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Posts Tagged ‘mental toughness’

You have made time to write, and you and your family have sacrificed for you to have that time.

Finally you send the chapter off to your advisor. You have put your best effort into this chapter to lay out a clear statement of your argument.

When you hear back from your advisor, her negative feedback and comments are not what you had expected. You must rewrite the chapter. You don’t know where to start.

You may feel that you have been treated unfairly, but mostly you feel that you have failed.

Many dissertation writers are dazed not only by the negative criticism from the advisor, but also at the thought of the time that was eaten up by the writing.  The reaction can be physical as well as emotional, and to protect themselves, many writers walk away.

Perhaps the writers shouldn’t be surprised—they may have expected too much from an early draft or even a seventh draft, they may have not received the mentoring they should have from their advisor, or, mistakenly thinking they were protecting themselves, they may have resisted showing their draft to others.

Regardless of the causes of the failed text, the writer has to deal with that failure, and a writer’s reaction to the rejection of a text can be powerful.

What comes next after failure?

In the book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, Sarah Lewis contends that failure can clear the way for a better idea, an idea that lets us change and transform a project.

 

But first you have to find a way to re-engage with the failed work. What do you need to pick up a failed work and even reread the comments?

To start again and seek the better idea can happen, but the writer has to make some conscious choices first.

Where do you find the fuel to re-engage with a failed project?

Lewis contends that the character strength of grit gives the writer the means to return to a failed work and to tolerate the discomfort of sticking with what was formerly seen as a failure.

She credits Angela Lee Duckworth’s research on grit for making the point of how important it is to look at failure as information and to use your grit to return to the project.

As a doctoral student, Duckworth learned first-hand what near-failure is like. She was ready to walk away from her dissertation and the degree, but she says that she and her husband had worked out that he would hold her accountable. He reminded her that earning the Ph.D. was her choice and that she had chosen this path.

And so, you should ask another question or two or three: 

Does grit come from some deep inner reservoir within you? 

Or does someone call forth your grit?  Or is it a combination of things?

One of my dissertation clients told me her story of sacrificing a large amount of time to write an important dissertation chapter. To open up time for writing, she engaged help to care for her children. When she received negative feedback from her advisor, she was so stunned that she couldn’t take it all in.

She stopped working on her dissertation and threw herself into work and family life. She told herself that she didn’t have time to write.

How did she eventually find the determination, motivation, perseverance, resilience and self-management—that is, the grit– to return to the work?

She gradually found the will to use those strengths to re-engage with her text after discussing the so-called failed chapter with her husband.

She said, “For the first time (probably in years) I asked my husband to let me talk through some of the issues I was having with my work.”

“We ended up talking about the chapter for several hours (until late into the night),” she added.

As a result of that conversation, she came to terms with what she had to do to turn the work around.

My dissertation clients often say that what has made all the difference in their managing negative feedback and restarting the dissertation is having someone to hold them accountable so that they could continue to build their sticktoitiveness, or their grit.

So what builds grit? What triggers it?

Failure indeed can be a gift.  However, to come back from a failure, you need multiple gifts that help you build that essential strength of grit.

To build your grit, you must use the following strengths:

  1. Self-management
  2. Honesty
  3. Living your values
  4. Accountability

Self-management

To build grit, you need self-management. Strong emotions, from anger to shame, can pull you into that big soft chair in front of the TV, far from your work. You need the willpower and self-discipline to do what is hard, and not what feels good.

Honesty

You need to accept your own role not only in your setback and but also in your delay in taking the initiative that would have led to your comeback. To get a project back up and running demands that you take ownership for what you haven’t done, as well as what you have done. Only you can move the project forward.

Living your values

Coming back to rewriting a rejected text will undoubtedly once again bring up your insecurities and fears. When faced with returning to the work of managing your data collection, finding the right structure for your ideas, or writing text that for once is more analytical than descriptive  overwhelms you, makes you angry, stressed, or anxious, think about why this project is important to you.

What brought you to this topic or this work?  What will continuing this work give you and give others?

Who has been a giant in the area you are studying?  Why do you admire that person?  Make that person your role model.

Think about what is the larger picture in your finishing this project. How are you showing your values by getting back into the work?

Accountability

You need to be called out on your all-too-human tendency to not do what you said you were going to do, and likewise you need to be challenged to acknowledge yourself when you show up and do the work. A spouse, friend, mentor, or your coach who holds you accountable will be a key strategy for building grit and achieving success.

To Make Your Comeback, Consider the Coach Connection

Are you beaten down—is your writing project going nowhere fast and leaving you overwhelmed? Toying daily with the urge to just hang this all up?

Or are you reeling from having a chapter or a prospectus rejected?

What you need is to make a comeback. A comeback that gets you back on your feet, taking an honest accounting of what you can do and what you have done, in control of your emotions, and living your values once again.

