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Archive for the ‘dissertation writing’ Category

You have made time to write, and you and your family have sacrificed for you to have that time.

Finally you send the chapter off to your advisor. You have put your best effort into this chapter to lay out a clear statement of your argument.

When you hear back from your advisor, her negative feedback and comments are not what you had expected. You must rewrite the chapter. You don’t know where to start.

You may feel that you have been treated unfairly, but mostly you feel that you have failed.

Many dissertation writers are dazed not only by the negative criticism from the advisor, but also at the thought of the time that was eaten up by the writing.  The reaction can be physical as well as emotional, and to protect themselves, many writers walk away.

Perhaps the writers shouldn’t be surprised—they may have expected too much from an early draft or even a seventh draft, they may have not received the mentoring they should have from their advisor, or, mistakenly thinking they were protecting themselves, they may have resisted showing their draft to others.

Regardless of the causes of the failed text, the writer has to deal with that failure, and a writer’s reaction to the rejection of a text can be powerful.

What comes next after failure?

In the book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, Sarah Lewis contends that failure can clear the way for a better idea, an idea that lets us change and transform a project.

 

But first you have to find a way to re-engage with the failed work. What do you need to pick up a failed work and even reread the comments?

To start again and seek the better idea can happen, but the writer has to make some conscious choices first.

Where do you find the fuel to re-engage with a failed project?

Lewis contends that the character strength of grit gives the writer the means to return to a failed work and to tolerate the discomfort of sticking with what was formerly seen as a failure.

She credits Angela Lee Duckworth’s research on grit for making the point of how important it is to look at failure as information and to use your grit to return to the project.

As a doctoral student, Duckworth learned first-hand what near-failure is like. She was ready to walk away from her dissertation and the degree, but she says that she and her husband had worked out that he would hold her accountable. He reminded her that earning the Ph.D. was her choice and that she had chosen this path.

And so, you should ask another question or two or three: 

Does grit come from some deep inner reservoir within you? 

Or does someone call forth your grit?  Or is it a combination of things?

One of my dissertation clients told me her story of sacrificing a large amount of time to write an important dissertation chapter. To open up time for writing, she engaged help to care for her children. When she received negative feedback from her advisor, she was so stunned that she couldn’t take it all in.

She stopped working on her dissertation and threw herself into work and family life. She told herself that she didn’t have time to write.

How did she eventually find the determination, motivation, perseverance, resilience and self-management—that is, the grit– to return to the work?

She gradually found the will to use those strengths to re-engage with her text after discussing the so-called failed chapter with her husband.

She said, “For the first time (probably in years) I asked my husband to let me talk through some of the issues I was having with my work.”

“We ended up talking about the chapter for several hours (until late into the night),” she added.

As a result of that conversation, she came to terms with what she had to do to turn the work around.

My dissertation clients often say that what has made all the difference in their managing negative feedback and restarting the dissertation is having someone to hold them accountable so that they could continue to build their sticktoitiveness, or their grit.

So what builds grit? What triggers it?

Failure indeed can be a gift.  However, to come back from a failure, you need multiple gifts that help you build that essential strength of grit.

To build your grit, you must use the following strengths:

  1. Self-management
  2. Honesty
  3. Living your values
  4. Accountability

Self-management

To build grit, you need self-management. Strong emotions, from anger to shame, can pull you into that big soft chair in front of the TV, far from your work. You need the willpower and self-discipline to do what is hard, and not what feels good.

Honesty

You need to accept your own role not only in your setback and but also in your delay in taking the initiative that would have led to your comeback. To get a project back up and running demands that you take ownership for what you haven’t done, as well as what you have done. Only you can move the project forward.

Living your values

Coming back to rewriting a rejected text will undoubtedly once again bring up your insecurities and fears. When faced with returning to the work of managing your data collection, finding the right structure for your ideas, or writing text that for once is more analytical than descriptive  overwhelms you, makes you angry, stressed, or anxious, think about why this project is important to you.

What brought you to this topic or this work?  What will continuing this work give you and give others?

