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Archive for the ‘getting started’ Category

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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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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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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A famous New Yorker Magazine cartoon illustrates procrastination and resistance against things you don’t want to do. A man is talking on the phone to someone wanting to meet with him, and the man says, “How about never—is never good for you?”

“How about never” speaks to many writers. When will you feel like writing? How about never?

Today I listened to procrastination researcher Dr. Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University in Ottawa speak about a difficulty you may have, the procrastination in starting a task that you don’t feel like doing, such as writing. At times he, too, has to drag himself to write, but he says, “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just get started.” He adds that he is not saying “just do it”;  rather, if you can find a way to start a task, even if you stay at it for only five minutes, you are likely to return to the task the next day.

Dr. Pychyl says to fit into the larger pattern of your day the tasks that you would ordinarily procrastinate on, such as writing or exercising. Recently I spoke with a young woman who runs each day. And even though running has been part of her life for some time, she still has to work at ignoring her mind chatter that tells her to take a day off.

How does she run even if she does not feel like it? She says that the fewer the uncertainties about running, the more likely it is that she will run.

She is on to something. Dr. Pychyl says that you can get caught in uncertainty, even with things you say you want to do.

Eliminate the uncertainty about when to run

My runner friend does not wait until after she gets home at the end of the day to run because of the many distractions. It’s too easy, she says, to flop on her couch in front of her TV and never get up.

Likewise, she does not wait until she gets to work each day to decide whether she will run that day. For her mental health, she leaves her desk during her lunch hour. That hour is the time she plans to go to her to run.

Incentives always help

She has extra incentives that make it easier for her to go to her gym:

  • The gym is a pleasant place with jazz playing in the locker room
  • The gym is only a short walk from her office

But getting to the gym still takes willpower. And willpower is not always enough.

Use a daily ritual to avoid resistance

Knowing that on some days she will feel resistance, she has put in place a daily routine of small steps that lead her gradually to her goal of running.

The daily routine has become a ritual that gives her the focus and momentum she needs to move forward toward running, and she has woven the steps of the ritual in among her regular office duties.

The small steps in her ritual also keep her from thinking about potential momentum-stoppers, such as showering at mid-day, the pain she sometimes feel while running, and the other activities or work she could be doing instead of running.

Her ritual is simple but effective.  It starts at 10:15 a.m. after she has been at her job for more than an hour:

–10:15 a.m.:

She takes breakfast to work–cereal/milk/juice–and eats at 10:15 a.m. so that she will not feel hungry when she walks to the gym. Eating this light breakfast at mid-morning every dayalso triggers her focus toward what will come next. With each step she becomes more engaged with the upcoming task.

–11:30 a.m.:

At 11:30 a.m. she starts drinking water to hydrate.

–11:45 a.m.:

At 11:45 she breathes deeply and stretches briefly in the work break room.

–12:05 p.m.:
By 12:05 she is walking to the gym, reminding herself that in one hour she will be back at her desk.

–At the locker room:

She feels increasingly confident and eager to run as she starts to put on her running clothes. She says that once she has laced her shoes, her feet know what to do. At that point, she is  at big milestone, signifying that she has hit each of the smaller goals or steps along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And she anticipates the rewards of  greater mental clarity and feeling healthier that running always gives her.

The keys to her success

1. Determining that she will use her lunch hour to run relieves her of the stress of deciding daily when or for how long she will run.

2. Starting and carrying through on the steps each morning break down her resistance and mentally prepare her to run.

3. Her plan varies little. Delivering daily on the steps  has become a habit, indeed a ritual. The ritual is reassuring and increases her clarity of thought. She feels that something is wrong if she doesn’t follow through on each of her planned steps.

And how could a ritual help you?

As a writer, you, too, will know the pleasure and benefit of reaching your goal of writing every day if you:

1. Determine the time of day and where you will start writing.

Avoid waiting until late in the day when you are tired and when distractions have their greatest allure.

2. Determine how long each writing session will be.

Make the length of time realistic and do-able;

3. Develop a series of specific steps that you take at determined times, such as checking that you have the text you want to work on and that  you will have a cup of tea ready soon. Then take a few deep breaths and meditate for a few minutes. Or stand at a window and feel the sun on your face. Each step will help you build momentum and a readiness to work;

The fewer the uncertainties and decisions, the more likely it is that you will write.

 

What habits or rituals do you have in place that help you avoid procrastination and remove uncertainty about writing?  I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

 

 

 

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Every day we all do many things that are hard, but without a doubt one of the hardest is to make time for a writing session.

Your life is hectic, complicated, challenging, and there’s never time to write.

But what is funny is that even if you have somehow arranged or finagled a way to take time off from work to write, you will still do about anything else before or instead of writing. Am I right?

What is stopping you? Fear of failure, belief that you don’t know enough or aren’t ready?

How about this? You’re smart—you know how hard writing is. Who the heck wants to wade into the snake-filled, deep grass of writing if you can possibly avoid it? Writing goes on and on. You can slap a few words on the screen, but then comes the rewriting and reworking and trying to find some meaning in this ridiculous mess of words. 