A comeback has you working smart, talking to your mentor or coach, and keeping to a plan.

To turn around a failed project, it is important that you be held accountable so that you take responsibility for your work and do what you said you would do.

Coaching can be of help in adding accountability.

How can I be of help to you?  I would love to hear from you.

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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You are trying to make progress on your dissertation, as well as fulfill the responsibilities of your job. Add to that a family, and even if you have help with your children, sometimes it seems as if you’re walking on a high-wire without a net.

Most of the time, despite the odds, you keep all systems going, but then, with no warning, you’re knocked off-balance. You didn’t see it coming and had no time to ward it off. You miss an appointment, or you forget a commitment.  And you feel that you have failed. The question is how do you choose to view this failure?

Failure

In his book Smart Change, University of Texas Professor Art Markman reminds us that “despite the many successes you have had in your life, you have failed at lots of things as well.”  “Failure,” he says, “is not inherently a problem.”

A Dissertation Boot Camp client was doing spectacularly well in meeting her commitment to write every morning. My client routinely got up early to go to her writer’s location and wrote until she had to go to her day job. Her husband took over getting the children off to school. All was going well until one morning one of the sons at the last moment remembered a letter he needed to have that day, and so he dashed it off and rushed out the door.

The letter was a last-minute request to try out for a sports team. The problem was that the boy left out some key ideas that would have ensured his being considered for the try-out.  When my client came home and realized what had happened, she felt that her careful plan for balancing her family needs with writing her dissertation had fallen through.

My client blamed herself for forgetting to help her son complete the task ahead of time, and she saw the situation as her failure.

In your balancing act, there is the occasional wobble, or failure, but it isn’t necessarily a setback.  Professor Markman would say that this failure was not a problem since such things did not happen routinely.  Furthermore, he would say that this situation showed that my client was allowing her writing to take precedence, which spoke to her commitment.  That is important.

It is important that you continue to let your writing take precedence,  and keep going.

Rising from failure

In The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery Sarah Lewis addresses the role of failure in one’s life, particularly in the lives of people who used their failure to give rise to greater creativity or to a transformation.

She contends that “the word failure is imperfect” because when we “are ready to talk about it, we often call the event something else.” That is, the failure may have cleared the way for a new idea.

Grit and achievement

The title of the last chapter in Lewis’s book is “The Grit of the Arts,” in which she links creativity, failure, and discovery to Angela Lee Duckworth‘s research on grit. Failure can fuel us to work harder and to see a situation in a new light, and grit gives us the ability to withstand the discomfort and to tolerate the need to return day after day to hard work. Duckworth says, “I think in life, most people are giving up too early.”

Duckworth argues that a person’s returning to hard work, again and again, no matter how uncomfortable that work is, makes all the difference in what a person achieves.

 

Working hard consistently on the dissertation

In The Rise, Lewis describes Angela Lee Duckworth as a fast-thinker and fast-talker. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania describes Duckworth as “about as fast mentally as it is possible for a human being to be.”

Interestingly, Duckworth, whose research is about keeping people on task and helping them not give up so soon, found that she had great difficulty herself in sticking with her dissertation.  Because writing a dissertation is a slow, and, sad to say, often tedious process, the pace did not mesh with her quick way of working and her mindset.

She was ready to walk away from her dissertation and the doctoral degree.  But she did not because, in part, she had given her husband the job of holding her accountable, and he reminded her that she had chosen this path. She says,” I realized that working hard is not enough.  I needed to work hard consistently on a given path to accomplish anything.”

Art Markman, Sarah Lewis, and Angela Lee Duckworth would probably all praise my client for continuing to write each morning, for letting her writing take precedence, and for arranging with her husband to get the children off to school, even though my client might on occasion experience some kind of failure. For anyone who wants to finish a dissertation, working hard is not enough; one must surrender to the need to “stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve, and to do it again and again.”  That’s grit.  Grit is also “connected to how we respond to so-called failure, about whether we see it as a comment on our identity or merely as information that may help us improve.”

When you’re on that high-wire of balancing your dissertation with your work and family, know that you can tolerate the discomfort of returning over and over to hard work and that a so-called failure can clear the way to a better idea for going forward. Indeed, grit can see you through to solid ground.

Any thoughts?  I would love to hear from you.

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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This month finds many people in the U.S. watching the March Madness tournament of college basketball teams (and that includes a couple of people in my house, too).

In honor of the college basketball players who are serious students as well as successful athletes, I am sharing today a revision one of my favorite posts from a few years ago.  It is a profile of the exemplar athlete Steve Nash—a successful, astute, and articulate professional basketball player– who inspires many people, writers included.