Who has been a giant in the area you are studying?  Why do you admire that person?  Make that person your role model.

Think about what is the larger picture in your finishing this project. How are you showing your values by getting back into the work?

Accountability

You need to be called out on your all-too-human tendency to not do what you said you were going to do, and likewise you need to be challenged to acknowledge yourself when you show up and do the work. A spouse, friend, mentor, or your coach who holds you accountable will be a key strategy for building grit and achieving success.

To Make Your Comeback, Consider the Coach Connection

Are you beaten down—is your writing project going nowhere fast and leaving you overwhelmed? Toying daily with the urge to just hang this all up?

Or are you reeling from having a chapter or a prospectus rejected?

What you need is to make a comeback. A comeback that gets you back on your feet, taking an honest accounting of what you can do and what you have done, in control of your emotions, and living your values once again.

A comeback has you working smart, talking to your mentor or coach, and keeping to a plan.

To turn around a failed project, it is important that you be held accountable so that you take responsibility for your work and do what you said you would do.

Coaching can be of help in adding accountability.

How can I be of help to you?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

 

 

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Life is lived moment-to-moment—a glance out a window at the path of a rabbit in the yard, the taste of spicy food, a smile and a kind word from a grocery store clerk, the fleeting thought as you settle into your car seat. You hesitate and make a few connections in your mind

In addition to random moments, life is made of small routines—a short run, a quick clean-up of the kitchen or bathroom, saying good-night to a child.

Chunks of time make up our day.

And you can write your dissertation one chunk at a time.

Most graduate students come across Jane Bolker’s book, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. Jane Bolker was co-founder of the Writing Center at Harvard, and she also directed many dissertations. She writes from her experience of helping ABD’s to get started writing and then to stick with it. Bolker’s book urges people to write for a small period of time every day, the amount of time it would take you to fill the dishwasher and clean the kitchen or read a few books at nighttime to your child.

The Pomodoro is another a great tool for dissertation writers. The little clock that looks like a tomato, or one of the new apps or other countdown timers, has helped many writers ease into writing, one 25-minute chunk at a time. It helps writers push away distractions, to focus, and then to stick with the writing for the length of the Pomodoro.

A Pomodoro can be an essential aid to someone balancing a dissertation with a job and family, where planning is a way of life.

One Pomodoro or two Pomodoros becomes a unit of time that you can remember. “I worked two Pomodoros every day last week at lunchtime,” a client says. It is a tool that helps establish a habit. Read more about it here.

If you need help in restarting your writing and then establishing a productive routine, coaching is another tool that has helped many writers.  Dissertation coaching can help you look again at the parts and pieces of your writing project.

Coaching will introduce you to many strategies that will help you successfully manage your work. And you will be talking to someone interested in your personal process, someone, most likely, who once lived the life of the ABD.

I would love to hear from you.  August is a great time to try coaching.

All the best,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

http://www.nancywhichard.com

 

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Happy Fourth of July! It’s time again for the Annual Summer Road Trip. Get out on the road and put your writing on hold.

At one time or another, we all say that we wish we had more time, but when you come right down to it, do you really want to spend more time working?  What is it that you most like to do with your time?  I think that putting aside your work and spending time with family, especially on a holiday weekend,  is time well spent.  And time away from your work can yield dividends when you return to your writing.

The traffic around the Fourth of July is always awful.  As much as I love my adopted state of Virginia, I really hate being stuck in traffic in Virginia.

Most road trips I have been on over the last few years either start or end with our creeping along Interstate 95 and our wishing and hoping that the traffic would ease soon. Road trips are not what they used to be. That is, not unless you get far away from Interstate 95 that runs north and south along the East Coast of the U.S.

Many of the people most important to me live west of Washington, D.C. by several hundred miles. While my adult children are on the East Coast, most of the rest of my family live in the Midwest.  And many of my husband’s family members live in North Carolina.

A long-time tradition among one side of my husband’s family is to meet in Western North Carolina during the week of the Fourth of July.

