Four Willpower Secrets for a Done Dissertation | Issue 213

Editor's Note: How you are wrong about willpower — and why it keeps you stuck in ABD land

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Dear ABD Survival Guide Reader,

The recent 2016 Rio Olympic games brought us two weeks of dramatic displays of agility, speed, and power. However, treated only to polished performances, we never witnessed the countless hours of dedicated practice needed to develop such expertise on the diving board, the balance beam, the track, and every other Olympic venue.

Medals are not won and records are not broken through talent alone. Self-discipline, also known as self-regulation or willpower, is a necessary ingredient.

Willpower is also what separates the PhDs, SciDs, PsyDs, EdDs, etc., from the ABDs. Achieving long-term athletic or academic goals requires the ability to regulate one's behavior over several years. Relying strictly on academic aptitude or inspirational muses is a sure-fire recipe for failure.

Willpower, despite its importance a personal resource for success, turns out to be misunderstood misused, and even abused by most. Fortunately, recent research sheds light on this previously mysterious quality. For starters, it turns out that willpower is neither inborn nor limited. You can develop as much as you need—if you know how.

Welcome to "Willpower 101," our mini-review of strategies for self-regulation. While our willpower tips won't get you to the medal platform, let them spur you to the graduation stage for your coveted doctoral hood. Imagine how great that would feel—and then get right back to the next step of your dissertation journey with new resolve. You'll get there!

Wishing you much willpower and success,


Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C.


Words from the Wise


"First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do." ~ Epictetus

"I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know that it has got to get down to work." ~ Pearl S. Buck

"If you do what is easy, your life will be hard. If you do what is hard, your life will be easy." ~ Les Brown

"Will is character in action." ~ William McDougall

"In the absence of willpower the most complete collection of virtues and talents is wholly worthless." ~ Aleister Crowley

Four Willpower Secrets for a Done Dissertation


By Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC

Do you ever feel brain dead at the end of the day, too tired to read, write, or think?


Do you marvel at—or envy—those energizer bunny types who just keep going and going?

Beyond the Willpower Mystique

Despite popular opinion, willpower is not a trait that some have and others lack. Nor is it fixed from birth. Cutting-edge research has unraveled much of the old willpower mystique. The good news from research is that everyone has some degree of willpower as well as the ability to develop more of it.

Science defines willpower as your capacity for monitoring and regulating your behavior. It allows you to be your "best self" by getting you (a) to do more of what you think you should, (b) to avoid doing things you know you should not do, and (c) to work hard toward your worthy life goals. In short, willpower enables you to focus on your long-term best interests and follow through even when the going gets tough.

Several recent books provide insights into the science of willpower, sharing evidence-based tips for getting better at self-management. Below we'll take a look at major findings and strategies that will help you get your dissertation done faster.


Will Power vs. Won't Power

Imagine a willpower struggle. Do you envision the classic scenario involving resisting temptation? Perhaps a yummy frosted cupcake vs. an apple, or perhaps a cigarette vs. a stick of gum, or watching a little more TV vs. going to bed on time.

If you can choose what is best for you—even when it's the harder path—you are using what Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal calls "I won't power." Think of it as the "just say 'no'" approach that can make you feel deprived or punished, as in that feeling of missing out when you sit down to revise a chapter while everyone else saunters off to the pool.

Human willpower, however, involves more than learning to say "no," she observes. After all, how hard is it to say "no" to exercising, cleaning house, doing taxes, or fixing a healthy meal? There are times you need to say "yes," she explains, whether it is to eating your broccoli or to saving for a rainy day—or even to dissertating when you really would rather do anything else, I might add.

This "yes" power is what helps you get important things done instead of procrastinating. It nudges you to act in your own best interests despite being distracted, tired, or anxious. McGonigal calls this "I will" power—the capacity to do the right thing even when attracted to the wrong things, e.g., watching television, checking email, socializing with friends, sleeping in, and all the other things my ABD clients say get in their way of finishing their doctoral degree.

When willpower is depleted, you might struggle to motivate yourself until deadlines loom perilously near. Tasks like organizing a literature review or figuring out a coding error or discussing unexpected results appear too hard, too complicated, too exhausting—and so are easily put off. But there is hope.


What Do You Really, Really Want?

You usually know what you "should" do in order to flourish, right? But do you do it?

In order to say "no" when you need to say "no" and to say "yes" when you need to say "yes," you also need a third power: "I want" power.

Think back to the last big challenge you overcame. What made your success possible? Most likely it was fulfilling some highly valued desire. When you remember what you really, really want, you can resist short-term pleasures with greater ease, says McGonigal.

When you dwell on how much achieving your doctoral dream means to you (and to your significant others), what will you do when tempted to push the snooze button, check email for the umpteenth time, or plop down to watch another forgettable TV show? Evidence and experience concur that you are more likely to and open up your dissertation-in-progress files or pull out those journals to read.

To summarize, we have three powers as our tools for understanding willpower, to use as needed: "I will" power, "I won't" power, and "I want" power. Now how can you apply these ideas in order to face down fearlessly those tempting summertime distractions?


Tip 1: Reframe Willpower Battles Strategically

To foster good habits, you need to stay mindful that your satisfaction from achieving your big goals will far outweigh and outlast any short-term, superficial pleasure. Focus on what you will gain, and then for further impact, focus on what you stand to lose if you don't stay on track. Focusing on potential losses actually serves as a good kick in the pants to procrastinators, asserts goals researcher Dr. Heidi Halvorson. Consider the following two alternatives you might consider after a long, hard day:

Option A: "Shall I relax with some TV or a movie—or force myself to sit down and eke out five more pages of my lit review?"