So we all avoid it until we’re scared of truly and forever missing a deadline and proving to ourselves that we’re as sniveling as we have always suspected.  And then, maybe, we’ll brave the snake-infested waters. We pull on the boots and wade in.

Does it have to come to this every time? God help us all. We are better than this. I’m tired, even now, as I think of the hordes of procrastinating, perfectionist, sensitive, worried would-be writers, myself included, who are sitting in front of the TV or reading every blog known to man or woman instead of writing.

Enough. 

How can getting started writing and sticking with it be made easier?

You hear that the way to get writing done is to “just do it.” People who routinely make room in their busy days for more commitments may seem to “just do it.”

But ask someone who has added to their busy day a taxing commitment, such as running or swimming or teaching a class or producing text, if they “just do it.”

Or do they have strategies, rituals, and preliminaries that help them get started and get the job done?  When do they write?

My dissertation coaching clients will tell you that what they hear from me is that it is easier to start writing if you have a daily routine and write first thing each morning. The good news is that the more you sit down and write at that time each day, the closer you will be to having a robust writing habit.

Why wait all day and into the evening, with the hope that somehow you will trap yourself into writing? 

Write first.

I would love to hear  from my readers.  What ideas do you have about how to start writing more easily?  Does writing first each day work for you?

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

 

 

 

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As I sit here, waiting for our daughter and her husband to arrive for Thanksgiving, I think of all the people traveling today.  The bad weather has added an extra dose of anxiety to the trip.  Yet, we saddle up and head for home, no matter the weather.   Well, many of us do.

A cousin in Boston emailed me today to say, “It has been raining here since last night.  Traffic has been a nightmare.  Glad I am not going anywhere.”

My cousin may have the right idea.

With so much invested in the travelling, it’s likely that once we’re all gathered under the same roof, some conflicts could arise.

One dissertation client today told me that, yes, she is travelling, but once she arrives, her plan is to have two one-hour writing sessions during the holiday.  Each session will be at the beginning of her day before she becomes involved with family activities.

I asked, “Is this going to be a good holiday for you?”  And my client answered hesitantly, “I think it will be o.k.”

Maybe you, too, have a bit of concern about how this holiday will turn out.  What can you do to make it an o.k. holiday or maybe more than just o.k.?

  • Be in the moment.  Try to be appreciative of your family.  Think of one special person that you have been looking forward to seeing and either plan an outing or make an effort to ask the kinds of questions of that person that you know will make her feel good.
  • Take time out to rest or to be by yourself.  When you are physically tired or over-stimulated by too many people in one place, small things may begin to bother you.  Anticipate the need to recover before you’re exhausted.
  • Make time to walk or exercise—either with people or by yourself.  Exercise will help burn up some of those calories from the Thanksgiving dinner and will also help you generate positive feelings and a more tolerant perspective on your relatives.
  • If you are not a shopper, plan something special with a relative  in order to avoid the Black Friday shopping expedition. A museum or a park or somewhere quiet that is far from the mall.  This may be your only chance to get to know your cousins a little bit better.

Plan for a good holiday, a holiday with a few special moments that you can carry home with you, memories that might even put you in a good mood when it is once again time for a writing session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a comfortable, relaxing holiday.  Safe journeys.

And bring back a snapshot of a moment to remember.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Kicking the can down the road has been given a bad rap.

Political usage of the game’s title has come to mean a shirking of responsibility or procrastinating or hoping someone else will take care of a problem. This meaning has little connection to the game of years past.  While foreign to most children of today, the game in its simplest form consisted of moving a ball down a street to a goal, despite challenges or attempts by others to interfere.

Political usage aside, this game would have few players today for many reasons.

You say that the idea of kicking the can down the road is antiquated, not in keeping with the demands and expectations in your life. It’s a joke.  Who works or lives this way now?

Kicking the can down the road

You are impatient.  You demand achievement that speaks to your high standards and to your big vision.

You don’t have time to fool around with a kid’s game. You have to finish your dissertation.  You should have finished it two years ago.

Unfortunately, though, because of the project’s enormity, your dissertation process is out of control.  In fact, it has stalled, and you’re stuck.

There is another way. The alternative to living with an impasse and doing nothing is to narrow the process, focus on what is doable each day, and make the execution manageable.

A big project of any kind particularly that of writing a dissertation, needs to be divided into manageable chunks. Instead of approaching the dissertation like a house on fire, as my grandmother would say, you need a straightforward, doable plan that you can approach one step, or one kick, at a time. Something simple and elegant.

I like the image of a kid on the road, alone and calm. If you look closely at the kid, he is not aimlessly kicking, but focused and determined. And he is moving the can forward.  Sure, there may be some learning involved if you want to try this.  Such an old-school approach may not come naturally. You need practice.

kick the can

Focusing on the goal of small, steady gains takes determination and mental toughness to keep at it. But with the feeling of success that comes only from moving forward, your motivation will grow, helping you to stick with the project. And you will eventually reach that destination—of finishing your dissertation.

Kicking the can down the road seems about the right pace to get things done.  It suggests the old adage of “slow and steady wins the race.”

slow and steady

How about you?  How is your approach working?  Would small, steady gains help you finish your dissertation?

I would love to hear from you.

Here’s to small and steady gains–

Nancy

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

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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