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Archive for the ‘fears’ Category

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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You want a prediction about the weather? I’ll give you a prediction. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.–Bill Murray, playing a weatherman in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day

The weather this winter in at least half of the U.S. has been cold and gray, and many days it seems as if it’s always going to be this way. Dissertation coaching clients tell me that they’ve never felt as exhausted as they have this winter. Many are balancing their dissertations with a full-time job and a family. One said, “This winter when I go home from work, I’m done. I go to sleep.”

 Another said, “I’ve never been like this.”

Perhaps you, too, have been thrown off your stride this year. Like many other writers, you may have become exhausted trying to keep up with your dissertation and so you took a break.  It may have been a break enforced by the flu or sick children or kids home because of the weather.

Many people say that they are uncertain where they left off in their writing. One client says she wound herself up, asking, “Why am I not more on top of this?” Trying to get clear on where you are in the process can trigger the imposter syndrome. You don’t know when you will finish, and now you wonder if you can ever pull this off.  You start to doubt that you have ever had what it will take. 

How do you talk yourself down, break through your catastrophizing, and find your way back to your work?

Some writers call on their mental toughness and head back into writing, but resilience doesn’t come about without careful planning and practice.

Break out of your slump

If isolation and torpor, aggravated by the weather, are to blame for your writing slump, break the pattern by talking with someone. Talk aloud about your options for restarting.

Make modest plans

Plan an easy way in with short work sessions dedicated to specific tasks.  When you reach the 30-minute mark, or whatever amount of time you had promised yourself you would work, stop.

Keep a log

Make a record of what you have done during the session.  Give yourself credit for showing up.  Then note the time spent and what you worked on.

Before stopping, plan where you will go from here. My favorite advice for getting ready for your next writing sessions comes via Joan Bolker: “Park on a downhill slope.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

She says to sketch “out in writing what your next step is likely to be, what ideas you want to develop, or follow.”

Stay focused on the present

Put off thinking about the long-term goals for now.  Don’t start fiddling with a timeline of when you can finish or when the next big mile post will be.

Enjoy the work

As you work, remind yourself occasionally that you want to keep this writing routine going. In part, you want to do this because you can. You are able to do this work, and you have everything you need. You like the way it feels when you stick with it.  One dissertation client told me that he has a goal to make his writing fun.  He plans to enjoy the work just as if it is karate.

Smile

Collect cartoons, particularly those making light of the dissertation experience.  Keep a couple close by where you can read them.

Between writing sessions, make time to exercise; talk to a friend; read to your children.

Bill Murray was wrong—it may be cold and gray, but it will not be this way the rest of your life.  For now, keep writing, and buy yourself some spring flowers. 

I would love to hear from you.  How have you pulled yourself out of a writing slump?

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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A caller asked if I had ever coached someone who had become stalled on a house renovation project.  My answer was no, but what came to mind was how similar all big projects are.   How difficult it can be to keep going.  How crushing the project can become. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s say it was you who started the renovation project. You envisioned the changes you were going to make. You put together a plan to accomplish those changes.

And you took on this project in part because of what you wanted to prove to yourself.

Following through on such a commitment takes courage and resilience.  I’ve seen someone with these qualities accomplish an amazing home renovation project.  He almost single-handedly built a large room onto their house. He’s an accomplished man, but he’s not a carpenter, nor is he an architect. Nevertheless, over many months, the structure came together, and it’s a lovely addition to their home.

Completing such a project must be more than satisfying.  I would guess that the end feeling would be relief coupled with enormous joy in the accomplishment.

But if the renovation project, just like a stalled dissertation, is yours and if you’re stuck, re-starting takes courage and a willingness to look with new eyes at what this project will require from you.

Here are the five steps to help you restart:

1.  You need a plan, the more detailed the better.  A plan, with specific details, will guide you, and it will also be a way of keeping track.  It’s easier to keep going when you can check off items on a list or a plan.

2.  Make realistic, manageable goals each and every day or work session. Short-term goals and next steps keep you focused on the present.  And that’s where you have to work.

3.  When you accomplish the day’s goal, stop for the day—it may be counterproductive to push yourself beyond a reasonable stopping point.  Stopping when you’ve reached a realistic goal gives you the strength to come back another day.  If you go beyond the realistic goal, you start to risk burn-out or exhaustion. Exhaustion makes it much harder to return to the project.

4.  After you quit for the day, acknowledge yourself for the courage it took to come back to the project yet another day and to do what you said you were going to do.  Big Gold Stars!

5.  Draw on that feeling of renewed courage and the surge of joy to start your work another day.

Embarrassment, discouragement, and shame are likely to accompany getting stuck on something as open and visible as a home renovation or building project. Having one’s failure on public display can be brutal.  But the dread of being found out when a failure isn’t so visible, as in being stalled on a dissertation, is also brutally hard to bear. 

