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Posts Tagged ‘mental toughness’

 Mental toughness, self-control, willpower, grit— I turn again to these compelling strengths. Why? Because distractions, especially electronic distractions, complicate the writer’s life.  The struggle for self-control over distractions takes up more and more of your mental space. 

What can you use to free your mental space in order to concentrate on your writing? What can help you maintain self-control, be mentally tough, and not overwhelm your willpower?

You know all too well that willpower often just isn’t enough to get you started on your writing and also keep you off of Facebook.

In the book Willpower, co-authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney argue that what they call precommitment can protect you from the uncertainties of willpower. For instance, if you have set a specific time for writing, and you practice starting at that same time for a couple of weeks, you will have less need to depend on willpower to save the day.

The so-called Nothing Alternative is such a precommitment.  When you use the Nothing Alternative, not only do you decide ahead of time that at a certain time of day, you will sit down and write, but you also decide ahead of time that you will do nothing but write.   

My dissertation coaching clients have responded positively to the Nothing Alternative and have some great suggestions for implementing it. Two of my coaching clients are especially enthusiastic about the Anti-Social app and the SelfControl program.

 1) Anti-Social

If you routinely get email that you think you need to respond to throughout the time you have set aside to write, you may find it harder and harder to write and even give up the writing altogether in order to answer the emails. 

 The Anti-Social application for macs allows you to shut off the social part of the internet and email while you are working on your computer. You can “be anti-social” for any amount of time. 

 To turn off Anti-Social, you have to restart your computer and according to my client, you “feel crappy if you restart your computer just to get into email.” 

Precommitting to this program for a certain amount of time helps you to conserve willpower for emergencies.  

2)  SelfControl

Another way to implement the Nothing Alternative is to use the SelfControl software.

This free software asks you to list the internet pages that you want to block, such as email, Facebook, specific online newspapers, and a few pages that you most often visit.  It’s your choice.

If you need the internet for research, you can still visit Google or other specific pages that you need.

Once you set the timer, for that specific length of time, you cannot get into anything that you have blocked, even if you turn off the computer.  My client says, “If you feel less motivated during that time, you can stare into space for a minute, but you can’t get onto Facebook, so you might as well work.” 

 

 

Using such programs helps you stay committed to your writing and lets you conserve your willpower.  

I would love to hear what your strategies are for conserving willpower and for using willpower effectively. 

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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When did you first hear of “decision fatigue”?

Perhaps, like me, it was when the New York Times Magazine published an article on decision fatigue and you started getting emails from your friends and family with links to that article.  In fact, you probably received many links, and maybe the term “decision fatigue” has even become part of your vocabulary.

That article in the New York Times  is a chapter from a newly published book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (September 2011), co-authored by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and New York Times science writer John Tierney.

Decision fatigue, or “ego depletion,” to use the original term coined by Baumeister, comes from Baumeister’s research on willpower and motivation. 

His research has long been influential, particularly his findings that willpower, like a muscle, can become fatigued. And because willpower can become fatigued, you can’t count on it always to be available. But, like a muscle, willpower can be strengthened with practice.

Writers struggle with their willpower far beyond what you might think, particularly since you may have already depleted your reserve of willpower before you even decide to write. 

Baumeister has found that we usually spend about four hours a day struggling with temptation and trying to engage our willpower.

So when you finally get around to writing, what have you got?  Nothing?  There’s a lot of nothing going around.

As a writer, how much do you depend on your willpower?  If your willpower deserts you, what are your options? 

What can you do to have a reserve of willpower available to you when you most need it?

I’d love to hear from you.

Nancy

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

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You have a long-term goal—say, writing a dissertation or a book.  And the going gets tough.  This is one huge project.

It’s a long haul—it may mean months or years of coming back to that same project.

It’s been going on for quite a while.  Have you stuck with it?  Have you kept coming back to the work, day after day? 

What would you say has kept you coming back?  What do you think makes the difference in finishing or not finishing?

Intelligence?  Maybe.