During the early part of the week of the Fourth, we drive south from Washington on Interstate 95 to I-85 in North Carolina and then west on I-40.  And we just keep going, past Asheville, North Carolina; past Franklin, over three more mountains, and on to the little North Carolina town where my husband’s cousins gather every Fourth.

The small town was very isolated when my husband’s mother lived there as a child, but now good roads are plentiful, allowing for tourists and family alike to visit.

We gather at a cousin’s house on the lake, and catch up on the family news. We swap stories and cook food on the grill, but mostly we watch the little ones play in the sand pile or bob around on rafts in the lake. We marvel over the good health of the child who had been seriously ill, and we play (or watch) a marathon volley ball game.

 

The scenery and the family are worth the effort needed to get there, as well as any loss of time on my writing and other work. In fact, all of our our writing can benefit from our stepping away.

We will have a respite from the isolation of writing, and we can also recharge our creativity.  There’s no place better to be lost in the moment and to stare into space than at a mountain lake.

If the Fourth is a holiday for you, I hope you can put your writing on hold and join others to celebrate, relax, and recharge.

Happy Fourth of July,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

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You are trying to make progress on your dissertation, as well as fulfill the responsibilities of your job. Add to that a family, and even if you have help with your children, sometimes it seems as if you’re walking on a high-wire without a net.

Most of the time, despite the odds, you keep all systems going, but then, with no warning, you’re knocked off-balance. You didn’t see it coming and had no time to ward it off. You miss an appointment, or you forget a commitment.  And you feel that you have failed. The question is how do you choose to view this failure?

Failure

In his book Smart Change, University of Texas Professor Art Markman reminds us that “despite the many successes you have had in your life, you have failed at lots of things as well.”  “Failure,” he says, “is not inherently a problem.”

A Dissertation Boot Camp client was doing spectacularly well in meeting her commitment to write every morning. My client routinely got up early to go to her writer’s location and wrote until she had to go to her day job. Her husband took over getting the children off to school. All was going well until one morning one of the sons at the last moment remembered a letter he needed to have that day, and so he dashed it off and rushed out the door.

The letter was a last-minute request to try out for a sports team. The problem was that the boy left out some key ideas that would have ensured his being considered for the try-out.  When my client came home and realized what had happened, she felt that her careful plan for balancing her family needs with writing her dissertation had fallen through.

My client blamed herself for forgetting to help her son complete the task ahead of time, and she saw the situation as her failure.

In your balancing act, there is the occasional wobble, or failure, but it isn’t necessarily a setback.  Professor Markman would say that this failure was not a problem since such things did not happen routinely.  Furthermore, he would say that this situation showed that my client was allowing her writing to take precedence, which spoke to her commitment.  That is important.

It is important that you continue to let your writing take precedence,  and keep going.

Rising from failure

In The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery Sarah Lewis addresses the role of failure in one’s life, particularly in the lives of people who used their failure to give rise to greater creativity or to a transformation.

She contends that “the word failure is imperfect” because when we “are ready to talk about it, we often call the event something else.” That is, the failure may have cleared the way for a new idea.

Grit and achievement

The title of the last chapter in Lewis’s book is “The Grit of the Arts,” in which she links creativity, failure, and discovery to Angela Lee Duckworth‘s research on grit. Failure can fuel us to work harder and to see a situation in a new light, and grit gives us the ability to withstand the discomfort and to tolerate the need to return day after day to hard work. Duckworth says, “I think in life, most people are giving up too early.”

Duckworth argues that a person’s returning to hard work, again and again, no matter how uncomfortable that work is, makes all the difference in what a person achieves.

 

Working hard consistently on the dissertation

In The Rise, Lewis describes Angela Lee Duckworth as a fast-thinker and fast-talker. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania describes Duckworth as “about as fast mentally as it is possible for a human being to be.”

Interestingly, Duckworth, whose research is about keeping people on task and helping them not give up so soon, found that she had great difficulty herself in sticking with her dissertation.  Because writing a dissertation is a slow, and, sad to say, often tedious process, the pace did not mesh with her quick way of working and her mindset.