Option B: "Do I really want the immediate gratification of watching another basketball game or reality show—and give up my big dream of getting that 'doctor' title?"

Which pushes you more toward doing what you know is best for you? To put it bluntly, self-discipline is remembering what really matters, so frame your choices to tip the scales in favor of your most important goals.


Tip 2: Build Your "Willpower Muscle"

Ever notice how hard it can be to force yourself to turn off the PC and hit the hay at a reasonable hour? That's because you've already used up your daily reservoir of willpower. Your inner goof-off is now at the controls.

Willpower expert Dr. Roy Baumeister offers us the willpower-as-muscle analogy. As with a muscle, willpower gets depleted with use but becomes replenished with rest, e.g., after a night's sleep. Fortunately, both muscles and willpower get stronger with practice. A well-developed willpower "bicep" can be used to help you in a wide variety of situations, regardless of your method of strengthening it.

You can start training right now. As fitness trainers warn, don't start out trying to dead lift 200 pounds. Begin any new workout where you can easily experience success and go from there. For example, you could do the dishes immediately after dinner. Or you might set a goal to refrain from turning on the TV when you get home. Give it at least a week, then notice how easier it gets to make the right choice in some other area of your life since your willpower muscle can be used for a variety of tasks.

Jessica, a brilliant math doctoral candidate who called me, struggled to honor her dissertation given her heavy teaching load. Curious about how this strategy might help, she committed to making her bed each day. She was surprised to note that it automatically led to keeping her desk clear, which made it much easier to settle down to work as planned. Her two-minute investment in making her bed had a great return—and yours will too.


Tip 3: Do the Hardest Thing First

As your willpower reserve grows, you'll also want to learn to manage it wisely. Note which of your tasks require heavy mental lifting—e.g., resisting temptation, making tough decisions, forcing yourself to do something, self-monitoring your behavior, etc.—and then alternate those with lighter tasks.

For example, I learned this the hard way by going car shopping after working all day and before dinner. By the end of the countless decisions (model, color, assorted extras), I confess that I fell for the extended warranty that the salesperson pushed heavily at the end. Luckily I was able to rescind that unnecessary purchase the following week.

For faster progress, put the harder tasks first thing on your daily agenda, while willpower tank is still full.

Alana and Len, for example, each noted that they made significantly faster progress when worked on their dissertation early, before going to work and while the family was still asleep, rather than waiting until after dinner and the children's bedtime routine.

An unexpected upside, they reported, is that they feel lighter all day, pleased to have checked off one of their highest priorities. How much better could you focus on the day's demands if you were free of that nagging feeling at the back of your mind that you really ought to finish coding your data?


Tip 4: Conserve Your Willpower through Habits and Plans

The typical adult makes about 35,000 decisions per day, and unfortunately each one eats up willpower. Many students waste vast amounts of their valuable willpower reserve just trying to figure out when, how, and where to get started working.

Making an advance plan will save you valuable energy that you can instead apply to the task at hand. The best way to conserve your willpower is to cultivate routines that save you the energy of constantly making choices. After all, you don't struggle with when or how to brush your teeth—you've made it a habit.

So choose a prime time to work on your dissertation—and then make it your regular habit, even if it feels hard at first. You'll be patting yourself on the back soon enough.

Have you ever felt too drained at day's end to figure out what to eat, much less to write another page or read another article? Then take a page from the "Decider-in-Chief." President Obama delegates as many unnecessary decisions, e.g., what tie to wear, as he can so he can focus on what really matters.

If you can't delegate decisions about meals to another person, might you save some cognitive wear and tear by weekly menu planning? That's how Caitlin, one ABD coaching client, freed up the extra energy needed for the final push before a committee presentation.

These four strategies offer you gateways into the world of greater willpower. Apply them to your dissertation challenge now by writing out your answers to the following questions. Then start noticing the small willpower successes grow into habits which support sustainable success that will take you to your doctorate and beyond.

Design Your Personal Blueprint for Greater Willpower

1. Why does your dissertation matter to you? Be sure to elaborate on what you will lose if you do not finish it in due time as well as how you'll benefit from completing it.


2. To build your willpower muscle, identify one small thing you can start doing or stop doing that would be in your own best interest. Then begin exercising that muscle.


3. What changes can you make in your schedule to ensure that you will have sufficient willpower for starting and completing your dissertation tasks?


4. Consider where you most squander willpower, e.g., due to lack of habits or advance planning. What is one change that would save you precious willpower? Select just one and commit yourself to cultivating a healthy habit.


Stay on Track, Write More, Find a Job, and Gamify Your Dissertation | Issue 212

FREE ABD WORKSHOP STARTS AUGUST 9THFrom Struggling to Succeeding: How to Get Back on Track with your Dissertation Goals. Register Below!



Cultivating gratitude daily could vaccinate you against impulsiveness and enhance your self-control, according to novel research by Leah Dickens, Ph.D. (Northeastern, 2015) and her former professor, David DeSteno.


Higher levels of gratitude, both lab-induced and naturally occurring, predicted study participants' greater willingness to forego $30 now for the promise of $50 at a future date. In short, feeling thankful increased the ability to delay gratification. Imagine how this kind of self-control could keep you on task on your dissertation.

"We can all point to the five things in our lives that we're most grateful for, but if we keep thinking about those, we'll habituate to them—they're going to stop being interesting," DeSteno told Thea Singer of Northeastern News. "Rather, to cultivate gratitude we should reflect on daily events: the woman who stopped to give you directions, the man who gave you his seat on the T."

