Archive for January, 2009

Mental toughness as the way to finish a dissertation is all well and good, but what if you’re just not feeling particularly tough?

Is “powering through” your work not realistic for you right now, given how even the phrase “power through” makes you snarl?

What would help you lean into your work?

What can you change?  Is there any way to change the way you think about the work?

How can you look at your dissertation in a different way?

A friend told me about a TV show on the National Geographic channel called “The Dog Whisperer.”  She doesn’t own a dog, but she was excited by the possibilities of having more control in her life if she assumed the attitude of the dog whisperer.

Today by chance I happened onto “The Dog Whisperer” on TV.

In the episode I saw, Cesar, who is the dog whisperer,  was visiting the dressing room of an actress in  the play Wicked to solve the problem of the actress’s overly excitable dog.  Cesar said the dog barked because of the anxiety and excitement in the room, and the solution was for both the actress and the make-up person to calm down.

Every time the dog sensed anxiety, he would race about, barking and even nipping at people. Cesar said that the dog went into a frenzy in order to control the situation, and when the actress controlled the situation by lowering the excitement and anxiety in the room, she could then control the dog.

At that point, all it took from her was an assertive “Psst” from her and a snap of the finger.

What a technique! Where can we apply this?

Do you feel that your dissertation has brought too much drama into your life?  Do  you want a way to better control your feelings and to avoid emotional landmines that disrupt or halt your writing?

What if you reframed or changed the way you look at your dissertation?  Here’s my suggestion  —think of your dissertation as a sometimes nearly unmanageable puppy.

Like a puppy, your dissertation needs you to nurse it along and nurture it.

But on those days when the diss seems more like a swirling, yapping Yorkshire terrier, it needs you to be assertive.  That’s when it is time to utter a loud, hissing “Psst” at the chatter and clutter in your brain.  Then snap your fingers and give your computer screen that look.  I know mental toughness when I see it, and that sounds like mental toughness to me.

You may need to practice that a bit.

If you look at your diss as if it were a dog that needs attention and training, you can also recognize that it’s your control that will transform your diss.

Rather than seeing your dissertation as a massive piece of granite—unyielding and hard and impossible—see it as a puppy needing to be attended to, controlled, and also liked.

Name it—maybe you could call it Owen, which is the name of the yapping dog I saw in “The Dog Whisperer.”

And it’s fun to say “Pssst” and point like the dog whisperer does.

A wise person said to me that the way forward toward her goal is for her is to recognize what she can change.   She says that recognizing that she can change how she thinks about her dissertation helps her. That shift in her way of thinking about her diss and in her way of seeing it can kickstart her desire to work.

Where do you have control?  What can you change?

Let me know how seeing your dissertation in a different way helps you.

All good wishes,


P.S.  Another way to learn to control your feelings about your diss is to take the Dissertation Boot Camp (www.nancywhichard.com)

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach



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Do you procrastinate or even deceive yourself about whether you’re procrastinating instead of getting started on your writing?

Do you yield to the urge to flee from your writing every time you feel a little scared?

Mental toughness is what you need, but it doesn’t occur by accident.

1. It’s a question of priority

2. It’s a question of strategic planning

3. It’s a question of feeling scared but doing it anyway.

4. It’s a question of taking steps—keeping yourself writing today for 5 minutes longer before you take a break than you did yesterday.

5. It’s a question of acknowledging yourself for doing what you said you would do.

I recently spoke with someone who has bravely put herself in dangerous situations in order to do research toward her dissertation.

However, she told me that she could speak to an armed person far from civilization as we know it more easily than she could sit down to write.

Getting started with her writing requires more than a little mental toughness. To make mental toughness a habit, she enrolled in my Virtual Dissertation Boot Camp.

Another courageous client is taking unpaid leave from her work and flying across country to the city where her advisor now teaches.  She will finish her dissertation before she flies back home.

In the meantime, she continues to write, and she’s taking steps to ensure that she will reach her goal.  Besides making specific plans for the work she will do when she gets to the new location, she is also visualizing herself at work.  She shows her mental toughness by making the hard decisions and with each successive step she takes.

You choose mental toughness.  It doesn’t just happen.

Here’s to your courage!


P.S.  Check out how Dissertation Boot Camp is a great tactical step toward achieving mental toughness.  More information is available at my website (www.nancywhichard.com).