She was ready to walk away from her dissertation and the doctoral degree.  But she did not because, in part, she had given her husband the job of holding her accountable, and he reminded her that she had chosen this path. She says,” I realized that working hard is not enough.  I needed to work hard consistently on a given path to accomplish anything.”

Art Markman, Sarah Lewis, and Angela Lee Duckworth would probably all praise my client for continuing to write each morning, for letting her writing take precedence, and for arranging with her husband to get the children off to school, even though my client might on occasion experience some kind of failure. For anyone who wants to finish a dissertation, working hard is not enough; one must surrender to the need to “stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve, and to do it again and again.”  That’s grit.  Grit is also “connected to how we respond to so-called failure, about whether we see it as a comment on our identity or merely as information that may help us improve.”

When you’re on that high-wire of balancing your dissertation with your work and family, know that you can tolerate the discomfort of returning over and over to hard work and that a so-called failure can clear the way to a better idea for going forward. Indeed, grit can see you through to solid ground.

Any thoughts?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

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Happy June!  It’s summer here in the Northern hemisphere.

For academics, professors on sabbatical, and moms juggling the demands of a fulltime job with a dissertation, summer roars in, knocking over all of your structures, making you fight for balance.

Why do you forget what it’s always like?  You think you are ready until summer is actually here, kids are out of school, family trips loom, and you are once again on shifting ground.

It is going to take effort, but you can make this work.  Remember my “Mom’s in Maine” sign? When I needed to make a space for writing—a cottage, if you will—inside my house, I put a sign on my home office door that read “Mom’s in Maine.” My fantasy was to have a writer’s cottage in Maine, but I was in the Virginia suburbs.  The sign was a small, fanciful strategy, but it helped to define mental and physical boundaries for me and my family.

 

 

 

 

 

What specifically is your writing goal for the next two months?  Don’t procrastinate because of your kids. To get started toward that goal, it’s time to readjust your mindset and commit to strategies that work.

If you are reading this, then it is time to write.

My best to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
Nancy @ nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com

 

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In The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, ABC news reporter Claire Shipman and BBC anchor Katty Kay write that women suffer from a lack of confidence to such an extent that it undermines their success in the workplace. Similarly, a lack of confidence among women writing dissertations can cause them to get stuck often and even derail the dissertation process.

To build confidence, women not only need to learn helpful strategies, but they also need to take note of where they allow a lack of self-confidence to sabotage themselves.

Some dissertation coaching clients allow their lack of confidence to potentially damage their critical relationship with their advisor. A lack of confidence can allow a dissertation writer to let months go by without reaching out to her advisor.

Years ago, during a check-up with my internist, she asked about my dissertation. Before I could answer, she related how fearful she had been when she was writing a thesis during her master’s program in science that at one point, she said that she waited until her advisor had left his office and then, to avoid talking with him, slipped her writing beneath the door and then waited weeks before she had the courage to ask if he had comments for her.

Lack of confidence undermines success

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay discuss the research on which they based their book.  From the data obtained from neuroscientists, they learned that “confidence is somewhere between 25 to 50 percent genetic.”  However, perfectionism, which the authors say is largely a female issue, most likely comes from nurture. Perfectionism can extend throughout a woman’s life, undercutting her confidence and success.

A good girl

Shipman and Kay quote renowned psychologist Carol Dweck who points out that the early years of school is where girls learn this behavior. Dweck says that “school is where many girls are first rewarded for being good.” Since her research shows that little girls have a longer attention span than little boys, as well as having greater verbal and fine motor skills, she says, “Girls seem to be more easily socialized . . . [and] get a lot of praise for being perfect.”

Because women for most of their lives work so hard to be perfect, whether it is in writing a paper or in planning a vacation, they waste time and increase their lack of confidence. “We spend too much time ruminating, stewing, thinking over our actions,” Shipman says.

