Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘start writing’ Category

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

 

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

No matter how serious your intention is to write, you need a plan.  And you need a plan that is automatic, clear-cut, and smooth.

You need a way to swiftly move into your work without the hesitation and resistance that can throw you off track.

You need a plan that works like the starting block works for an Olympian runner. You don’t want to slip and slide about in loose dirt. You want to move automatically into action at the given time. 

One of the world’s leading authorities on goal attainment, psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, Ph.D., has devised an amazingly effective plan for implementing a person’s intention to take action toward a goal.

Gollwitzer’s “if-then” plan or “implementation intention” requires you to decide ahead of time the time, location, and action you will take and to put the plan into the simplest, yet most logical, of forms. Your plan would be something as simple as this: IF it is 2 pm, THEN I will go to the 3rd floor of the library with my computer to write for two hours.

Gollwitzer’s research shows that such planning produces “automatic action,” because you “delegate control” to the “situational cues.” The situation or the when and the where are your cues—the situation triggers your taking action. Without your consciously thinking about it, your brain starts to work on making sure you will be aware and ready at the right time to take action.  Gollwitzer terms this “strategic automaticity” or “instant habits.” 

Without an if-then plan, competing projects or goals or other distractions can derail you from starting or taking action on any given day.

The if-then plan can change the way you approach your work.

It’s an amazingly effective cue to trigger your writing.

I would love to hear how you have  used the if-then plan to trigger your writing.

Happy writing,

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

Read Full Post »

Are you one of the lucky ones with Spring Break in the offing?

Have you been thinking and hoping and waiting for Spring Break?  Finally, you say, I’ll make some headway on my dissertation or book.

Visualize how it will work when you have none of the usual demands that take your time and distract you during each day.

It may be a bit of a challenge to be organized, to guard your time, to find the balance between thinking you have to research this and write that.  Feel a little scary?  Are you starting to put the stressors in place just at the moment when the usual demands may let go?

What would make for a more relaxing and a less stressful writing?
What are the fears?

Just at the time when you see some daylight, here come the fears.  Try this: See yourself as a cartoon character and imagine a little balloon above the character’s head. Put those scary thoughts up in that balloon—the fears that give you that debilitating tightness in your chest. Every time one of those thoughts or pains come up, think of the words or fears and mentally write those words in the balloon.

You’re bigger than those words-in-the-balloon. Put those fears in their place.

Sail on, Silver Girl

A client once said that sometimes “it feels like I’m strong and sailing forward like ‘Sail on, Silver girl; Sail on by’ in that Simon and Garfunkel song,”  but then everything just piles on.

Guard your Spring Break.  People may know where to find you and start making requests that are hard to ignore.

For your Spring Break, find quiet moments, with no stressors where you can sail on.
That Hotel Thing

Maybe it’s time for that Hotel Thing.  If you need solitude and the boundaries that seeming-to be-out-of- town will give you, why not find a good deal for 2 nights in a hotel? Bring snacks, but be sure you can get room service for that evening when you’re in flow, but you’re hungry for something more than Trail Mix.  That’s no time to tramp around, trying to find a cheap eatery.

Bring your dissertation coach’s phone number, but leave all of your other phone numbers at home.

Give yourself an evening to settle in and to tame your surroundings. Feel at ease and comfortable with starting gradually.

Ah, just writing about solitude and co-existing with no other living creature allows me to relax and breathe deeply.
A Retreat with a Friend 

Some writers combine a writer’s retreat with reconnecting with friends or being with like-minded people.  Consider renting a beach house or going to a Bed and Breakfast with a friend or two and setting up compatible writing schedules.  Having someone to walk with before dinner sounds pleasant.

 

Accountability

My dissertation clients primarily hire me to provide accountability.

Why not combine your plans to write during Spring Break with Dissertation Boot Camp/Writer’s Retreat?  Boot Camp, or at least my version, includes 3 coaching calls over two weeks and short, daily check-in’s via email. And if a client is having a week-end retreat at a hotel or in another hidden location, I’m glad to schedule a coaching call on the week-end or at some random time to help get the writing off the ground and keep it going.