Editor's tip: Increase your gratitude (and other character strengths) with this list from U Penn's Tayyab Rashid, Ph.D. More ideas: Take time to identify something every day that you've taken for granted—and imagine life without it. Write thank you notes to those who have contributed to your life or your day. Keep a gratitude journal in words or photos. Say thank you to cashiers, bus drivers, police officers, and so on.



The Wharton School's Adam Grant, Ph.D., just might be the most productive academic alive, claims Forbes' contributor Dorie Clark. Award-winning teacher, celebrity speaker, best-selling author, elite consultant, and thriving family man, Grant is unstinting in helping thousands who reach out to him. How does he do it? His three tips run counter to common wisdom:


1. Use small blocks of time to write. "I can sit down for 15 to 30 minutes and plant the seeds of an idea," he noted. Then he incubates it for a couple of weeks to get enough distance to edit it.

2. Leave it unfinished. Instead of stopping at the end of a section or page, he stops his writing mid-sentence. Brains are notorious for remembering unfinished tasks better than completed ones. "If I finish a paragraph, it takes a while to get back to where I left it three days earlier," he explained.

3. Use every minute. When he finds himself with small scraps of time, even as few as eight minutes, he leverages them. In reviewing his schedule in advance, he identifies "micro-goals," e.g., a conversation with a colleague, that he can achieve in just minutes.



Getting your Ph.D. in a STEM field? Your chances of joining the tenure-track club are slim, as low as one in six for biomedicine, warns Gina Kolata in the New York Times. And while waiting, you may end up toiling for low wages in post-doc land, where the average annual of $44,000 has not risen in nearly 20 years, considering inflation.

Don't let your passion for science blind you to responsible career planning. Start with an early heart-to-heart with your mentor, recommends Kolata. Other experts urge an even more active stance. Need motivation? Just do the math. Doctorates are being granted at rates that far exceed the quantity needed to replace retiring faculty. For example, over 400 applicants vie for each assistant professor opening at MIT's engineering school.

Editor's tip: Don't rely on a single mentor. Broaden your horizons by assembling your personal "board of directors" that includes non-academics if you want a paycheck commensurate with your training before middle age.



Who can resist the insistent rings and pings of a smart phone? Even if you do stand firm, your concentration has already been disrupted, costing you valuable time to get back into flow. But you hesitate to turn off your phone in case of emergency calls, right?

What's the solution? If you have an iPhone or an Android phone running Lollipop 5.0 or later, take advantage of the built-in "do not disturb" features. Otherwise, follow Suzanne Kantra's advice on Techlicious:


Silence Premium Do Not Disturb ($2.50 on Google Play) is the best stand-alone app for Android devices. It lets you silence your phone based on your calendar entries, selecting all or just those you select as busy. Set a mute timer if you find yourself in an impromptu meeting. And when you're in silent mode, you can have an auto-responder send text to select contacts to let callers know you're in a meeting.

Editor's note: I couldn't live without this app, which I keep on my home page. Before meetings, with two quick taps, my phone stays silent for an hour—unless it's an emergency call from my family. You can set up a regular schedule as well so you can get your beauty sleep, or choose a spontaneous 15-minute quiet time for power napping or meditation.



Ready to customize your avatar, grab your sword, and role-play your way to the dissertation finish line? Download Habitica free and start your quest. Along the way, you will define the habits you want and those you don't in order to reach your goal. Your character harvests gold and experience credits for sticking to the positive ones while losing health for giving in to the latter. Earn additional rewards for completing your daily tasks.

Essentially a good time management app crossed with a video game, Habitica can be a delightfully addicting way to hold yourself accountable. Let it spur you to honor your writing schedule and shun diversions along the way. You can even band together with other players as well as earn a pet gryphon. Who knew dissertating could be so much fun? Habitica's devotees donated generously to the Kickstarter campaign to update it from Habit RPG. It currently rates 5 stars at the iStore and 4.3 at Google Play.


~ Curated by Gayle Scroggs, Editor




From Struggling to Succeeding: How to Get Back on Track with your Dissertation Goals

Are you an All But Dissertation (ABD) student trying to keep your head above water and sometimes feel like you're drowning? In this coaching group you'll discover strategies to deal with overwhelm and stress, and connect with other doctoral students who have also trying to meet their writing goals each day. You will learn how to:

- Recognize the limiting beliefs and self-sabotage behaviors that hold you back

- Develop strategies to minimize procrastination

- Dismantle the habits that steal time away from your writing

DATES: Aug. 9, 23, 30, Sept. 6 (Tuesdays), 2016 at: 7pm EST/4pm PST for 45 minutes.

FEES: none. Totally free to ABDs.

QUESTIONS: Please contact Shannon Massie Eisner, MHR, ACC:



Revive your hope and build your self-confidence in 7 minutes | Issue 211

Editor's Note: On Your Dissertation Path, Will You Choose Fear—or Hope?


"Why are you predicting disaster? You could just as easily predict triumph."

I realized my colleague spoke the truth: In the midst of a major crisis, I could retreat in fear. Or I could move forward with hope.

You have the same choice when you hit a crisis or challenge on your path to your doctorate. When things seem to fall apart, you can throw your hands up in surrender. Or you can call on hope and act to turn things in your favor. 

We all have the capacity for hope. It's that ineffable human quality that motivates us to prevail in spite of everything. Hope means expecting the best in the future—and working to achieve it. It means believing that the future holds promise. No wonder so many studies place hope in the top five character strengths associated with life satisfaction, along with gratitude, love, zest, and curiosity. 