This post ranks high in overall readership among all of my posts.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I usually don’t watch professional basketball games because while the players persevere, for the most part they show little sense of fun, and the only passion I notice is an easily aroused anger. But I will watch Steve Nash, the point guard from Canada who has played on several NBA teams and is the winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

When Nash plays, he shows both perseverance and passion. Not only is he fun to watch, but it seems like he is having fun, too.

 

He has been on many talk shows, such as the David Letterman Show.  Nash is bright and personable, and on the Charlie Rose Show, Nash also revealed his leadership ability.

As I watched him being interviewed, I found myself wondering how does a 6’1” man, a self-described small guy, play in the midst of those very tall, competitive men with their sharp elbows and huge, muscular bodies. Regardless of how much money he earns, how does he stay committed during the training, the long season, the traveling, the pain from the inevitable injuries, and the endless tournament at the end of the season?

Nash knows what he has to do to stay committed. This is what he says:

1) Since he’s a small guy in tough territory, he is creative. He has to come up with new plays.

2)  He is mentally tough. When he’s jostled or intimidated, he remains “unflappable” because he has decided that “nothing will bother” him.

3) He has no fear. Without fear, he can charge into the midst of play.

4) He doesn’t give up because he’s committed “to stay the course.”

5) And he does it because it’s fun. He smiles when he says that, and you believe that he does have fun.

What does Steve Nash’s unflappable strategy in the face of intimidation say to you, the dissertation writer? Here is what I think is the take-away for the dissertation writer:

1) Even when you feel you’re out-manned or losing ground, dig deep to find the courage to be fearless. Decide that you will not be intimidated.

2) Like Steve Nash in basketball, you did not get to this level of writing by being a non-starter.  You were training for this long ago. You have everything you need to succeed.

3) Character matters. To be long-lasting, you work with both passion and perseverance.  Some people call this grit or stick-to-itiveness. I also call it mental toughness.

4) Keep your commitment to your team—even if it’s just a team of one.  Or add a coach to your team and have someone alongside of you who takes your commitment seriously.

5) And one more thing, Steve Nash plays hard and plays to win because the competition is fun. The fun keeps him engaged. You can make your work fun, too—writing is a challenge and challenges are exhilarating. Choose that perspective.

To stay committed for the long-term, even when the going gets tough, use your courage, grit, and mental toughness. Take risks and charge through tough places.

And then imagine how the wind feels in your hair as you run fast, dribbling the ball down the floor toward the basket.

Until next time,

Nancy

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

 

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

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

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

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

Kicking the can down the road

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

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

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

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

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

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

kick the can

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

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

slow and steady

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

I would love to hear from you.

Here’s to small and steady gains–

Nancy

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

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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“Severe storms forecast for region.” “Forecasters say large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes are possible.”

Living the first 24 years of my life in the American Midwest gave me a healthy respect for storms and especially for tornadoes. The tiny town where my grandmother grew up was leveled by such a storm and that storm is now part of a frequently repeated family story.

When I moved to the East Coast, I thought or hoped that I was out of the reach of such storms, but such is not the case.

We’ve had many bad storms in the Washington, DC area, but last summer’s derecho, a straight-line wind storm, dealt a particularly strong blow to much of our area. Today another derecho or some type of severe storm is on its way.

Many local people are preparing for the strong possibility of an extended power outage by buying a generator. Others are stock up on ice for coolers. One dissertation coaching client told me this morning that she is concerned by the shelter-in-place plans at her place of work and is thinking through alternative locations.

Such a storm gives us the opportunity to decide where we need to place our focus for a specific situation. For instance, we can use what we have learned from past experience with storms as well as what others who have been hit recently by bad storms have advised.

Choosing an appropriate focus gives us the chance to

— recall what we have learned from past experiences,

— clarify our choices,

— make use of the strengths and skills best suited to a chosen focus,

—and be in the moment.

Whether you are writing a dissertation, encountering daily stress in your workplace, or dealing with an on-coming wind storm, the way you focus your attention is critical.

What do you think is critical to your successfully navigating a dangerous storm, whether that storm is literal or figurative?

And if the storm peters out? That’s the best you could have hoped for.  Plus, you have gained practice and muscle for the next big thing.

All good wishes to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

www.nancywhichard.com

www.smarttipsforwriters.com

www.successfuldissertationwriting.com

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A giant construction project disrupts the lives and the commute of many people who use the Washington DC (or Capital)  Beltway and the business routes between the Beltway and the Dulles International Airport.

 

This same construction project also raises hope among many travelers that one day they can take the metro the full 30 miles or so from downtown Washington, D.C. to Dulles Airport for an international flight.  In addition, the beltway will have “hot lanes” which will allow people willing to pay a hefty toll to drive in the faster lanes and to escape the punishing daily gridlock.

