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Archive for the ‘perfectionism’ Category

 

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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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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Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Time management matrix as described in Merrill and Covey 1994 book "First Things First," showing "quadrant two" items that are important but not urgent and so require greater attention for effective time management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago, when my adult son mentioned how busy his work and life have become,  my husband was reminded of an annual planning session he had attended at which a facilitator presented a workshop on how to organize your time. 

As my husband drew a diagram from that workshop, I realized that he was drawing time management guru Stephen Covey‘s famous matrix. 

 

Stephen Covey’s Matrix 

Stephen Covey groups the ways we spend our time into four quadrants:

 –1-important and urgent

–2-important and not urgent

–3-not important and urgent

–4-not important and not urgent

As my husband drew the diagram, he said, “The facilitator said you should attend immediately and with personal involvement to Quadrant I matters.” The facilitator’s words about urgent matters resonated with my husband because he always has more work than he can get done.  Everything is urgent.

 

Everything is urgent

In your life, as an academic, ABD, dissertator, professional writer—does that sound familiar? You’re grading papers, attending meetings, preparing classes or presentations, returning email, managing crises at home, and trying to keep up with all that keeps hitting you. As you rush frantically and lose sleep, you also try to engage in last-minute binge writing of your dissertation before the time you told your advisor you would be submitting your promised work.  

Not only had my husband remembered clearly what the facilitator said is assigned to Quadrant I– the urgent and important matters, but he also clearly remembered those matters in Quadrant IV.  The facilitator said that Quadrant IV contains matters that you could basically forget about or things headed for the “circular file.” In other contexts, Quadrant IV could include behaviors such as vegging out in front of the TV or hanging out at Facebook.

So that’s Quadrant I and IV.  What about Quadrant II?  Important but NOT urgent matters would go in Quadrant II. 

Not surprisingly, my husband said that had forgotten what the facilitator said specifically about Quadrants II.  That’s probably because my husband, like so many of us, has to focus on urgent matters. The stuff that never stops. 

 

What you need to meet your goals

What are the important matters contained in Quadrant II and why should we care?  Take a look at what matters are in Quadrant II:

–goal-setting

–planning

–building relationships

–exercising

–productivity

People who most often meet their goals do more planning, organizing, and anticipating. They work efficiently and productively, avoiding last-minute sprints in order to meet impending deadlines, and they honor goals of a healthy lifestyle and close relationships.

While you might be able to avoid some of the distractions and time-wasters of Quadrants III and IV, how do you ignore the unrelenting onslaught of urgent demands of Quadrant I so that you can spend more time with the important matters of Quadrant II?  

 

Controlling what’s urgent

Not everything is an emergency, and we can take steps to stay out-of-the-way of things that appear urgent. Whenever possible, avoid email, particularly before or during a writing session. Avoid such additions to your workload as more volunteering, carpooling, office projects when the work really isn’t your responsibility, and perfectionism that can lead to unwarranted revision and research on your writing project.

Let people know that you are turning off your email and phone during the time you are writing. That would be a bold, but empowering step, wouldn’t it?

 

10 tips that will move you closer to your writing goal

Here are more tips that will help you increase your focus on what is important and also help you move closer to your writing goal:

–Anticipate future demands and activities. Plan, plan, plan. 

–Make your schedule and stick to it.

–Plan do-able, timely deadlines which you meet.  Such a plan results in productivity.

–Prepare so that when you sit down to write, your subconscious has had time to work on the ideas.

–Include physical exercise in your life. (Check out previous blogs and upcoming blogs on the importance of exercise to your writing life.)

–Break out the outlines. If you don’t have an outline, make one. Have an outline in place to guide your writing session.

–Routinely, daily, go to a quiet place to write and to plan the next day’s writing.

–Set up an accountability factor. Ask your friends if you can mail them a chapter and then tell them when you will mail it.

–Email your coach with frequent updates on daily writing sessions.

–Keep an eye on productivity—it’s under your control.

It might be a small problem for you to push aside something seemingly urgent in order to plan and schedule writing sessions, but if you don’t do that, you’ll have the big problem of not producing text because you are running around as if your hair is on fire.

Your hair isn’t on fire.  Slow down, plan, and show up to write.

In the March issue of my newsletter Smart Tips for Writers, I wrote about Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” and how that strategy relates to your dissertation. Let me know if that issue never arrived in your inbox. If you aren’t signed up for my newsletter, you can take care of that at my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

I’d love to hear your ideas on urgent vs. important matters and how they impact your writing.