Are you finding hope in short supply? Then dig into this month's feature by my esteemed colleague, Diane Dreher, Ph.D., professor and coach. Soak up her personal dissertation hope story, and then experiment with her cutting-edge tips for reviving your hope and energy. Take heed and you'll reach that goal of a doctoral degree in due time and in good shape.

With hopes for your success and well-being,





Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C.

Words from the Wise (and Hopeful)

"Hope is a waking dream." - Aristotle

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." - Albert Einstein

"When the world says 'Give up,' hope whispers 'Try it one more time.'" - Anon.

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." - Desmond Tutu

"It always seems impossible until it is done." - Nelson Mandela

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come." - Anne Lamott

Conquer Dissertation Overwhelm with Three Powerful Strategies from Hope Psychology

By Diane Dreher, Ph.D.


When I began grad school at UCLA, getting my Ph.D. felt like climbing some formidable mountain.

The other grad students seemed to know more than I did. Many already had their Master's degrees. Facing the looming doctoral mountain, I felt confused and overwhelmed about how to proceed. I realized that if I was going to reach the summit, what I needed most was hope.

What is hope? According to psychologist Rick Snyder, hopeful thinking involves three things:

  • Goals: Having objectives that bring meaning to our lives. I know where I want to go.

  • Agency: Believing that we can take the necessary actions and persevere in the face of obstacles to achieve these goals. I have the abilities needed to get there.

  • Pathways: Finding different ways to achieve our goals. I can figure out how to get there.

In short, the equation for success is Goals + Agency + Pathways, or GAP. This powerful combination helps us achieve our goals, bridging the GAP between where we are and where we'd like to be.

My goal was clear enough: Get that Ph.D. Most of you reading this have the same ultimate goal, i.e., a doctoral degree, but you will also need pathways and agency to fuel you to success.


Finding Pathways to the Goal

After working my way through college as a first generation college student, I knew how to work hard, so I could credit myself with some measure of agency. What I really lacked was a good pathway.

My classmate Stephen had a Master's degree and a clear idea of the path ahead. Not only was his father a distinguished professor, but Stephen had actually met some of the researchers we were studying, correcting me when I mispronounced their names. And in our first semester, he was already working on his dissertation.

Without Stephen's advantages, how in the world would I be able to figure things out on my own?

For the first exam, I decided I needed help. So I invited my classmates to my apartment for a study group. We shared insights, passed the exam, and developed strong, supportive friendships. Suddenly, I was not alone. Watching my successful colleagues write their dissertations, one step at a time, I learned valuable pathways skills and used them to write my dissertation.


You Need to Believe You Can Get There

You might be surprised to discover that Stephen never finished. He clearly had pathways, but apparently he lacked sufficient agency—that belief that he had what it takes to reach the goal. Perhaps his external bravado masked a ferocious inner critic. Perhaps he had what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a "fixed mindset," too busy defending his reputation to learn from new challenges.

Unlike Stephen, you can move from a fixed mindset to a "growth mindset," overcoming obstacles to complete your dissertation by building your hope skills, which, like our muscles, can be strengthened by practice. You can learn to hush your inner critic .

Using the tips below, you can begin now to build your own hope skills by strengthening your goals, agency, and pathways, as my own experience and research have shown.



How to Work with Goals and Mini-Goals

Ultimately, you want to finish the dissertation. Since this goal is too big to tackle all at once, make it manageable.

  • Break it into smaller subgoals: separate research tasks, separate chapters.

  • Then take one small step at a time.


How to Build Your Agency Factor


Do you feel overwhelmed? Inadequate? Try these various tactics to strengthen your agency.

  • Remember a past challenge you overcame, and the skills you used. What skills can you use now?

  • Be kind to yourself. Maintain your energy by getting enough sleep, healthy food, and exercise.

  • Think of someone you admire. What can you learn from how this person deals with challenges?

  • Meet with like-minded friends, encourage each other, and celebrate each other's progress.

  • Tell yourself, "I can do this."

  • When you find yourself worrying or putting yourself down, STOP, take a deep breath and return to the present moment.

  • See the process as a game, asking, "What can I learn from this?"


How to Create the Pathways to Your Doctorate

Are you confused like I was, blocked by obstacles? Do you feel thrown off course when you face a setback?

  • If you're feeling stuck because there's a tool, skill, or information you don't have, what can you do to get it? Check the Internet, read a book, take a class, or ask someone who knows.

  • Ask for help when you need it. This is not a sign of weakness, but a valuable hope skill, multiplying your effectiveness.

  • Anticipate roadblocks. Plan backups and alternate routes. Ask, "What can I do if this step doesn't work out?"



Then build positive momentum with this exercise my colleague Dave Feldman and I used in our positive psychology study:

  • Write down your goal: "I will finish the dissertation by _____ (date)."

  • Beneath your goal, write down 3 steps to get you there.

  • Beneath each step, write down one obstacle that could come up.

  • Beneath each obstacle, write down one way you would overcome it.


Finally, put the power of mental imagery to work. Close your eyes and visualize yourself taking each step, confronting and overcoming each obstacle, then finishing your dissertation. Take a deep breath and feel the sense of accomplishment. Dave and I found that using this simple technique helped people develop stronger hope skills and make significant progress toward their goals.

As you work on your dissertation, you will experience victories and setbacks—that's all part of the journey. But building your hope skills will keep you moving forward to get your Ph.D. and beyond.



Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759

Snyder, C. R. (1994). Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from There . New York, NY: Simon & Schuster



ABOUT THE AUTHOR (photo above)

A positive psychology, writing, and ABD coach in the San Francisco Bay area, Dr. Diane Dreher, Ph.D., M.A., is the author of six self-help books, a college professor and a researcher in positive psychology who enjoys helping doctoral candidates overcome roadblocks, finish the dissertation, and flourish. Contact her at


ABDSG:  Surprising ways successful ABDs spend their summer plus how to do more “deep work” while creating more balance | Issue 210


To All: Proclain your independence. Remind yourself that finishing a doctoral degree is a choice. Then free yourself from interruptions and impulses blocking your progress by implementing our carefully curated tips below.

Estimated reading time:  Seven minutes (that will free up hours of productivity) 

Put your own motivational quotes on mugs, T-shirts, and hoodies at 

Surprising Ways Successful Graduate Students Spend Their Summer

With summer’s slower academic pace, even new graduate students need to leverage the time well. Chronicle Vitae’s free booklet advises setting aside 10% of your time to building your future. Key areas to work on include identifying publishing venues and grant sources, honing research presentation and teaching skills, and developing other skills such as language or computer proficiency.

If you are headed for the fall job market, summer preparation is essential to prevent overload in the fall. You can spruce up your CV, organize a spreadsheet to track your applications, create a teaching portfolio, and pull together an interview wardrobe. You’ll also find tips for writing and publishing, for surviving on a shoestring, and for enjoying your summer. Imagine your September self celebrating your completed writing, new skills, and great vacation time!

How to Stop Working at 5 pm and Still Finish:  Do “Deep Work”


Yearning for uninterrupted stretches of time for dissertation work? Has the internet and social media have turned you into a mere “human router” with shallow work habits, e.g., handling email and interruptions?  If you want to finish, you must shift to doing “deep work.”

“Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work,” asserts Cal Newport, a Georgetown U professor of computer science. On the other hand, resisting interruptions or alternating tasks may actually improve brain infrastructure for productivity.

In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Newport describes prolific professionals and academics who end their workdays by 5 or 6 p.m. How do they manage this feat?  By focusing on depth, i.e., sustained concentration on important projects, rather than breadth. Newport takes refuge in the library, while J. K. Rowling opted for a luxury hotel. Bottom line:  Create your own strategy now for prioritizing your deep work.  


The Essential Resource You Keep Wasting     

“What we attend to creates our lives—attention is the most essential human resource, fundamental to our lives, to our relationships, and our quality of work.” ~ Jeremy Hunter.

Hunter concurs that we need to do more deep work. That means learning to manage our attention. Think about the last time you were in the zone. Chances are you were intensely focused on your work. “Focused attention leads to our most exhilarating moments of being alive,”  Hunter observes.

You pay an extraordinary price for mismanaging your attention. Intrusions provoke more stress, exhaustion, and pain.  Interruptions that last a mere 2.8 seconds can double your mistakes and keep you out of flow for nearly an hour.

In short, deep thinking requires deep focus. If you want to optimize your performance, you must learn to manage your attention. Read on for how to create new habits for this.


Six Secrets to Building and Keeping Healthy Habits

You need about 66 days to build a new habit. . . and that is only if you do it right. The awesome blogger Eric Barker summarizes the evidence-based strategies for how to make habits stick:

  1.  Start with “Keystone Habits”: Begin with something like exercise, which that leads to improved diet and productivity.  Alternate writing with activities that refresh and energize you.

  2. Use “Minimum Viable Effort”: Keep the bar low so you will really do it. Proofread one page.

  3. Make a simple plan: When and where will you do it?  Make—and honor—appointments with your dissertation. (More on this here.)  I will start outlining chapter two at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the library.

  4. Reward yourself: For each “should,” have one “want” or reward. When I finish the outline, I will treat myself to a Chocolate Chip Frappuccino (but make it a skinny).

  5. Use reminders:  Use agendas, lists, and alarms. Put your dissertation appointments in your Google calendar app and set a notification to remind you.

  6. Get help from friends: Socialize with supportive friends and family.  Create a dissertation writing group. Avoid slackers and downers.


[One more tip:  Frame your new habit in terms of your most central values or highest goals, e.g., “I am creating a fulfilling future for myself.” ~ Gayle]


Carve out more time for deep work by optimizing shopping errands. While no one has come up with an app that vacuums or cleans, you can simplify grocery and other tasks with the top-rated Out of Milk android app. (iPhone users might try AnyList.)

Enter items quickly on your phone whenever they occur to you. You will have your list handy whenever you need it—cutting down on extra trips to the store because you forgot your list. And lists can be synced across devices and shared with others.

You’ll zip through the store fast and undistracted because the app automatically classifies items as produce, dairy, pantry so on. You can also create lists for Pharmacy, Home Goods, and To Do that make it easy to check off all those errands in one trip.  

~Compiled by ABDSG Editor Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D.  Write her here.

What Really Makes You Procrastinate--And Proven Ways to Get Back on Track | Issue 209


Editor's Note: Would You Rather Feel Good or Finish?


What are your favorite ways of procrastinating instead of dissertating? TV? Facebook? De-cluttering? Or an ABD perennial favorite, reading another research article? What else?

Take a moment to think back the last time you decided to put your dissertation on the back burner. Chances are that you were beset by anxiety or feeling stuck. And you decided to go for feeling good instead of doing well.

You are not alone if you choose delaying tactics in order to avoid feeling frustrated or fuzzy. But choosing a short-term positive mood gain over the long-term benefit ultimately backfires, as the data on failure to complete doctorates reflects.

If you want to go from putting things off to getting things done, keep reading. Dr. Karen Forbes, an esteemed therapist and coach, will share evidence-based strategies that promote sustainable progress and goal attainment.


Wishing you success and well-being,


Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C.