Being accountable to one other person who isn’t your friend, your mother, or your spouse can be very important.  No drama, no complications. A similar dynamic is probably at work in organizations like Weight Watchers.

If results count, find a way to include accountability during your Spring Break.

If you have been longing  for some time alone, with no appointments  or  scheduled must-do’s, go ahead and take some time off.  If you are one of the lucky ones with Spring Break, seize the opportunity and dedicate it to your writing.  I would be glad to help you create a productive and relaxed writer’s retreat.

And if Spring Break isn’t in sight, take a long weekend.  Remove yourself from everyday life and give me a call.

I’m on your side. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

Read Full Post »

Valentine's - lots of hearts

Image by Vicki's Nature via Flickr

“Commit to paper” is a common, but powerful  phrase.

You don’t need to have already had the aha moment in order to write. 

There’s no holding back when you allow yourself to see that you have enough to start.

Surrender and go with what you have.

On Valentine’s Day, it’s time to commit . . . .  Commit to paper.

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

 P.S. Would you like to receive my e-newsletter Smart Tips for Writers?  You can sign up on my website (www.nancywhichard.com).

Read Full Post »

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

Image by historic.brussels via Flickr

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 and settle placidly under the desk lamp.  .  .  .  The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding.  And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. 

Spark is saying in her engaging style that to regain the self-discipline and focus you need to write, let go of the negative, chattering voices in your mind and all of the endless responsibilities calling to you. 

Occasionally my dissertation coaching clients speak of the quieting influence of their pets.

Unfortunately, in Spark’s novel, the narrator informs us that  the Brigadier’s writing fails.  Mrs. Hawkins says,  “I had advised him only that a cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.”

Mrs. Hawkins freely gives her wise advice to other would-be writers. She tells writers to have in mind a particular person who will be your reader.  

What you have to say will come out more spontaneously and honestly than if you are thinking of numerous readers.  Before starting . . .  rehearse in your mind what you are going to tell . . . . But don’t rehearse too much, the story will develop as you go along.

Working toward discovery and trusting a process –both in life and in writing– are strong themes in the book.

Life isn’t fair, of course, and trusting the process does not always lead to exemplary writing or to published works, as evidenced by the novel’s depiction of many questionable publishers and of less than stellar writers who do get published.

But we can take pleasure in Muriel Spark’s esteem for honest, hard-working writers, as well as her undisguised contempt for the undeserving who sometimes receive  their just rewards.

As a writer, have you found good or interesting advice from an unexpected source?  I would love to hear from you.

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

Read Full Post »

Feeling stuck?  Feeling as if your well has gone dry? 

What’s a writer to do?

At such times when nothing seems to be coming together for you in your writing and when you feel more resistance toward your dissertation than usual, what can you do to stir things up a bit and to start writing?

Exercise is good.
Exercise will eat some of that anxiety and definitely improve your mood.  If you improve your mood, your resistance to writing will be lessened, and it will be easier for you to see connections among your ideas.

How about lowering the stakes?
Here’s a tip from a couple of my dissertation coaching clients, who are always a great resource for what works:  Try www.750words.com.  My clients recommend it as a place to brighten your mood and help you ease into writing.

This website is safe, fun, and makes it easy to write. You write on the site, and it’s like writing for a new friend, someone who’s cheerily wishing you well and nonjudgmentally suggesting that you do some writing.

A little number at the bottom of the screen shows how many words you’ve written and when you have written 750 words (more or less three pages) you get a “Congratulations!” And you also get points toward such rewards as a little electronic penguin.

One dissertation coaching client told me that she has her web browser set to that site. It’s the first thing that opens for her, making it a little easier to start writing.  She also said that her first writing on the site was a letter to her dissertation, telling it how much she hated it.  Take that, foul dissertation!  Then, to be fair, she let her dissertation write back to her.

The goal is to start writing. If you lower the stakes, you’re more likely to break through your resistance to writing. Keep making the attempt. Things will add up. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »