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Posts Tagged ‘willpower’

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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I find it interesting how determined most of us are to derail ourselves in big and small ways. We can put a lot of effort into avoiding focusing on a dissertation.

How about you? Perhaps you have developed a terrific plan and writing routine, just as has one of my dissertation clients.   If not, there’s hope. Take some cues from my client who credits his plan for his increased productivity.

My client’s plan works because it is both basic and elegant.  The plan centers on a “twice –a-day schedule.”

Butternut Cottage

Butternut Cottage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As he rides the bus to his day job, he plans what work he’ll do on his dissertation in his first session of the day. Once he’s close to his office, he finds a quiet place to work, and for about 45 minutes, he follows his plan and either writes or edits a section of his dissertation. Then he goes on to his usual place of work and puts in a full day. At day’s end, after he’s returned home and has had dinner, he puts in about 90 minutes in his second writing session.

He says that the twice-a-day schedule allows him to be more productive than if he worked a longer session once a day. The writing is never far from his mind.  He finds that he looks forward to returning to the work at the next session. And even over holidays, he tries to adhere somewhat to his plan just to keep his head in the material.

If you haven’t put a plan into action, first turn off the internet, television, and whatever else is distracting you.  Believe me, I know that finding the will to write is not easy, but you can do it. It starts with taking control and laying down the basics for yourself.

1. When will you write?  What day and what time?

2. Where will you write?

3. What will you write in that first session?

4. And when does the first session end?

5.  Rinse and repeat.

Nothing much will happen until you have a given yourself specific directions.  What is your plan?  What’s your own twist that makes the plan work for you?

Happy end of November to you.  December looks like a good month for writing, don’t you think?

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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When my two kids were little, they loved the book Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story. In the book, Fred and Ted, two friends, who are both dogs, deal with all sorts of small dilemmas.

Fred is tall, and Ted is short. Fred’s bed is too short for him. What to do?  Change beds with Ted. And so the book goes. The two friends problem-solve one problem after another.

What is the moral of the story? “Why make big problems out of little problems?”

One of my dissertation coaching clients has been resisting line-editing a chapter. Line editing is tedious, no doubt about it.

My client has this going for him—he has a morning routine. He’s set aside time for working on his dissertation before he does anything else. He has his morning coffee, but he doesn’t open his email. And so it would seem that he’s not suffering from what Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in the book Willpower call “decision fatigue.” He isn’t worn down by his day. Yet, instead of diving into the line-editing, the task he set for himself, he addresses easier tasks and never gets to the hard work of editing.

My client can point to other work he’s taken care of during the morning time he has set aside for his dissertation, but not what he had planned to do.

He says he’s stubborn. He may be, but what I know for sure is that he’s a stickler. In both his day job and in his after-work activities, he is detail-oriented. He’s a stickler for doing things right because he has to be.

I know he can do the work. What is holding him back? What is he afraid of?  That he might make a mistake? That’s a given, right? Editing is like sweeping sand. It’s unlikely he will catch every grain, but it is time to stop the delay.

To build up willpower to do those things you dislike or find difficult, Baumeister and Tierney say that you should “set a firm time limit for tedious tasks.”

And you know what? That approach has worked for my coaching client in the past. On occasion, he has told me that when he strenuously resisted work, he used a timer to help him stick with a task for a short, designated amount of time. That strategy will work for him again.

Similarly, he can once again monitor himself. He can be accountable to himself. And I’ll be sure to hold him accountable, too.

Just as the moral for Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story asks the question “Why make big problems out of little problems?” the same question can be asked of my client about his resistance to line-editing his dissertation chapter.

If you hate to edit, edit a little bit at a time. Do what you can bear to do, but do something!

Slowly, but surely you’ll get it done.

Why make big problems out of little problems?

I would love to hear from you. How do you deal with tedious writing tasks?

All good wishes to 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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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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 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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