Words from the Wise


"Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him." ~ Charles Dickens


"Procrastination is opportunity's natural assassin." ~ Victor Kiam


"Someday is not a day of the week." ~ Janet Dailey


"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone." ~ Pablo Picasso


"You may delay, but time will not." ~ Benjamin Franklin


"Procrastination is the biggest problem in academia." ~ Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D.


The Secret to Conquering Procrastination: Master Your ETA


By Karen Forbes, Ph.D.


How guilty are you when it comes to putting off your dissertation work?

Don't despair. You can learn how to quickly identify and then navigate the three major roadblocks that are keeping you from reaching your destination. Master these strategies and you'll soon be getting that hood and velvet stripes.

Delaying a task makes sense when you have more pressing needs. But when putting things off has long-term negative consequences, it crosses the line into procrastination. That's dangerous.

Success requires developing effective strategies to conquer the natural human tendency to procrastinate. The fastest way to do that is to check in on your emotions, thoughts and attitudes—your personal "ETA profile"—when you are tempted to wander off track.

Why do we put off something when we know it's likely to make our life worse?

We procrastinate because we want to feel better.

Procrastination often involves an aversive emotional state that we are driven to reduce or eliminate. This tendency to focus on fixing our bad mood instead of on accomplishing our tasks is "giving in to feel good," explains Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., in Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.

Unfortunately, using procrastination to avoid a bad mood only reinforces the connection between avoidance and feeling better. That's about as helpful as repeatedly allowing a kid to raid the cookie jar instead of eating a healthy lunch.

Every time you put things off you are strengthening a bad habit that then becomes very hard to break.

Furthermore, procrastination robs you of the opportunity the relief and pleasure derived from accomplishing an important yet dreaded task—the very experiences that would build an achievement habit.

How many times have you noticed that performing many such tasks, e.g., writing the results section or tracking down an article, turn out to be much less painful than expected? Wouldn't you rather trade feeling guilty for a sense of accomplishment?

The ability to regulate emotions and resist temptation varies from person to person. Someone who tends toward impulsivity and low levels of deliberation may be more susceptible to procrastination's sly tug.

[Author's Note: Curious about your personal susceptibility to strong negative emotions? Take a version of the Five Factor Personality Inventory here: But don't use it to procrastinate!]



If you struggle with distractions, remove temptations from your work site. Do you need to leave your phone or iPad in the kitchen? Many dissertators rely on internet blocking apps such as RescueTime to thwart detours to favorite websites.

Getting familiar with your negative emotions will also enable you to respond more effectively. Try any of these four strategies to manage them better:


1. Next time you hear yourself saying "I'll do this later" or "One episode of Netflix will help me get in the mood to work," pause.Acknowledge that there is likely to be an emotional state you are trying to avoid. Ask yourself, "What's really making me feel this way right now? What am I trying to run away from?"


2. Sit with the emotion for a certain period of time. Use the countdown clock on your phone or an old fashioned timer to make sure you let yourself experience working on your dissertation at the same time you are feeling the negative emotion. Your mood does not have to interfere with doing the task.


3. Remember that you feel many emotions simultaneously. Part of you might be feeling anxious or bored, but you might also be feeling proud, curious, or interested. Imagine your concentration is a compass needle and you are exerting a magnetic force to pull it away from the aversive emotion and toward to more positive or neutral one.


4. Take a moment to recall a time in your life when you felt awe or wonder. These emotions are strongly associated with well-being and can lift your mood enough to help you get started.



How often have you thought that you have to feel like working on your dissertation in order to be productive?

Research on procrastination refutes this belief. You are better off not waiting for your muse to appear.

Do you cite fatigue and lack of concentration to justify putting things off until you "feel like it" at times? Perhaps your long day of teaching, researching, and caring for others has convinced you that you have exhausted the inner resources needed to dissertate.

Indeed, that "ego depletion" view is corroborated by willpower research led by Roy Baumeister, Ph.D. Various studies showed that after expending considerable energy on one task, subjects tended to perform more poorly on subsequent tasks unless given a boost or a rest, leading to the metaphor of "willpower as a muscle."

However, your belief in the limits of willpower energy just might be more important than the actual energy you've spent.

Investigators at Stanford and Zurich have recently found that individuals who reject the belief that willpower is limited procrastinate less. Instead, they focus more on how previous challenges can prepare them for future ones.

How you frame failure and delay can also raise or lower your motivation to get down to work. Focusing on very short term goals ("I will write 200 words") can prove more effective than focusing on the long term ones ("I will fulfill a childhood dream.")

Feeling that you are failing at a goal tied to your core values can stifle progress.



You can still make progress while feeling discomfort by implementing these strategies:

1. What's the evidence that you can only work when you "feel like it?" Use your scholarly skills to test your assumptions about the limits of your capacity to get some writing done—even at the end of the day.

2. Consider other tasks you do even though you don't like them. All of us have unpleasant, boring, or even daunting tasks on our to do lists: washing clothes, talking with an undergraduate disputing a grade, going through airport security, cleaning up after others, etc. We do them anyway.

3. Use helpful self-talk to get back into action when you catch yourself making excuses: "I'm uncomfortable right now—but I am still able to describe my methodology or summarize these two articles. I will tolerate discomfort and see what happens."

4. Be on the lookout for the catastrophizing thoughts. "I'm never going to get a job if I can't finish this paragraph!" can be reframed to focus on a new, short-term strategy. Aim to deal with the small task at hand rather than slipping into demoralizing self-talk about the distant future: "It's just 50 words; I've done that plenty of times."


Design Your Attitudes and Intentions Carefully

Does positive thinking help us achieve our goals? Not necessarily.

