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The New Year at its most powerful is a time for reflection and a time to think about where you want to put your focus.  The holidays are often jam-packed with travel, planning, buying, eating, interacting, negotiating, and not much quiet time. The first week of the New Year may reveal that it’s harder to focus than you had thought it was.

On the first coaching day of the New Year among those dissertation coaching clients who showed up as expected, I also had a client show up unexpectedly—she had forgotten that she wanted to start a week later. On subsequent days the schedules of a couple more clients unexpectedly conflicted with their coaching calls. The first day or so of starting a new schedule or returning to a routine after a busy holiday can make for a bumpy ride and a feeling of loss of control.

While my holiday began with the usual hurry-hurry pace, by Christmas Day I had moved into the best part of the holiday–the familiar gift exchanges, special meals, and the less familiar travel to a new home of a loved one.

The most different part of my Christmas holiday was going with my whole family to Manhattan on Christmas Monday. The crowds both at Macy’s at Herald Square and at Rockefeller Center skating rink and Christmas tree were enormous, but fun, jolly, and relaxed. We joined the cold-night sauntering of the crowds down Fifth Avenue, oohing and ahhing over the window displays at Tiffany and Bergdorf Goodman and the light shows and illuminations on the tall buildings.

Celebrating the holiday with my family and also with this huge, unhurried crowd of friendly strangers heavily bundled against the night’s cold was not only relaxing, but it was also a way to reset my frequently frenzied focus. I could concentrate on what was there to be seen and to be experienced. I lost myself in the moment, enjoying the city at its most beautiful. 

Having those few hours not only to be unplugged, but also to feel transported and intensely engaged in a sensory, beautiful experience gave me the pause I needed to come back to my work with a desire to improve my level of focus and concentration.

To help me sharpen my focus in this New Year, I’m giving myself time each day to pause. I’m setting aside an hour each day where I have the choice on where to place my focus.

I also realize how much I need to have experiences of beauty and wonder in my life. Reading has always given me those kinds of experiences, but increasingly my reading is for my work or has chosen by someone else. Recently I happened to read Téa Obreht wonderful novel The Tiger’s Wife, which created a world that beckoned me to re-engage for days and weeks to unravel webs of images and secrets and relationships.

Knowing that I’m better in many ways–focus, concentration, motivation– if I’m reading a novel that engages me and asks something of me, I’m also giving myself permission to spend some time looking for such novel to read each month—one that engages me and could very likely leave me awestruck

What do you need to have in your life in this New Year? Do you also need something that will boost your focus and concentration in 2012?  I’d love to hear what you think.

All good wishes to you for 2012,

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 thanks to ToDo, who has a tip for us– go to youtube
 
Thanks! What fun!
 
See you on YouTube

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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What calls us to write?  Feeling moved by an activity, an idea, a sentence, a word, a sunset, a dessert, and feeling compelled to explore it more deeply by writing about it?

Writing is like baking or eating a French dessert, a rich, consuming experience, a bit treacherous, full of uncertainty. A friend had made her favorite dessert– canelés –and, “to make things even better,” she was going to share it with me.  Having never heard of canelés, I googled the word and what appeared was a wonderful blog  with and a post about canelés, complete with a lovely picture of the small golden cakes.  The writer wrote about the history of the dessert and her own memories of eating them in Paris and then her hassles with getting the temperature right in her oven when she baked them herself.

The sensual, lively post honored the special dessert and the writer’s experience in making it.  In addition, it was a gift to me, the reader, second only to the delicious gift of canelés from my friend.

In the book The Uncommon Reader, the titular reader is the Queen of England who by happenstance begins to read voraciously late in life and to her surprise and delight, finds that reading changes her life.

Chasing her corgis near Windsor Castle, she comes upon a mobile library, and being the polite queen, she borrows a book.  One book leads to another, and eventually she wondrously finds that she would rather read than do anything else.

From her reading, she starts to understand and take note of how others feel and live. She records observations in her notebook, something that raises concerns and suspicions among her staff.  One of her advisors, an elderly man prone to not bathing, thought that writing might be preferable to reading because “in his experience writing seldom got done. It was a cul-de-sac.”   He thought that she would then neither read nor write, a state he and the Queen’s people thought best fit the Queen.

People tending the Queen attributed her loss of attention to things ceremonial to a mental decline, so unusual it was for a Queen to read, to have interests, particularly interests that few others shared, and strangest of all, to write.

While reading took her to a wonderful new place in her life, only if she were to write a book would she feel her life complete.  She gathered a determined courage in order to announce to others that her next step would be to write something significant.

The charming, fanciful book is a critique of a somewhat shallow group of leaders, but it is also a salute to the power of reading and writing.

The Queen in this story had never envisioned herself as a serious reader, no more than she imagined that she would become a writer.  The portrait of this Queen shows someone bravely going  down an uncertain road.

To write takes a willingness to do whatever is necessary in order to write.

Writing has its own special rewards and makes its own special demands.  It needs tending, care, and a complex love.