 

The Chaos of Construction

The construction is on a huge scale—where nothing looks like it used to, no trees line the roads, exits from the beltway are changed, intersecting concrete roads start and stop abruptly, bridges are gone, new bridges emerge in an unexpected place, and everywhere there are train tracks.

 

While many people might think this project is without parallel, to me it suggests another kind of herculean project, particularly those of the mind and will.

If you are writing a dissertation or another seemingly endless writing project, you see the resemblance.

 

The Chaos  . . .  and Cost  . . .  of Writing a Dissertation

As the costs mount for the Dulles Airport metro, municipalities and individuals dispute the wisdom of continuing to build all 23 miles of subway to the airport. The different authorities involved have wrangled over whether the subway should be above ground or below ground and which municipalities should contribute more money and less money. Similarly, the personal and financial costs involved in writing a dissertation may seem to you as if you’ll never get out from under them. And you wonder how completing the dissertation could be worth the huge burden you have taken on.

 

Showing Up Takes Mental Toughness and Planning

Not unlike the way you wrangle with texts and structure, trying to trace ideas through various pathways in your brain, returning day after day to an uncomfortable task that demands almost more than you can do, the workers in the beltway/Dulles metro construction zone labor on crazy flyover bridges high in the sky over what will be eight lanes of the DC Beltway.

The workers labor at road level, between lanes of traffic, on cranes, and on concrete piers.  Below ground workers construct enormous tunnels.

Just like the worker in the construction zone, for you to return each day to a challenging, messy dissertation requires you to draw on your mental toughness and willpower. It takes grit to show up each day to work on a grueling writing project, with no end in sight, knowing that only occasionally will you find joy in the doing. What you know is that you have to keep your wits about you. And what you can count on is that you will find joy in having stuck with the project to its end.

Beyond the Beltway and the Tysons Corner area of Virginia where several new metro stations are being built, the work gradually slows. This is not yet the construction zone, but the plan is in place.  Huge piles of stacked materials are staged for future work. The plan anticipates that the metro construction will reach this point and keep going. 

The staged materials are evidence that a plan is in place. If workers show up each day and do their exhausting, demanding tasks, according to the plan, the job will proceed toward its end point, that is, its destination — Dulles International Airport.

What is more inspiring than anticipating what it will be like when this seemingly endless writing project is finished? What you anticipate feeling after you have traveled the long road to the Ph.D. is what the people committed to building the Metrorail to Dulles and the hot lanes on the beltway anticipate feeling when they see a completed project.

 

That Transcendent Feeling of Completion

Today, I drove toward Dulles Airport, the final destination for the Metro. As the iconic Dulles Main Terminal with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background came into view, I felt some of that same excitement that finishing huge writing projects brings forth—that transcendent feeling of completion and a new beginning.

 

And that transcendent feeling of completion and new beginning is what I wish for you in this New Year of big writing projects. 

Nancy

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

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Is there a writer who isn’t lured and waylaid by the distractions of the internet and email?

Is there a writer who hasn’t written about those same distractions?

How about you? How well did you do today? Did you stay on task and reach your writing goal for the day? Or did procrastination and Facebook win out?

My dissertation coaching clients are trying to use the Nothing Alternative—that is, during the time they’ve set aside to write, they write… or do nothing. They tell me, though, that the Nothing Alternative strains their willpower. They do better if they remove the temptation of the internet.

Several clients are using SelfControl software or the Anti-Social app to lock them out of the internet.  This week I heard about another program—Freedom.   

The client who told me about Freedom said that even though he has used it successfully, he frequently has to talk himself into setting it up.  And why would he resist a successful strategy? Because once he has it up and running, he will have robbed himself of his excuses not to write. It’s write or do nothing.

My client is in good company.

Writer Nora Ephron says that every morning she spends several hours “failing to make a transition” from reading the morning newspaper to working and being productive. To help to fight her urge to procrastinate, she sets up Freedom on her computer to lock out the internet. 

Seth Godin, the master marketer, blogger, and author, is also a fan of Freedom. He compares using Freedom “with being cornered with nowhere to turn.” And the advantage of being cornered, he says, is “that it leaves you . . . unable to stall or avoid the real work.”

Novelist Zadie Smith speaks knowingly of the lure of the internet. She says, “When I am using the Internet, I am addicted. I’m not able to concentrate on anything else.” To give herself time to write, she uses Freedom, but she still has to put her phone (on which she can get email) “in another part of the house, it’s pathetic. Like a drug addict. I put it in a cupboard so that I can write for five hours.”

My clients ask the same questions that Smith asks, “Is it me alone? Am I making it up? Does nobody feel this way?”

Writing is hard work, and most of us yearn for distraction, especially something as mindless as the internet and email.  Lock it all up—give yourself  some freedom!

Happy Writing!

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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