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach



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Experiencing a dissertation boot camp makes great sense.

A dissertation coaching client gave an enthusiastic review of her dissertation boot camp.

Not only was she productive, but she also gained new insights about the process of writing a dissertation.

She noted many accomplishments from dissertation boot camp, such as:

1. Drawing boundaries around the time she works and also where she works.
She laughs at herself now for having thought that she could write her dissertation at the dining room table.

2.  Getting the routine down of staying at work for the committed time.

3.  Making progress each day.

4.  Dealing with the emotional aspects of writing a dissertation and moving out of the place where she had dwelled on her feelings.

5.  Realizing that she has the same problems and the same hurdles as everybody else who is trying to write a dissertation.

6.  Giving herself permission not to work on week-ends or during the evening.

7.  Learning how to summarize what she had done and what her plans were and gaining strength to email this information to her advisor.

The most important advantages that she said she gained from the boot camp were
•  Forming the habit of daily writing
•  Accomplishing something every day
•  Allowing her to have guilt-free time with her husband and family.
She doesn’t have to work all of the time, and in fact, it’s better if she doesn’t.

What would you want to gain from dissertation boot camp?

I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes,


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach



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Did you decide that you would make your dissertation a priority this year?  Have you found that instead of writing your dissertation, you continue to resist writing and continue to feel guilty about not writing?  Are you sick of all of the drama?

Could the problem be your goals?

“Having Goals is a Pain in the Neck” was the title of a recent post by blogger Seth Godin.

When I read that, I was taken aback.  Doesn’t Godin advocate goal-setting?  In the short blog post, he continued to make a good argument for not having goals.  He said that if you don’t have a goal, then you can just do your best.

Furthermore, he said, you can decide what is most important at any given time.

Of course, Godin was putting us on. That became clear as he said that not having goals allows you to have more fun.

The point of his post was that people who are productive and accomplish something have goals.

If you decided to make your dissertation a priority in 2009, are you seeing the fruits of that decision?

If you’re not accomplishing what you had hoped, you might take a look at your goal.  How manageable is it?  At times, I hear my clients refer to their goal as finishing their dissertation–the whole enchilada.

Even though most people have heard that it’s best to break their goals into chunks, exactly what that means seems to be unclear.

A more helpful goal is a weekly plan—what you can realistically accomplish in one week.  And the way to meet a weekly goal is to decide what you can realistically do during the week, day by day.

We need all the help we can get in order to finish the dissertation.  Goals help you because they can function like roadmaps, but like roadmaps, goals need to have more than just the destination marked.

You need to think about what links those major cities, how much ground you can reasonably expect to cover in any one day, and what you need to pay attention to as you traverse that day’s drive.

I’d love to hear what kind of goals you have set and how you’re making it likely that you will meet those goals.

Happy goal-setting,


P.S.  A Dissertation Boot Camp is a great way to set in motion the habit of working each day and also of becoming clear on what is a realistic goal for each day. Check out my website (www.nancywhichard.com) to learn more about Dissertation Boot Camp.

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach



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How many people signed their holiday card to you by wishing you a joyful, peaceful and productive year?

When you read the word productive, did you wince, thinking that they had somehow emphasized it?

Regret and shame can do quite a number on you, making you want to slink behind the couch because you’re sure everyone knows how little progress you made on your dissertation in 2008.

Have you said to yourself that something has to change?

On the second day of January, one of my Dissertation Boot Camp clients told me that she had made a New Year’s Resolution that never again would she have her thesis hanging over her head during a holiday.

The holiday season now ending was the last time she would experience the guilt she felt as she worked on her thesis when she wanted to spend time with her family and alternately worried about her work when she was having family time.

She has committed to daily writing over the next two weeks in order to get a good start toward finishing her degree by July.

If she sticks with her plan of daily writing for two weeks, she will be well on her way to having a habit in place, a habit that replaces her resistance to writing.

If you want to be productive in 2009 but something has to change first, then make a sacrifice for the sake of you.

Do whatever you need to do, get whatever help you need,  in order to show up to write each and every day for one to two weeks.

Working with someone—a buddy or a coach—adds accountability and will strengthen the habit.

Once you have a habit in place, you will be amazed at the change you see in yourself.  Give it a try!

If change is what you want more of this year, then make it soon!

Happy New Year and here’s to a change in writing habits!


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach



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