THE ALL-BUT-DISSERTATION SURVIVAL GUIDE™
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Devoted to providing practical strategies for completing
your Doctoral Dissertation.™
INSIDE THIS ISSUE - April 25, 2011
1. A Note from the Editor
2. Inspirational Quotes
3. Feature Article by Tom Lincoln and Tracy Steen
Lessons From The Four Aces
April 25, 2011
A Note from the Editor
Tracy Steen, Ph.D.
It's time for me to do some mental spring cleaning! I think I'll start by
updating my Things I'll Never Do list. Owning a Snake and Hunting
will remain untouched at the top of the list; however, I can definitely cross
off Spending a Beautiful Day on the Couch Watching Televised Sports.
That's right: I just spent the day glued to a baseball game, and I'll do it
I guess you could say that my access to Phillies tickets and my fast track
to fandom came along with my happy marriage. My husband, a longtime Phillies
fan, cleverly hooked my attention by emphasizing the psychology of baseball
whenever I joined him for a game. Now it's hard to watch a game without pausing
to discuss flow, motivation, courage, persistence, attention, resiliency,
the list goes on and on because baseball is a positive
psychology goldmine! In this special coauthored issue of the ABD Survival
Guide, we will share positive psychology insights from baseball relevant to
the dissertation process. But first, limber up with some Inspirational Quotes.
"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could;
some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit
to be encumbered with your old nonsense." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
"It doesn't matter if you try and try and try again, and fail. It does
matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again." ~ Charles Kettering
"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more
than anything else, will affect its successful outcome." ~ William James
"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what
you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." ~ Lou Holtz
"Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness."
~ James Thurber
"The most essential factor is persistence-the determination never to
allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that
must inevitably come." ~ James Whitcomb Riley
"Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement. Discouragement
has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different
from a stiff joint." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
Lessons From The Four Aces
by Tom Lincoln and Tracy Steen
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels are the top starting
pitchers of this year's Philadelphia Phillies. Collectively, they are known
as "The Four Aces"--and as an ABD you have much in common with them.
Like the Four Aces, you will need to cultivate and nurture your abilities
to focus under pressure, rebound from adversity, and combat burnout and negativity.
Enough ink has been spilled about whether the Four Aces will or will not
be one of the greatest rotations of starting pitchers in the history of baseball.
Combined, they have achieved every major success possible for active pitchers
in the major leagues, including Halladay's perfect game pitched last season.
(No batter reached a base!)
Beyond obvious physical talent and skills, the Four Aces share in common
a tremendous mental discipline, and it is this mental discipline that can
serve as an inspiration and model for ABDs (even if they are not Phillies
fans). When the Four Aces are "in the zone," they are practically
How do The Four Aces find the zone and stay there despite unrelenting stress
and unavoidable distractions? In this article we will unpack the mental discipline
demonstrated by the Four Aces and highlight applications relevant to ABDs.
Recent performances by each of the Aces--Oswalt, Lee, Halladay, and Hamels--provide
lessons for ABDs who would like to become PhDs. Let's begin with Roy Oswalt.
Oswalt served up a pitch late last year that illustrates the intensity of
focus required by an ace pitcher. Oswalt was just about to start the windup
to a pitch when the batter unexpectedly requested a time out and stepped away
from the plate. The call for time was not loud enough or soon enough for Oswalt
to stop his throw, so he threw his pitch despite the absence of the batter.
The pitch was fast and accurate, and it hit the catcher's glove with a resounding
thud. Apparently, when Oswalt is in the zone, he does not even see the batter
anymore. His entire focus is on where he wants the pitch to land, the final
target. The ABD can draw an important lesson from this vignette:
Lesson #1: Finish What You Have Started. Like a baseball season
(with 162 games!), the dissertation process is an endurance event. In order
to make it to the final defense, ABDs must commit over and over again to their
daily work sessions. Fatigue, unexpected challenges, and distractions are
inevitable. ABDs who become PhDs are able to maintain their commitment to
finishing no matter what. Next time you are tempted to skip a scheduled
work session or quit altogether, draw some inspiration from Oswalt. Focus
on your target and finish what you started.
Maintaining unwavering focus is particularly difficult for starting pitchers--even
in modern baseball where relief pitchers are used earlier and earlier in games.
Realistically, a starting pitcher should throw 6 or 7 innings of quality baseball,
around 100 pitches, giving up only a few hits and a few runs along the way
before he is relieved by someone with a fresher arm. (It usually takes days
for the starting pitcher's arm to recover.) To fulfill his role, the starting
pitcher needs to have the mental toughness to keep pitching even when his
arm and spirits flag--and even after a batter clobbers an inaccurate pitch
for a home run.
Lee's method of developing that stamina is as much mental as physical. He
frequently remarks on his efforts to steer his thoughts away from anything
that might distract him when he is playing. Those efforts pay off. Recently
he pitched a 12-strike-out, complete-game shutout, and it was beautiful to
watch Lee's process. His pitches flowed rhythmically, one after the next in
rapid succession. Batters appeared frustrated and rattled, but Lee's rhythmic
flow remained steady.
Lesson #2: Find Your Rhythm. If you are lucky, you have experienced
flow while researching or writing. Flow, a concept made popular by psychologist
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a state of complete absorption in a challenging
task. When we are in flow, we lose our sense of time and self awareness. Writers
in flow work as fearlessly and effortlessly as Cliff Lee appeared on the mound.
If you could use a refresher course on how to make writing a flow activity,
please see my article on the subject in the ABD
Survival Guide archives or read Csikszentmihalyi's
original work on the subject.