Feeling engaged by your topic?  Possibly.

Sense of community or a good relationship with your advisor?  Both would be helpful.

Being motivated by someone or something or finding motivation?  Motivation is always a bonus.

How about perseverance? Yes!  Or mental toughness? Yes!  If you have perseverance or mental toughness, the odds are that you’ll meet your goal. 

To capture the crucial role that tenacity and doggedness play in your achieving a tough, very long, long-term goal, University of

Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth uses the word grit

Duckworth says that grit is related to willpower, self-control, and resilience, but it is a greater predictor of success than any of those other resources. 

To some people, the word grit sounds like being chained to a task, maybe being held hostage. But Duckworth describes it as a passion for long-term goals.  She says that grit sustains you; it’s a sustaining passion for a long time.

If you have little kids, you’ve seen grit in action—when a toddler is determined to walk or a little kid is focused on skate-boarding or roller-skating or coming in first in a contest. 

Duckworth has done research about many aspects of grit, including students who won spelling bees. 

She says that grit is not necessarily the number of hours devoted to a project. Rather, she sees it as a person identifying their weakness or what they don’t know and then concentrating on that.  She says that grit enables you to be in an uncomfortable place for some part of your day, working extremely hard, and then being able to come back the next day and do it all over again and again.   

But wait—don’t pull your hair out or start shrieking.  Think again of the child falling off of her skate board or bike or roller skates and getting up and going at it again, only to fall again. 

There’s a willingness to fail, knowing that with failure comes–yep, you got it– success.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Duckworth says that grit is a key and necessary ingredient for high achievement in any field. 

The word grit has an old-fashioned ring to it.  When you say the word grit, do you squint?  And maybe feel the urge to look off into the sunset?

In fact, Duckworth says that when she was studying what it was that distinguished successful people, and what it was that kept them going, beyond talent, beyond intellect, she used the word grit because of the movie True Grit, but not after the John Wayne hero. Instead, she says, the movie is really about a young Arkansas girl who pursues an impossible goal and after an impossibly long time, she eventually succeeds and reaches her goal. 

In the most recent version of the film, Hailee Steinfeld plays that girl—the girl that personifies grit for Duckworth.

 To see if you are “extremely gritty” or “not at all gritty” or somewhere in the middle, check out Duckworth’s Grit Scale.

The good news is that you can increase the amount of grit that you have.  What matters most is not your ability or intelligence. It helps to change the way you look at your work and to look most keenly at what you are bringing to the task.  Ramp up your consistency and follow through on what you say you are going to do, each day, each week. 

The more you exercise grit, the more grit you will have.

How gritty are you?  What ways have you found that help you to increase your grit or perseverance?  I’d love to hear from you.

 Nancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d love to hear from you.

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

www.smarttipsforwriters.com

http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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I have coached many people who write dissertations while juggling the demands of family life. It’s difficult to juggle the daily demands, but to give up a holiday with one’s family is a particularly hard choice to make.

As the Memorial Day holiday approaches here in the U.S., I am thinking back to a Memorial Day weekend years ago when I had to choose my dissertation over the holiday weekend with my family. Now it seems as if it was a small sacrifice, and completing a dissertation definitely requires some sacrifices. But at the time, I felt that the dissertation process had demanded too much from me one too many times.

In my Washington, DC suburb, Memorial Day has always been a day for ritual and fun. The day begins with a 3K Fun Run. The day proceeds with a fair and a parade and back-yard picnics. Except for the one year when I had to spend the whole weekend once again revising the intro to my diss.

My defense was approaching. I thought I was on track since the full draft of the dissertation had been revised many times and had finally been approved. Only the intro needed one more rewrite, and I had done that, following the straightforward suggestions for revising from my advisor. I then sent the rewritten Intro off to him.

Just before Memorial Day, he returned the revision to me with a note saying that I should take out all of the newly added pages and re-work the whole chapter.