“When I am planning an activity or when I am learning a new idea or getting started writing, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get it right before I ever get started,” says one of my clients. “I worry and read more and put off jumping into writing. It is hard to admit that I am a perfectionist, but, yes, I’m spending too much time worrying about getting it right.”

The authors argue that many women do not know how to fail and do not know how to use failure as part of the process of getting better at something. Women remember failure longer than men, but not as an opportunity for learning. They often return to “stew” over the episode which, they think, shows their inadequacies and gives evidence of how easily they could fail again.

Test your confidence to build your confidence

To increase your confidence, it is important to put yourself in challenging situations and stick with the hard work and frustration of learning how to do the work.

And only you can put yourself into situations that test your confidence. Katty Kay says, “I have gotten to where I want to be, but only by forcing myself to do things that tested my confidence – going on shows I found intimidating, applying for jobs that seemed a bit out of reach, and standing up to bosses to insist on doing things my way.”

Continue to struggle

A dissertation client who has had issues with intellectual self-confidence for most of her academic life now appreciates the strength that comes from struggling and from tolerating academic frustration.

She thinks that had she been taught differently in her early years of school, she might have adopted a different mindset toward learning and have had more self-confidence. She says that in Japanese schools, the main point isn’t that a student gets the right answer to a math problem, but rather that the student continues to struggle and learns to tolerate the frustration that goes with the struggle.

Psychologist Jim Stigler writes of his firsthand observations of Japanese educational methods. Professor Stigler compares the methods he saw in Japan with those often used in American schools. He says, “For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.”

Psychologists tell us the consequences of an American education which downgrades the merit of intellectual struggle become clearer during the high school experience when girls increasingly doubt their ability to think through thorny problems or texts.

My dissertation coaching client is gradually learning how to tolerate the frustration that goes with intellectual struggle. She said that when she had to do statistics and math in the past, she was afraid to show when she was stuck or had questions, but the dissertation has changed that. Now as she writes her dissertation, she says that she uses various strategies that will help her stick with the task, even when it feels frustrating. She has found it helps to recognize what she has done right and to talk herself through those specific, successful steps. She says that she then feels more competent and that she recognizes that she knows enough to continue the work.

Had she been taught as a child that tolerating frustration was the way to academic success, she might have avoided the tongue-lashing she says she received from a department head in graduate school when she made a self-deprecating remark about her abilities. He quickly let her know that such a remark was not acceptable. Not only did he want no excuses, but he also wanted her to show that she could tolerate frustration during  the learning process.

Recently another client reminded me of something I had told her a few weeks ago. She said it had helped her when I said that “writing a dissertation is not supposed to be easy.”  Of course, that statement is not original with me, but I’m glad that my passing it along helped my client. Over the years I have also reminded myself that writing is not supposed to be easy.

Any thoughts?  How are you testing your confidence?

All good wishes,

Nancy

 Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
 Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

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As May is ending, many of my clients have now received graduate degrees or are participating in graduation ceremonies now and will receive their degrees later this summer.

Congratulations on the hard work that has gone into achieving this honor.  You deserve enormous credit for persevering through the uncertainty and frustration of writing a dissertation or thesis while balancing  the work with  home and, often, a full-time job.

Savor these moments and days and celebrate with those you love.

All the best to you!

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D.
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

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In the Mad Men episode “The Strategy” (5/18/2014), advertising copy chief Peggy Olson is angry and demoralized because the more experienced, assured Don Draper has suggested possible changes to her pitch for an ad. Panicky, she questions her own idea. She hates the uncertainty of not knowing whether her idea is really good or crap.

“How am I supposed to know?” she asks.

Don says, “You’ll never know.”

Peggy’s lack of confidence in her own opinion illustrates one of the series’ major themes, that is, gender issues in the 1960s. Peggy, unlike Don, is immobilized by her uncertainty and lack of confidence.  And she lacks the strategies, past successes, and self-confidence that would help her make a choice and move on.

Furious that she lacks resources and must ask for help, Peggy demands, “Show me how you think. Do it out loud.”