Best to you,

Nancy

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

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Walking up to the United States customs agent in an airport after a trip out of the country always makes me feel uneasy. Will there be something wrong?  Where should I look as the agent flips through my passport?

So I stand there, feeling awkward. Finally, the agent looks at me one more time and then, with what seems like genuine feeling,  the agent calls me by name and says, “Welcome Home.”  

Whew. I’ve passed muster, but I’m also curiously touched.  I know there’s nothing personal in the greeting.  It’s predictable that the customs agent welcomes the traveler, but I always feel a bit of emotion rising in my chest.       

I guess I belong here after all.

Inception and Leonardo DiCaprio

Have you seen the movie Inception?  I got around to seeing it a few weeks ago and was particularly drawn to the ending when the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio shows the same unease I often feel as I wait to see what the U.S. agent may ask me.  DiCaprio gives a slight acknowledgment to the agent and then lowers his eyes—how are you supposed to look in this situation? And where should you look?  Finally the agent says, “Welcome home, Mr. Cobb.”

 

And the relieved and happy Cobb/DiCaprio crosses the boundary into the U.S. He’s home. Of course, he had reason to worry.  He could have been denied entrance. 

But that’s another story. 

A customs agent in the role of gatekeeper reminds me of how often we can doubt that we belong in a community or in a situation which formerly had seemed or claimed to be our home. 

The notion of home, returning home, and feeling at home in various situations goes beyond familiar settings, sentimental snapshots, or an address on a customs form. 

 

The writer’s home

Most ABD’s come to a graduate program feeling at home, challenged, but nevertheless sure that this is where they will find the opportunity, the collegiality, and the inspiration that will bring out the best in them.

Even if they had felt completely at home as they took classes or as they wrote papers for classes or perhaps even acting as teaching assistants, once the students have moved past their course work or into the dissertation process, they are too often thrown by the process and feel out-of-place as they try to finish their dissertations and earn their degrees.  

As I coach writers, I am struck by how frequently brilliant, capable ABD’s become stuck and start to feel incompetent and unworthy. 

Incompetent and unworthy

ABD’s know what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to make goals and meet deadlines and just write.  But for many ABD’s, deadlines have become counterproductive. The pressure and the isolation of trying to grind out text somehow raise such self-doubt that they start to question whether they belong in this doctoral program.  

Some compare themselves unfavorably with others who are further along in the dissertation process.  They feel such regret and, worse, they feel such shame for time wasted during the doctoral program that they’re almost paralyzed. 

Do they have what it takes to finish this degree?  The familiar situations and professors no longer seem reassuring, but rather seem to raise barriers to the extent that ABD’s start to see themselves as frauds or imposters. 

Lower the stakes

If this sounds like your situation, you could take a cue from some graduate students who have gone through periods of self-doubt and shame and have rewritten the process to make it work for them.  

Instead of focusing on the product or on finishing, focus on the present moment. Determine the block of time that you are setting aside each morning for yourself and decide what your choices will be during that time.  You can decide that you will write and that’s all, or you could have a variety of tasks to choose from, as long as you put in the time.  What is important is that you step back from the process and lower the stakes from producing something brilliant and perfect to doing something.

Ebb and flow 

The writing process will be one of ebb and flow. Some days, the writing will be crappy, and other days you might think the work you did wasn’t half bad. What is important is that you show up each day at the time you have carved out for yourself and write. Do something. And it will be good enough.

Welcome home

The block of time for your daily work is your place and your time. Rewrite the script; redesign the scenery. Make the delivery and the timing your own. This is your home place. And at the beginning of each writing session, greet yourself. I bet you would smile if you greeted yourself each morning with “Welcome Home, Mr. Cobb.”  

Warm regards,

Nancy

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

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How do writers manage their time and produce writing, even if they are taking on a subject new to them and are raising young children?

When I learned of an upcoming interview with Gretchen Rubin, the writer of the New York Times best-seller Happiness Project, I was curious.

I had come across Gretchen Rubin’s blog, but I thought I would learn more about her work before deciding if I would listen to the interview.

It appears that her book arouses opposing responses.  One grumpy reviewer renamed Rubin’s book as “Be Happy by Being Perfect All the Time,” attributing the writer’s motivation to perfectionism, to a need for external validation, and laziness—that is, she was avoiding doing “what it would take to really make her happy.”

In spite of the negative blog, I continued to poke around, and the more I learned about Rubin, the more I was intrigued.