While envisioning a smiling Dean bestowing your doctoral diploma, too much fantasizing can actually lower your ability to anticipate barriers and plan accordingly, asserts Gabrielle Oettingen, Ph.D.

The high you feel while fantasizing having reached your destination can easily trick your mind into thinking you have actually accomplished your goal-and lower motivation dramatically.

In order to be effective, Oettingen has concluded that you must also visualize the potential obstacles between you and your goal. Mentally contrasting the achievement fantasy with the inner as well as outer obstacles will energize you to become more realistic about your procrastination tendencies and create your plan accordingly.

Meanwhile researcher Peter Gollwitzer, Ph.D., has found that precommitting yourself to action is an unusually effective strategy for avoiding procrastination. Creating an "implementation intention" to complete a specific task at a specific time more than doubles the likelihood of follow through whether your goal is writing or sticking to a diet, writes Heidi Halvorson in Success: How We Can Reach our Goals.

Also known as "if-then planning," such commitments also reduce emotional distress and decision fatigue. It is key to state the starting time or conditions, as in "If I have finished putting the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, then I will turn off my phone and summarize the next article for the literature review."

A simple "if-then" plan has a lot better chance of working than saying "I'll try to get some work done on my dissertation by the end of this week."

Spin your wheels less by doing the following:

1. Break down each aspect of your writing or research. Find the smallest component parts possible. Then identify the very first step you need to take to accomplish that subtask.

2. Schedule a specific time and place for doing that subtask.

3. Anticipate the inner as well as outer obstacles. What emotions, thoughts, and attitudes might get in the way of getting started on that subtask? Create a plan for how to overcome them, using the aforementioned strategies as necessary.

The next time you are tempted to stray from your dissertation journey, check your ETA—emotions, thinking, and attitudes—and take appropriate action to get back on course. Enjoy the satisfaction of moving one step closer to getting your doctorate!

Recommended Reading on Procrastination and Self-Regulation

Dr. Karen Forbes is a licensed psychologist and coach who specializes in working with individuals in higher education communities. She helps clients focus on solutions instead of on problems, clarify what they wantinstead of what they don't want, and do things now instead of later. Contact her:


How to Conquer Stress & Your Inner Critic (and Get Crazy with Dissertation Titles) | Issue 208

Four Surprising Benefits You Get from Decluttering Your Space


Got clutter? How about that mess on your desk or in your closet or car or backpack?

You've experienced clutter's downside—time wasted searching for stuff, embarrassment or anxiety about others' reactions, inconvenience to yourself, and more. Surprising benefits await you should you get organized, according to research cited by Goodnet:

1. Decluttering promotes relaxation. The less you deal with stuff, the less anxious you will feel.

2. Decluttering can help others. Donate your discards from clothing to musical instruments to those in need. Bonus: You get a mood boost at the same time.

3. Decluttering purifies the air. Tidy up your desk to improve air quality—good for mind and body.

Use This Simple Trick To Boost Self-Esteem and Memory

Check your posture. Do you slouch when seated? If so, you can improve your mood, self-esteem, energy, and recall by doing one simple thing: Sit up straight.

Your bodily cues, including posture, influence your emotions.

In a one study, subjects answered mock job-interview questions while sitting either slouched or upright. Compared to slouchers, upright folks felt more enthusiastic, excited and strong, reduced fear, and higher self-esteem.

"Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress," conclude the University of Auckland researchers.

For more: Did you miss Amy Cuddy, Ph.D., demonstrating "power poses" in her wildly popular TED talk ? Her new book Presence builds on the body-mind theme while offering user-friendly strategies to tap your personal power.


How to Disable Your Inner Critic in Five Easy Steps

How much valuable mental real estate gets occupied by your inner critic? For in-the-moment relief, try this simple mindfulness meditation based on Mark Bertin's recommendations in Mindful:

1. When you hear an inner criticism, consider what you'd do if someone else said it. ("Gotta go now.")

2. Notice it without debating it while you pause to breathe.

3. Breathe in. Acknowledge any emotions without analyzing or resisting. ("Right now I feel frustrated".)

4. Breathe out, letting go. See the experience for what it is, then shift your focus to something more useful without self-judgment.

5. Offer yourself compassion. Visualize being at ease with each exhalation.

Self-coaching tip: For a bigger boost, name your inner critic. Now notice when "Downer Dan" or "Nagging Nancy" shows up—greeting him or her by name: "Oh, there you go again!"


Crazy Dissertation Titles You Won't Believe


These alternative thesis titles at sent the ABDSG staff rolling on the floor. The site challenges thesis writers to "sum up years of work in one sentence." Can you top the disarming transparency of these? See more at the website.

Blowing stars up with a bigger computer than the last guy. (Astrophysics, Stony Brook University)

If you want people to make good decisions about climate change policy, tell them about it when it is really, really hot.(Geography, University of Colorado - Boulder)

It turns out that Craigslist and Facebook are better for finding significant others than actual dating sites, because people actually secretly like chance, fate, romance and mystery more than straightforward compatibility algorithms. (Sociology and Psychology, University of Arizona)

Being pregnant and giving birth in sixteenth and seventeenth century England sucked. (History, Glendon College)

It is hard to collect, exhibit, or de-accestion indigenous art objects in museums without being patronizing or racist, sometimes museums do a good job, but usually not. (Art History, Theory and Criticism, Maryland Institute College of Art)

The government hiring people is a good way to bring down unemployment; we stopped doing it because we are stupid.(Policy History, UCSB)


How to Boost Your Willpower with Indulgences


As Sarah Jessica Parker said, "Every once in a while a girl has to indulge herself." Her claim now has garnered empirical support.