That an idea may be good enough does not fit with Peggy’s perfectionism. Don suggests that if it’s almost done and it’s good, then maybe you should accept your idea, but Peggy does not want “good enough”—she wants perfect.

Peggy has risen in the company from secretary to copy chief. She is uncomfortable in her own skin.  And, it is with good reason. She is routinely reminded that being a woman comes with many handicaps in business. Don’s first impulse is to show his sense of humor and his ease with the situation. He says, “Whenever I’m really unsure about an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need” (Peggy smiles).  Then, Don says, “I take a nap.”  He’s telling her to step back and disengage a bit.

What Peggy needs are strategies that will help her problem solve. Grabbing the faithful yellow legal pad, Don says that the way he thinks is to “start at the beginning to see if I wind up at the same place again.”  The point is to go at your problem from a different angle, and don’t be invested in only one idea.

His process makes sense.  When in doubt, slow everything down and step away—take a nap (or go for a walk or pull weeds) and then look at the issue from a different perspective.  Don isn’t afraid of reframing the problem, and he doesn’t think there is only one possible answer for a problem.

So why am I looking closely at this scene from a television show? This scenario with Don and Peggy could happen only in the 1960s, right?  George Packer writes in The New Yorker, Mad Men presents a world that’s alien enough to be interesting as anthropology . . . and yet not entirely so. It’s still close enough to us, or we to it, that there’s a certain familiar pain beneath the viewing pleasure.”

ABC News reporter Claire Shipman and BBC anchor Katty Kay argue in their 2014 book The Confidence Code that women’s lack of self-confidence and need for perfectionism continue to undermine their success.

Are women in 2014 more susceptible to a lack of confidence than men?  If so, why? What role does indecision and perfectionism play in our writing lives?

What do you think… about Mad Men and Peggy? And, as a writer, how do you decide if your idea is any good?

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

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I am reblogging a post that I wrote in 2010 based on the advice to a would-be writer in Muriel Spark’s novel “A Far Cry from Kensington”: “To focus, get a cat.” I love cats, but sadly have none at the moment. On occasion, our adult daughter has brought her magnificent, marvelous cat with her for a weekend visit. A cat can transform for the better the mood, and even the level of thought, within a house. Here is my blog from 2010: “To focus on your writing, get a cat.”

Successful Writing Tips

Cat mosaic on house façade, Brussels, Belgium,...

Can’t concentrate?  Having trouble getting into flow with your writing?  Get a cat!

Advice to writers can come from the most interesting places.  An unexpected, but most entertaining source of advice is A Far Cry from Kensington, a novel by British writer Muriel Spark

A Far Cry takes place in 1954 London.  Mrs. Hawkins, the narrator, has a job in publishing.  And yes, it is she who offers the acutely insightful advice that if you can’t concentrate, get a cat.

In a hilarious dinner party scene, Mrs. Hawkins is seated by a red-faced, watery-eyed Brigadier, who, in response to her question about his having had an interesting life, replies, “Could write a book.”  He hasn’t because he hasn’t been able to concentrate.  

Mrs. Hawkins tells him that to concentrate, “you need a cat”:

Alone with a cat in the room where you work . . . the cat will invariably get up on your desk…

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Habits have a powerful hold on us. Many times every day we are drawn into automatic habit mode. Acting without making conscious decisions can be a good thing when we are quickly folding the laundry or doing a blitz clean-up of the kitchen before work or after dinner.

On the other hand, if we have an irresistible urge to eat cookies when we feel anxious, that may be an automatic habit that we are not pleased to have.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, investigative reporter Charles Duhigg gives us the benefit of his extensive research about the science behind the formation of habits, why it’s so hard to break a bad habit, but how we can, nevertheless, change.

 

Think like Safeway
The Power of Habit is a book I have returned to more than once over the last couple of years, and it’s a book I have given as a gift.  It is also still on the New York Times nonfiction paperback best-seller list.

The same week that I first read the book, the Safeway Grocery Store chain launched a program that would change my habits of grocery shopping, and maybe not for the better.