Gretchen Rubin is an academic and was trained as a lawyer.

Some years ago she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Review and then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She decided that law wasn’t for her and left the law to write. She wrote three books on various subjects.

But then she decided to write about happiness.  An odd choice for someone trained to be a lawyer?

Maybe not. She and her well-to-do husband and children live in Manhattan.  Rubin says that she had everything that should make her happy, but she clearly didn’t feel happy. She wrote the book to learn “what it would take to be less snappish and more lighthearted.” 

And like the academic researcher that she was trained to be, in order to learn how to be more lighthearted, she immersed herself in research—in the emerging field of positive psychology and the extensive critical literature on happiness.  Then she spent a year testing all of the research and happiness theories. The Happiness Project is the book that she wrote detailing that year.

I’ve always found writing to be hard work, and a best-selling writer who has researches heavily and spends a year testing the research in order to write her book arouses my interest.

Gretchen Rubin read hundreds of books on the subject of happiness not only to write a book, but also to help herself be grateful for the life that she has: “Why am I getting myself distracted by petty irritations?” she asked herself before she started the project.

The more I read about Rubin’s process to research and write the book, the more I knew I wanted to hear the interview with Gretchen Rubin.  And she didn’t disappoint.

In the interview, Gretchen Rubin said that she loves a schedule and a routine. However, as a result of the many demands on her time because of her children, she has to be more flexible. Instead of a schedule, she uses accomplishment as her structure. She puts up a blog post every day, sends out weekly and monthly newsletters, and is currently working on yet another book.

She gets up at 6 am, an hour before her family wakes, to get started on one of her writing tasks. Her commitment is that sometime during the coming day she will spend three hours doing “hardcore, original” writing. Every day she writes for at least three hours.  Any reading is done outside of that time.

According to Rubin, making a firm decision in advance that you will do a fixed amount of writing each day is critical.

I’m inspired by a writer who writes every day, no matter what, and who avoids the “yeah-but’s” that she might use to excuse not writing. I admire Rubin’s self-management—her grit, resilience, mental toughness.

Perhaps like me, you have also been inspired by a writer’s story. Who inspires you to keep writing? Whose writing process would you like to use as a model?

I’d love to hear from you.

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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failure

Image by erix! via Flickr

What do you do when you have a plan for a writing project in place, but it goes terribly wrong?  What is your response?

When you slip up, do those powerful feelings that you’re not allowed to make a mistake overwhelm you? Do you label yourself as an imposter with the belief that you don’t know enough or aren’t clever enough to do the work?

If you tend to be a perfectionist, it can be hard to take the slip-ups in stride.

In the May edition of my e-newsletter, Smart Tips for Writers, I offer some thoughts and tips about what will help you be in solution mode, rather than going straight to meltdown, when you hit a rough patch.

You haven’t subscribed to my free e-newsletter?  That’s easily remedied.  Just go to my website at www.nancywhichard.com to sign up.

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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Writing My Thesis

Image by Trinesh Champaneri via Flickr

Perfectionism gives you a perfect excuse never to write.

Perfectionism not only slows productivity, but it also makes sure that your dissertation will never meet your expectations.

 
Put up with the messiness of writing

You have to go through the stage of writing “abominably repetitive, colloquial sentences,” as a dissertation client once described the early stages of writing a draft.  Abominable sentences in early drafts are part of the writing process.

 

Go for content

The perfectionist spends time crafting beautiful sentences but runs into trouble developing ideas.

Focus on putting into the early draft that content that you have rolling around in your brain, and give much less thought to form.  That exquisite prose you have read in the finished dissertations of others or in the articles written by your advisor came about through multiple revisions.

If you spend your valuable time crafting lovely sentences in an early draft, you will kick yourself later when you ruthlessly have to strike those same sentences because they add nothing important. Buckle down and write.


Share your work before it’s ready

Commit to a specific time when you will send a section to a colleague. Then pat yourself on the back for bringing a dose of reality into your dissertation process, and say, “This isn’t great, but it is what it is.”    Ask for feedback, if you can, or just get the boost to continue writing that sharing your work will give you.  It will move things along for you far more than if you keep struggling alone, trying your hardest to perfect an early draft. 

Face up to the perfectionism that has hamstrung you. 

Do you need some help in gathering your courage?   Do you need accountability to make a change?  Drop me an email.  I’d love to hear from you.

The best is yet to come.

Nancy

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

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