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I am reblogging a post from June 2010. It is as relevant today as it was then.

Successful Writing Tips

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and fathers-to-be who are writing dissertations or articles or books.

I know that it is hard to juggle your writing with family responsibilities and with all of  the other things that you do.

To honor the men who are my clients and readers, I want to describe some of the strengths and actions I’ve noticed in fathers I admire:

•  A father who encourages his children to read or write by modeling that behavior.
•  A father, when asked what he wants for Father’s Day, says he was thinking about the new translation of Kafka’s “The Castle” as well as hoping to have time  to watch some soccer.
•  A father who models respect for an extended family by having long, kind conversations with his chatty mother-in-law.
•  A father who runs regularly for exercise and plays a huge role in encouraging his daughter and…

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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

 

 

As May is ending, many of my clients have now received graduate degrees or are participating in graduation ceremonies now and will receive their degrees later this summer.

Congratulations on the hard work that has gone into achieving this honor.  You deserve enormous credit for persevering through the uncertainty and frustration of writing a dissertation or thesis while balancing  the work with  home and, often, a full-time job.

Savor these moments and days and celebrate with those you love.

All the best to you!

Nancy

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

 

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

 

I am reblogging a post that I wrote in 2010 based on the advice to a would-be writer in Muriel Spark’s novel “A Far Cry from Kensington”: “To focus, get a cat.” I love cats, but sadly have none at the moment. On occasion, our adult daughter has brought her magnificent, marvelous cat with her for a weekend visit. A cat can transform for the better the mood, and even the level of thought, within a house. Here is my blog from 2010: “To focus on your writing, get a cat.”

Successful Writing Tips

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

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…

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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

 

I am sharing a post “BOCCI AND DANCING EGRETS: AN INVITATION TO PLAY” that was written by the versatile, talented life/business coach Mary Crow.

Creativity helps us solve problems, achieve life balance, and come up with great inventions. You are much more likely to be creative when you are experiencing positive emotions. To experience a transformative positive emotion, Mary challenges you to be alive to the changing views of spring—those you see as you commute to work—and to engage in a playful moment. Then expect not only a boost to your mood, but also a surge in your creativity.

Are you curious how the triad coaching of creativity/wellness/business could transform your life? Contact Mary.

Mary Crow, Career Transitions Coach

I am loving that the long-awaited spring has finally returned.  NYC and Newark, like much of the country, had a particularly harsh winter.  We had our highest bill ever for the gas heating.  It was a chilly and long, if beautiful and snowy, winter.

A few clear signs that spring has arrived:  I see an occasional egret, its snowy-white body with a long neck and beak, in the Meadowlands of NJ from the train.  The cherry blossoms are (finally) beginning to bloom.  Independence Park across the street is teeming with people playing catch, shooting hoops, and–most notably–there are usually three or four soccer games going on simultaneously.

A new sign of spring this year–bocci games in the park.  Several of us use a site called Nextdoor to share local happenings, and I was delighted to see an open invitation on the site to come play bocci on the weekend.

You may ask, what do…

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