It may be hard to call yourself a writer, or even to think of yourself as a writer when you struggle to make time for it or fit it into small crevices of your day.  But sooner or later, you will honor what you do in those few, quiet moments each day and say, maybe just to yourself, “I’m a writer.”  You are many things, but you most definitely are a writer and that identity was hard-won.

Write bravely!

Nancy

P.S.  In honor of the Queen’s corgis, here’s a funny little film shared with me by a friend celebrating her own birthday.

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.usingyourstrengths.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net

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How was your Sunday?  Productive?  Or another day with only good intentions?

If you don’t have much to show for the day, would you say that anxiety did you in?

You know the signs of anxiety.  You know when you’re getting high-jacked by a fear of one kind or another commonly associated with writing.  For me, the sign is a heavy-duty fluttering in my chest—like a ton of butterflies just flew into my body.  Ever feel that?

Fortunately, when I’m having physical signs of anxiety when I’m trying to write, I usually know how to deal with them. Yes, my first inclination is to eat.  I don’t suggest you go that route.  But if I can kick the food lizard in the teeth, I know that what will help is to breathe deeply or roll my head first to one shoulder and then to the other.

But if you’re like me, even if you have great awareness when a case of nerves is about to derail your writing, you may not pick up on specific behaviors that could be your undoing.

Sometimes your brain can get lost in wild-goose chases on Google or in connecting and reconnecting on Facebook.

It’s those things that we do almost unconsciously that can do us in.

You think you’ve locked up, tied down, turned off all those distractions that you know you’ve made for yourself in the past. You’re not doing your crosswords, you’ve hidden  your knitting, you’ve stopped watching Netflix, and you avoid turning on the TV to watch the cable news shows.

But then someone hands you a book and says, “Do you want to read this book?  It’s really bad—great trash.  It’s helped me wind down at night.”

A 600-page, easy book.  Unfortunately, once you start the book, it doesn’t leave your mind.  What you started with the intention of reading a couple of chapters at night has become a full-blown distraction.  One part of your mind says, “Reading this book doesn’t matter and what happens to these characters doesn’t really matter.”  But another part of your brain is spinning, “Oh, I have to find out what happens to these characters,” and you keep reading late into the night.

The next day you find yourself Googling the characters.

There’s a part of your brain that wants to soothe you and protect you from fear and anxiety.  Finding out what happens to those characters feels so much better than writing your dissertation.

Does any of this sound familiar?  What are you putting between yourself and your diss?

It’s a constant struggle, isn’t it?

Until next time,

Nancy

P.S. Dissertation boot camp can help you replace those insidious behaviors with a robust writing habit.  One participant said that she was really surprised at how much it had helped her.

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

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Mental toughness as the way to finish a dissertation is all well and good, but what if you’re just not feeling particularly tough?

Is “powering through” your work not realistic for you right now, given how even the phrase “power through” makes you snarl?

What would help you lean into your work?

What can you change?  Is there any way to change the way you think about the work?

How can you look at your dissertation in a different way?

A friend told me about a TV show on the National Geographic channel called “The Dog Whisperer.”  She doesn’t own a dog, but she was excited by the possibilities of having more control in her life if she assumed the attitude of the dog whisperer.

Today by chance I happened onto “The Dog Whisperer” on TV.

In the episode I saw, Cesar, who is the dog whisperer,  was visiting the dressing room of an actress in  the play Wicked to solve the problem of the actress’s overly excitable dog.  Cesar said the dog barked because of the anxiety and excitement in the room, and the solution was for both the actress and the make-up person to calm down.

Every time the dog sensed anxiety, he would race about, barking and even nipping at people. Cesar said that the dog went into a frenzy in order to control the situation, and when the actress controlled the situation by lowering the excitement and anxiety in the room, she could then control the dog.

At that point, all it took from her was an assertive “Psst” from her and a snap of the finger.

What a technique! Where can we apply this?

Do you feel that your dissertation has brought too much drama into your life?  Do  you want a way to better control your feelings and to avoid emotional landmines that disrupt or halt your writing?

What if you reframed or changed the way you look at your dissertation?  Here’s my suggestion  —think of your dissertation as a sometimes nearly unmanageable puppy.

Like a puppy, your dissertation needs you to nurse it along and nurture it.

But on those days when the diss seems more like a swirling, yapping Yorkshire terrier, it needs you to be assertive.  That’s when it is time to utter a loud, hissing “Psst” at the chatter and clutter in your brain.  Then snap your fingers and give your computer screen that look.  I know mental toughness when I see it, and that sounds like mental toughness to me.

You may need to practice that a bit.

If you look at your diss as if it were a dog that needs attention and training, you can also recognize that it’s your control that will transform your diss.

Rather than seeing your dissertation as a massive piece of granite—unyielding and hard and impossible—see it as a puppy needing to be attended to, controlled, and also liked.

Name it—maybe you could call it Owen, which is the name of the yapping dog I saw in “The Dog Whisperer.”

