their work. I think it would be wonderful if it were the case but Peter's reason #3 is an example of the disconnect between ideal and reality. Many people in this unequal world would be ecstatic to be earning $10K a year for the chance to write papers and do research for a professor, but no amount of counting my blessings (and I am very thankful I was born into a world that allowed for the luxury of higher education) gives me the belief that the dissertation is anything but wasted time and paper. I may have felt that way in a different project, program, school, country, etc. But that isn't my luck to care about my work. And now I am not looking to find internal motivation to channel my passions to create my life's master work but to finish writing something that is good enough to pass the defense and can be forgotten about on the back-shelves of the library. I haven't been interested in what I have studied since day one and now is beyond the time to expect it to get interesting now. Of course I regret I chose this field of study and my decision to continue but I am too deep now not finish.
Again, I don't want anyone to think I didn't appreciate their advice. I do, and think it applies to other parts of my life that I am proud of and want to develop. I am very thankful you took your valuable time to console a stranger. So I am elaborating my post today hoping I can distill the question a bit more and tap the expertise of this community, because the comments on the earlier iteration of this question were earnest and insightful. So now I ask for more help because what I think I need is a strategy to help me do something I do not want to do and hopefully there are strategies that do not require convincing myself I want to do it. So, my question for all the thinkers and experienced sages of the forum: how do you convince yourself to do something that is enormous amount of work that you don't like to do, you don't want to do, and don't think will help you but to do it anyway?