Life’s too short to live in dread or shame. You have a choice. I say get started on that detailed plan, plot your first step, and then take it.

Are you stalled on a dissertation, or have you been stalled?  What is your next step?  I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Many readers of Successful Writing Tips are looking for help with motivation.  And they also are interested in what mental toughness has to do with motivation.

As a dissertation writer, you may often find yourself in chaos, frustrated, with no easy way out.  You’re not alone.  Many other writers find themselves in a similar predicament.

A good way through such frustration is to rely on your mental toughness, your perseverance, and your determination.

Several years ago when I first wrote in this blog about mental toughness, I focused on Steve Nash, the NBA basketball player. Nash epitomizes mental toughness. A relatively small man in an aggressively physical sport, he has decided that he won’t let the rough play and attempts to intimidate bother him.  He remains unflappable.  I am sure that he likes the salary that comes with his job, but I don’t think a salary alone can give him the obvious zest and love for the game that he displays year after year.

 

 

I’m learning a lot about motivation and self-regulation from a class I’m taking from Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, a terrific teacher and also an expert in the study of goals and the science of motivation.

Mental toughness, like willpower and other forms of self-regulation, takes practice and grows stronger with use.  It can also be exhausted.  Halvorson says that you can “catch” mental toughness and self-control by thinking about or observing a person who has it in abundance.

Rather than feeling fearless and being motivated in part by their mental toughness, many ABD’s tell me that what motivates them is fear, particularly fear of failure.

If you don’t feel mentally tough now, can you imagine yourself becoming mentally tough as you write your dissertation?  I’d love to hear what you think.

In a future post I’ll write about two amazing people who exhibit incredible motivation, perseverance, and all-around mental toughness. I think you will be inspired by them as I am.

To my friends, family, and coaching clients in the U.S., Happy Fourth of July! 

I’m spending the holiday with some members of my family.  To those of you who I won’t see at this time, I hope to catch up with you soon. 

Warmly, 

Nancy 

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

 

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Gunter Böhmer: “Nightmare“, Indian ink drawing...

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Most people I know speak of a recurring nightmare:

–Having to take a test you haven’t studied for

–Having to give a talk, but being unprepared

–Not being able to get to the location where your talk or test is to be given

–Feeling under great tension and wearing yourself out trying to accomplish something that you are unable to do

At some point, even if you’re still dozing, you realize it’s a dream.  And you feel incredible relief.

If you grew up in basketball state  in the U.S. or graduated from a university where basketball is a big sport, you may have watched some or all of the NCAA men’s basketball championship game a few nights ago.

The Butler University basketball team endured a nightmarish game where nothing worked for them.  It seemed as if the game would never end.

Whatever would have helped the Butler players— more preparation and practice on shooting two-point shots, less reliance on a star three-point shooter, an arena/ playing field more appropriate to the sport and the age of the players or . . . —  the Butler team lived a nightmare in full view of millions of people.

Their desperation was visible, as they played a high-stakes game that was not going to turn out well for them.

Over the years I’ve coached writers for whom the stakes are high . . . . Doctoral students who are panic-stricken at the prospect of writing the required dissertation, people who have given up their day job to write a novel, people who have made promises and commitments and still haven’t done the writing.

Some put off the writing for years, straining the good will and trust of family and spending the capital of advisors, bosses, or colleagues.  And now they are paralyzed with fear when they face the computer screen or empty page.

Writing, with its rattling chains, terrifies.

But in order for you to write, your goal is not to be fear-free.

The goal is to feel the fear and manage it. You don’t have to do what the fear says—you don’t need to flee or abandon all hope. Listen to what the fear is telling you to do and then ignore it.  Move past it.  You ignore that negative inner chatter of your being an imposter and that you don’t have what it takes. You tell yourself that you have everything you need to move forward with this work.

If you haven’t already, you will most likely someday have a nightmare of being unprepared for a test or not having written a paper (or your dissertation), but you can take the steps now that will make that nightmare nothing more than a dream.

How are you managing your fears and your goals?  I’d like to hear from you.

My best to you,

Nancy

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

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Many times writers hire me to coach them because they’re stuck.  They haven’t made substantial progress on their dissertation for months. 

What stuck often means is that the writers are having trouble claiming a chunk of time for the writing because of time-sucks.  Time-sucks come in all sizes and shapes. 

Facebook and email will be your undoing.  
Friend—give them up!  

