Mental toughness, self-control, willpower, grit— I turn again to these compelling strengths. Why? Because distractions, especially electronic distractions, complicate the writer’s life. The struggle for self-control over distractions takes up more and more of your mental space.
What can you use to free your mental space in order to concentrate on your writing? What can help you maintain self-control, be mentally tough, and not overwhelm your willpower?
You know all too well that willpower often just isn’t enough to get you started on your writing and also keep you off of Facebook.
In the book Willpower, co-authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney argue that what they call precommitment can protect you from the uncertainties of willpower. For instance, if you have set a specific time for writing, and you practice starting at that same time for a couple of weeks, you will have less need to depend on willpower to save the day.
The so-called Nothing Alternative is such a precommitment. When you use the Nothing Alternative, not only do you decide ahead of time that at a certain time of day, you will sit down and write, but you also decide ahead of time that you will do nothing but write.
My dissertation coaching clients have responded positively to the Nothing Alternative and have some great suggestions for implementing it. Two of my coaching clients are especially enthusiastic about the Anti-Social app and the SelfControl program.
If you routinely get email that you think you need to respond to throughout the time you have set aside to write, you may find it harder and harder to write and even give up the writing altogether in order to answer the emails.
The Anti-Social application for macs allows you to shut off the social part of the internet and email while you are working on your computer. You can “be anti-social” for any amount of time.
To turn off Anti-Social, you have to restart your computer and according to my client, you “feel crappy if you restart your computer just to get into email.”
Precommitting to this program for a certain amount of time helps you to conserve willpower for emergencies.
Another way to implement the Nothing Alternative is to use the SelfControl software.
This free software asks you to list the internet pages that you want to block, such as email, Facebook, specific online newspapers, and a few pages that you most often visit. It’s your choice.
If you need the internet for research, you can still visit Google or other specific pages that you need.
Once you set the timer, for that specific length of time, you cannot get into anything that you have blocked, even if you turn off the computer. My client says, “If you feel less motivated during that time, you can stare into space for a minute, but you can’t get onto Facebook, so you might as well work.”
Using such programs helps you stay committed to your writing and lets you conserve your willpower.
I would love to hear what your strategies are for conserving willpower and for using willpower effectively.
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com