It is important to note that finding flow requires a larger rhythm of practice
and mental discipline that extends beyond any particular writing session.
Flow is characterized by an absence of distracting thoughts and self monitoring,
so the conditions that allow flow to happen develop gradually over time with
practice and consistency. The roots of Cliff Lee's shutout victory can be
traced to thousands of hours of preparation. Similarly, ABDs are more likely
to find flow in individual writing sessions when they find a rhythm of daily
work. Flow and stamina are the reward for ABDs who develop and stick with
a regular writing routine.
Even if you are already following the suggestions presented thus far in the
newsletter to develop a regular rhythm of daily work, you will still encounter
your fair share of unproductive days. Through good planning you can create
an inviting work space free of external distractions, but even soundproof
walls are no match for your biggest potential saboteur: your own thoughts.
key to the success of productive ABDs and The Four Aces is the ability to
avoid dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. This is why Roy Halladay
is revered. Of the Four Aces, he is the most capable of concentrating on the
present moment. Halladay has a big smile, but he rarely flashes it during
a game (even when he is off the pitching mound). Instead, he is all business.
When Halladay accepts a hand signal from the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz (one of
baseball's best catchers) suggesting to him what to throw for the next pitch,
he has a stare that does not seem human. It is a thousand-yard stare, like
Yul Brynner's as a robot cowboy in Westworld. If, when Halladay is
in the zone, he allows his attention to drift to the crowd or the pressures
of the game, it is certainly not apparent. His entire focus appears to be
on the pitch at hand, and that unrelenting commitment to the present is the
third lesson for the ABD.
Lesson #3: Keep Your Attention In The Present Moment. The ability
to concentrate solely on the present pitch helps Halladay avoid mental mistakes.
ABDs know how quickly a lapse in concentration can result in error. For a
pitcher, such a mental mistake might mean that a pitch intended to be thrown
with a tricky spin instead crosses the middle of the plate, ripe for the batter
to hit it. For the ABD, the mental mistake could be anything from misspelling
a word to failing to save a document before a computer crash. It is our responsibility
to make sure that we are not demoralized by these mistakes. Although we should
learn from them and make corrections, we should not allow thoughts of past
mistakes or fears about future ones to become obstacles to performing the
task at hand.
past mistakes from distracting us from the present is no easy task, so it
is appropriate that the last baseball lesson for the ABD is resilience in
the face of negativity. Cole Hamels is a prime example of the importance of
this trait. The youngest of the Four Aces, Hamels was the World Series MVP
in 2008. He was confident, even cocky--his nickname is "Hollywood."
In 2009, however, he struggled to pitch well in later innings. The average
number of runs scored against him (his ERA--earned run average) was the highest
of his major league career. Unforgiving Phillies fans greeted him with jeers
when he left the field. Their contempt intensified after Hamels remarked to
the press that he was looking forward to the end of the season.
In 2010 Hamels bounced back. Although some of his success could be attributed
to changing the mechanics of his pitching--adding a trick or two to his arsenal--he
also changed his mental game. That season, the Phillies frequently failed
to score runs when he was pitching, and his record of wins and losses was
not radically different from the year before. Yet he maintained a positive
attitude. And his ERA was his best ever. Hamels' return to Ace status provides
an important lesson for the ABD.
Lesson #4: Be A Comeback Kid. It is too soon to tell whether
Hamels' statistics this year will be as good as the last, but his career as
a whole demonstrates that with the right attitude, comebacks are possible.
Like Hamels, ABDs are vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and lack of support.
It takes concentrated mental effort to maintain confidence and courage in
the face of negativity, and that's why many ABDs remain ABDs.
Hamels did not quit. Instead, he arrested his decline, not just by improving
his physical skills but by improving his mental ones. He appears to have taken
the advice of the old song: "Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative."
The dissertation is an endurance event, and you will have many opportunities
to increase your mental discipline. When adversity strikes, you can seize
the opportunity to make your dramatic comeback.
We hope you enjoyed these lessons from the Four Aces! For handy reference,
here's a brief recap:
1. Finish what you started.
2. Find your rhythm.
3. Keep your attention in the present moment.
4. Be a Comeback Kid.
Here's to an exciting season!
is an artist based in Philadelphia. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College
and New York University School of Law. His current work is on display at studio:christensen
Dr. TRACY STEEN, Editor, ABDSG
Tracy Steen, Ph.D. , is a clinical psychologist and dissertation
coach in Philadelphia, PA. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan
and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in positive psychology at the University
of Pennsylvania. Dr. Steen draws on her research background in positive psychology
in her coaching work with writers, helping them to remove internal obstacles
so they can find more engagement and flow in their work. You can contact Dr.
Steen with questions about this newsletter or about coaching in general at
You can also visit her website at www.tracysteen.com
Dr. NANCY WHICHARD, Contributor, ABDSG; Director,
MentorCoach Academic and Writing Coaching Programs
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC, is a dissertation and academic career coach. She
has successfully coached to completion doctoral candidates from all over the
world. To recommit to your writing and replace self-sabotage with a robust
writing habit, contact Nancy about Dissertation Boot Camp and about coaching
at firstname.lastname@example.org. To
write sooner rather than later, enroll in Boot Camp. To receive Nancy's Smart
Tips for Writers e-newsletter, sign up at www.nancywhichard.com
and read her blog at www.successfulwritingtips.com.
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BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.
He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has provided
thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over
the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (www.MentorCoach.com),
a virtual university focused on training accomplished helping professionals
to become part-time or full-time coaches. You might wish to subscribe to the
News. Finally you may also wish to subscribe to the Coaching
Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive
Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban
Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian
dwarf bunny. They all love coaching from the beach!
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