I was asked at my local Safeway if I would like to have my loyalty card upgraded so that special sales could be loaded on my card. Like most people, via my loyalty cards, I had long ago handed over to grocery stores and drugstores mundane info about my purchases.

When I got home I received an email saying that sale prices just for me had been loaded on my loyalty card. Along with those personal sales, there was an additional long listing of other savings I could add to my card. All I had to do was to add the products to my card and then use my loyalty card when I shopped.

Within days, I found that this very long grocery list of discounts, just for me, grabbed more of my attention than I had ever given to buying groceries in the past. I had never paid much attention to coupons—I just bought what was on sale once I was shopping, but now I was frequently checking my personal Safeway website to see what new personalized items had been added.

Soon after that, the New York Times reported on this very same personalization program at Safeway.

Some people were quoted that they found the “big brother” aspect of the program to be “way too creepy.”

Safeway’s reward of discounts on the products I liked most, discounts just for me, had created a craving for the reward and, thus, showed me how people who mean business and throw everything at you create a process that almost inevitably becomes a habit for the target.

Julio and His Cravings
Duhigg explains how in the 1980s Wolfram Shultz at the University of Cambridge discovered how through repetition a specific reward (a bit of blackberry juice) can drive an experimental subject (Julio, a monkey) to anticipate the reward as soon as he saw the work he had to do to get the juice.

Pictures on a screen cued Julio to expect–and crave–his reward, even before he had done the necessary work of pulling a lever. Duhigg says that the research discovered by Shultz and other researchers “explains why habits are so powerful:  They create neurological cravings.”

Duhigg explains how research in an MIT lab was developed to show the formation of a habit.  He says that a habit is locked in through a three-step loop: “First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”

Cue/routine/reward

Marketers (and Safeway) know how to make you crave a taste or a feeling and then act on that craving. How can we, as writers, use the same research to help us engage with our writing? You need to create a cue that triggers a craving to write, a craving that would help you form a habit by calling you back over and over to the writing.

 

Start with the reward

Finishing your dissertation and getting it off your back once and for all would indeed be a huge reward for all that work. But day-to-day, you need a cue and a reward that keep you engaging in the routine of writing.

A similar situation might be one you have met during a weight-loss program. You may know that if you keep with the program, in a few weeks or months you should reach your goal.  But the real motivation to keep going day-to-day is seeing the numbers change every few days when you weigh yourself.  The change seen on the scales creates a craving to repeat the process, or loop.

How could the same process work for creating text?  Meeting a measurable, daily goal could function as the reward for putting in the time and effort to produce text.

For many people, few rewards/goals are more compelling than a goal of how many words or how many pages you will write that day.

Recently I challenged a dissertation coaching client who had been researching and taking notes to shift into composing her argument that would then control the direction of her writing. She agreed that she would take on that challenge, but before she did that, she wanted to finish the note-taking on the book she was reading in order to hit the 10,000-word goal she had for her note-taking. The word count was compelling to her.

She needed to replace the routine of reading and taking notes with a new routine of constructing an argument. To make use of a goal or reward that worked for her, she would still have a number to keep track of, and so we brainstormed the various types of count that would appeal to her—a word count or a page count or even a sentence count. She experimented with different rewards until she found the one that clicked with her.

Once she had decided on the replacement reward, she thought about the cue that will cause the routine to kick in.  Duhigg says that almost all habitual cues fit into one of the following:

1. Location
2. Time
3. Emotional state
4. Other people
5. Immediately preceding action

My client kept the location of a particular coffee shop as the cue to start writing and working toward her reward or goal

 

The real Power of Habit

In The Power of Habit Duhigg says, “The real power of habit” is “the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” It is up to each person to choose the habits that will work for you and give you the success you want with your writing.

The science of habit formation is well documented. The habit loop is a framework that marketers have used successfully to get you to buy a specific product. How could you use the habit loop to make headway on your work? I would love to hear from you.

All the best,
Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

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