And it’s fun to say “Pssst” and point like the dog whisperer does.

A wise person said to me that the way forward toward her goal is for her is to recognize what she can change.   She says that recognizing that she can change how she thinks about her dissertation helps her. That shift in her way of thinking about her diss and in her way of seeing it can kickstart her desire to work.

Where do you have control?  What can you change?

Let me know how seeing your dissertation in a different way helps you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

P.S.  Another way to learn to control your feelings about your diss is to take the Dissertation Boot Camp (www.nancywhichard.com)

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

 

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Over the past week two different people, both of whom are approximately 32, seemed surprised that I had heard of the singing group Coldplay.

The frenetic marketing of Coldplay’s new record would make it hard not to have heard of them.  To dig up a little more on Coldplay, I turned to YouTube. I found several of their pieces that I liked,
and I also liked some of what I heard in an interview with Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

Hearing Chris Martin talk about the hours he works and his creative process also led me to think of other ways people generate ideas for their writing.

1.  Seat Time – Put the Hours in
In an interview on the Charlie Rose show, Chris Martin was surprised to be asked where he gets his ideas for the words and music of his songs.  Martin confessed that he, like most composers and writers, doesn’t know where his ideas for music and lyrics come from.  He said, “I just sit and play and play and play.   I never know where a song comes from.  It’s time.   I just put the hours in.”

2.  Structure Fairy
Sometimes even if you put in the hours in the style of Chris Martin, you still may not feel in flow or feel that you have a good idea for your writing.

A couple of people have told me that they put in the hours– they both work and work, but all too frequently they stall.  They come to an impasse. However, after sleeping on the problem and awakening the next morning, the solution frequently comes to them.

One coach friend is a brilliant writer but nevertheless struggles to make her writing brilliant.  Since problems with structuring her ideas frequently bring her writing to a halt, she is delighted at the “arrival” of a solution.  She says that after a long work session that has not yielded her what she wants, she leaves the work until morning.  While she sleeps, oftentimes the Structure Fairy visits her.

I don’t argue with fairies or leprechauns, but I humbly suggest that our wonderful brains can give us marvelous gifts when we move away from a trying project and use a different part of our brain or if we exercise or if we just get a good night’s sleep.

3.  Behavioral Economics
What if you almost or actually hate the project you’re working on, and there are no fairies coming to your rescue?

A client told me that a friend of his once put a large sum of money on a roommate’s desk and said, “If I don’t finish this chapter of my thesis, this money is yours.”

My client also said that if you are unable to meet your goal, established websites are in business to help you threaten yourself.  You can give someone $1,000 at one of these websites, and if you don’t meet your goal, the company gets to keep the money.

I’ve heard a similar kind of pact, in which you give a significant amount of money to someone, and tell that person your announced goal—a specific, measureable goal– and when you will reach it. If you reach your goal, the money goes to the political candidate of your choice.  If you don’t reach your goal… yep, you got it… the money goes to the opposing candidate.  I first heard of this idea years ago, and the threat was that if you didn’t meet your goal, your money would to go to Jesse Helms, now deceased, but who at one time was a very conservative senator.

Every day we have a narrative, and every day we talk our selves through our day.  But sometimes talk doesn’t work, and we have to take an extreme action to jolt ourselves into action.

Fear of failure can scare most of us into action; however, if you promise yourself a reward for achieving a goal or if you make an effort to be optimistic and work to feel positive about reaching your goal, you are more likely to be successful.

Hoping you’re putting in the hours—

Nancy
Your International Dissertation Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com

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Get up early, no matter how much you think you think you need sleep, and write.

Writing a dissertation takes single-mindedness.  It takes mental focus.  It works best when you feel calm, when anxiety is low, stress is low, and you feel little or no ambivalence.

And how often do you feel this way?

Do you waste time feeling how unfair it is that you have to work so hard just to find a quiet moment when you won’t be disturbed?  That you have to lose sleep just to write?  Do you feel that others have it better and easier than you do?

Most of us have lives that seem to be careening along, as wild as a California fire or a Virginia summer storm.

Just when we think we see a week-end approaching when at last time will be ours, the time slips away.

The space where we thought we would write completely disappears, as if swept away by a summer downpour.

And at the end of that day when time once again eluded us, this is what I know. When once again we have not met our goal and when once again we feel beaten down and knocked about, we certainly do not feel that we’re participating in a metaphor. We are not part of a fast-moving stream.  We are slouching in a chair and self-medicating by eating, drinking, or watching TV.

We know we should go on to bed, but there we are– wondering where the time went.

Go to bed!  The only way to get writing done is to get ahead of the storm. Get to bed and then get up early, no matter how much you think you think you need sleep.  Write.  Write early in the morning.

Write before you hear other people in your building starting to rise.  Write before your own kids are awake.  Write before you hear car doors slamming or cars moving. Write before your mind starts to feel befuddled by the demands of whatever else is in your life.

Write when you are calm and when it is quiet.

And then hum to yourself this lovely old hymn that Cat Stevens made popular.

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