I was dumbfounded.  I knew better, but because the deadline was so close I wrote to him, saying that I had done what he had told me to do. His only comment was that he didn’t want to be told what he had said.

I hoped that I hadn’t alienated him. And I knew that I had to grind out the new rewrite immediately. I gave up my holiday weekend with my family and sat in front of my computer for the holiday.

As I look back on that weekend now, years later, I have changed my perspective on several counts.

I remember now that when I was revising the Intro, my advisor’s suggestions struck me as a bit off the mark. But I didn’t raise any questions or concerns with him. Of course, the advisor is always right, but it would have been smart to at least give voice to my concerns.

It strikes me now that perhaps I was even a bit lazy in adopting his comments without discussing my concerns with him or without thinking of an alternative approach.

As for that Memorial Day weekend, I don’t think that my kids felt neglected. I did miss out on some fun, but I bounced back. It wasn’t the end of the world. And I think my kids learned something about how much work it takes to finish big projects.

What I had to do was draw on my resolve and my mental toughness to get through this challenge.

Over the long period of time that I worked on the whole dissertation, I learned the value of building perseverance, resilience, and courage. Actually, learning to rely on those strengths may be the life-changing and lasting benefit for me of writing the dissertation.

If you, too, are finding yourself drawing on and building your mental toughness and resolve as you write your dissertation, I salute you. Only in such a long-term, large project do you find such an opportunity.

Warm regards,

Nancy
Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

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Writing My Thesis

Image by Trinesh Champaneri via Flickr

Perfectionism gives you a perfect excuse never to write.

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

 
Put up with the messiness of writing

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

 

Go for content

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

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

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


Share your work before it’s ready

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

Face up to the perfectionism that has hamstrung you. 

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

The best is yet to come.

Nancy

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

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Writing is not for the weak of heart.  Writing is often a dangerous act, requiring all of the mental toughness and grit you can muster.

And no one knows that more than my clients—those writing dissertations and those who are now pushing on with writing their books or writing grant applications or articles.

Some of my clients feel like imposters who think they somehow got to where they are by luck.

Others are exhausted by the effort and by the stress of so much riding on this one piece of writing that they’ve become apathetic.  To protect them from the pain of feeling incompetent their Lizard Brain lets them think: “I’ve stopped caring.”

One client has who has been published in well-received journals and who has presented internationally now is writing an application for an important grant.  She’s leery of her ability both to market herself and at the same time offer the supporting evidence that would clinch the application for her.

This is the client whose wisdom has served her well. But now she needs to be five times bolder than she’s been in writing her dissertation or in sending articles to journals.

She felt unequal to the task until she recalled that she had been interviewed after making a presentation outside of the U.S.  She remembers the exuberance she felt as she was explaining her position and her research to the interviewer.  Fortunately, she has a transcript of the interview, and reading it gives her the push and mental energy she needs to move into this new task.

Similarly, a client who feels she hasn’t performed well on her dissertation has been surprised to hear that she’s been nominated for an award by her committee.  Initially, she felt like hiding, sure that her work would  reveal herself to be less capable than what they would expect. She thought of what they might say to her when they learned that she isn’t as far along with her work as she thinks she should be.   But she also knows that she has been catastrophizing.  Talking about the lack of evidence she has for any of these destructive beliefs gives her the will to pull on her inner resources of mental toughness and grit, and the will to plan strategies that will help her to get back on track and to stop with the self-sabotaging.

When talented, skilled, successful people are again and again pushed to produce, they can start to question themselves, question whether they got to where they are only by luck, whether they have what it takes to keep going.  It takes boldness and courage to keep trudging, but it also takes a willingness to be vulnerable and to trust those around them, to show work to others when the work is not the best, and to ask for help.

As one brilliant woman told me, “I have to do that thing where I feel like I’m typing with two fingers.”  Instead of turning on herself when she feels fear or uncertainty, she has to manage her feelings and keep plunking away, boldly and bravely.

Writing is scary, but there are ways to move quickly past those fears, and then to keep going.

How are you doing?

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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