In the interest of full disclosure, I do go on Facebook, but only because my nieces talked me into doing it.  I joined in order to see pictures of the little ones who live far and away.  No matter how many subscriptions I give to Your Big Backyard, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids and Cricket, I get fewer and fewer pictures in the mail.  Thank-you notes, yes.  Pictures of the kids, not so many.  Thus, Facebook, but it’s just for the pictures. 

Babies are notorious time-sucks.
Being a parent is high on the list for time-sucks, especially if your kids are young.   The youngest addition to my extended family showed up in a picture on Facebook with the words “Mommy’s attention hog” on his t-shirt. 

Because of a singular moment, I remember what I was thinking or not thinking around the time my youngest started kindergarten.  I was standing in line at the grocery and for the first time in ages I was startled to catch myself lost in thought. 

When one has kids, the state of being lost in thought takes planning and distance.  

Mindless activities get few gold stars.
How much cleaning and straightening and folding do you need to do in order to feel good?  I think the more mindless activities you do, the worse you feel, kind of like eating Snickers bars, but I may be wrong. 

I am bothered by the stacks of files and papers in my house. I’ve delegated those decluttering tasks to 2 hours on Sunday while I watch TV.  Today was the second Sunday for using my new plan, and I’ve cleaned up a few stacks.  Two hours seem about right for me.  Any more than that and I’m suspicious that I’m procrastinating on something more important. 

Feel guilty asking for help from your spouse?
Moms, especially, think they can multi-task, even if it’s writing a dissertation at the same time as they’re refereeing a tug-of-war the boys are having over a toy. 

A favorite story from a client was that she felt guilty asking her husband to take care of the kids on a Sunday afternoon when he worked so hard all week, and she, ostensibly, only had to take care of the kids.  The husband didn’t really mind taking care of the kids,  She would go to the library, and he would add seats for the kids in front of the TV—and not to watch cartoons, but to watch golf!  Not the worst thing, right?  The story goes that the kids learned to love golf. 

What I hear from my clients suggests that time skitters around corners, never to be seen, never to be caught, much as if it were a two-year-old.  Sometimes it sounds as if time makes itself available only to the lucky or to those with nannies or to the childless. 

It’s true that there are inequities.  Too often women have waited their turn to finish a degree.  The spouse finishes first, and then if there are kids, moms can sometimes put their writing further and further down on their priority lists. 

But the person who takes responsibility for negotiating relationships and asking for what she needs will see time emerging.  

Time is both elusive and valuable. Be bold and brave— ask your spouse for what you need.  Carve time out of the day, and claim that precious commodity for your important, but sadly neglected job of writing.   Plan and use time as if it were made of gold. Because it is. 

I’d love to hear from you—what challenges are you having around time? 

All good wishes, 

Nancy 

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

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Is a non-negotiable deadline closing in on you?  Has it been set by your university?  Or is a job – perhaps a postdoc– resting on your finishing your dissertation soon?

As you struggle to meet the deadline, it can feel as if you are barreling downhill on an icy, bumpy slope.  And you fear that at any second you could be thrown violently off course.

It’s easy to fall victim to fears of not meeting a deadline and fears of success and the future.  To meet the deadline and finish, you have to be almost counter intuitive.  You have to keep skiing or skating into the jaws of danger, no swerving, no hanging back, no delaying.

The desire, courage, tenacity, mental toughness, and resilience of the athletes of the Winter Olympics are studies in relief of what a writer needs in order to finish a dissertation sooner rather than later.

Even the boldest of Olympians speak of their fears about performing and competing.  From Russia’s skating superstar Evgeni Plushenko to the U.S. Men’s Half-Piper Gold Medal Winner Shaun White, they speak of the need to get into their routines before being sabotaged by their nerves and fears.  

For you to finish your writing in a timely way, rather than fall along the wayside, means that you must move quickly into a writing routine. You also need to have in place a careful, specific timeline and a detailed writing plan that you follow religiously.
 
Evan Lysacek, the winner of the gold for the Men’s Figure Skating, planned each minute of his performance for maximum points. 

Similarly, to finish your dissertation, you must be as strategic, practical, and savvy as Lysacek.  Know the requirements and expectations of those who will review your work.  Factor those requirements and expectations into your goals and timeline.

Your work is every bit as important to you as winning is to an Olympian athlete. Be smart.

Smart Strategies:
1.  Plan a timeline and writing schedule.
2.  Move quickly into a daily writing routine.
3.  Break out the outline and follow it.
4.  Stay in the moment and focus. 
5.  Use your character strengths. Put your desire, courage, tenacity, mental toughness, and resilience into action.

The dissertation is yours to finish– plan, stay in the moment, and practice resilience.

All good wishes,

Nancy

P.S.  My February newsletter is being emailed.  Last Call to sign up—go to www.smarttipsforwriters.com

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

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