A 2016 ground-breaking study reported in PsyBlog found that when dieters planned one "naughty day" per week, they stuck to their diets better. They also reported more pleasure and motivation and lost as much weight as the non-cheaters.

Researchers theorized that non-cheaters wear out their willpower muscle by exercising it frequently in resisting temptation. Giving yourself permission to indulge now and then appears to lower the likelihood of a total breakdown of self-regulation.

Our recommendation is that you plan to goof off at least a few hours this week. In the long run, you'll get more done and enjoy the ride more."

All work and no play is not your best strategy. Instead, schedule regular small fun breaks along your path to your doctorate.

Note: Planned time outs work better than spontaneous detours that often evoke a sense of failure—prelude to the dreaded, goal-killing "what-the-hell" effect.


Avoid Eating This To Dodge Daytime Drowsiness


If you want to stop dozing off while trying to read or write, cut out the fries, donuts, ice cream, and other high-fat foods. [Did you know there are 12 grams of fat in a single Starbucks Bountiful Blueberry Muffin? And 24 in a large order of McDonald's fries?]

"After adjusting for other demographic and lifestyle factors, and chronic diseases, we found that those who consumed the highest fat intake were more likely to experience excessive daytime sleepiness," reports Yingting Cao, a Ph.D. student at Adelaide University, and her colleagues in the journal Nutrients.

A poor diet-and-sleep pattern can easily become a vicious cycle since sleepy folks experience more cravings for high-fat, high-carb foods, which in turn is associated with poor sleep outcomes. So get a good night's sleep first, and then choose your foods wisely.

P.S. For better concentration, coffee, chocolate, blueberries, oily fish, avocados, and whole grains are recommended by WebMD. So how about a tuna and avocado sandwich on a whole grain roll with your iced coffee for lunch today? Check out which fats are best for you.


Best Career Tips for Doctoral Students: Beyond the Tenure-Track Option | Issue 207

Reading time this issue: Under 10 minutes (that will forever change how you plan your career)


  • Editor's Note: Who Will Be Your Career Advocate?


  • Feature: Best Career Tips for Doctoral Students: Beyond the Tenure-Track Option


Editor's Note: Who Will Be Your Career Advocate?


When did you last dare to try something you might fail at?


Every grad student needs an advocate when it comes to career planning.


If you are not already developing your career options, start right now. Even for new doctoral candidate, early and consistent planning will be your best route to a satisfying life after graduation.


That recommendation comes from one of the nations' most articulate graduate student advocates, James Van Wyck of Fordham. In our interview with him, James offers several cutting-edge tips you can put to use now—because the best advocate for your future success is you.


Graduate schools have been exceedingly slow in offering preparation for anything other than academic positions—which are few in number. But savvy students, he explains, can investigate entrepreneurial and governmental venues to discover the best matches for their talents and interests. They should be developing their career network long before they begin job hunting.



An Alumni Dissertation Fellow at Fordham University, James cares deeply about the future of graduate students. You may have seen his articles on the subject in The Chronicle of Higher Education or in Inside Higher Ed. We're delighted that he has taken the time to speak directly to our readers.


We would also love to hear what you are doing to be your own best career advocate. What tips would you offer other grad students? What challenges and successes have you experienced? Email us at with the subject line "Careers" please. Here's to your degree and career success!




Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC
Editor, ABD Survival Guide

Feature Article





[Transcript of the All-But-Dissertation Guide interview with graduate student advocate James M. Van Wyck of Fordham University.]


ABDSG: What do you think are some mental hurdles that doctoral students face in preparing themselves for life after graduation?


James Van Wyck: I'd start with what I think is the biggest: don't think of yourself as a student, think of yourself as a professional. And don't get lulled into thinking you can't try on other roles in graduate school. Thinking of yourself as "in school" might mean you forget that it's ok (and even advisable) to be entrepreneurial in how you approach your graduate education. Make the time to look beyond the borders of your discipline and institution.



I would also suggest taking time to examine and perhaps adjust your behavioral patterns. For example, in today's job market (including the tenure-track job market) you can't afford to be shy about self-promotion. You need to circulate your work, to reach out and form relationships with senior scholars, and to collaborate with your peers and partners beyond academia.


ABDSG: If I become more entrepreneurial, I am concerned about how my advisor might react. This is not the time to get on the wrong side of the gatekeepers. How should I proceed?


JVW: This is a huge concern for graduate students, and a very real one. Time after time, surveys conducted by organizations like the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) tell us that graduate students don't do things they should (explore other options, spend time on projects outside academia, visit a career center, and so on) because they are afraid of what their advisor will say and do. So you aren't alone.


I have two simple strategies: first, conduct your parallel activities on a different channel. You needn't tell your advisor everything, and s/he will most likely not find out. I think graduate students often imagine that graduate advisors think about their advisees a lot. They do not. While graduate students tend to think about their relationship with their advisor way too much, I've yet to find the reverse to be true. Graduate advisors are typically high-performing faculty who simply don't have the time to worry about you when you aren't in front of them.


To help conduct this stealth campaign, start putting together a board of advisors, rather than relying on one person for all your advice. Reaching out like this will help you not only prepare for a variety of careers, but it will gradually lesson the spell that your advisor has over you. You'll empower yourself to sift through various types of advice, and pick and choose what is most appropriate in each case. If you have an advisor who thinks preparing for multiple careers is wrong, you can simply ignore this piece of advice, and seek counsel on this front from other quarters.


Second, you might need to fire your advisor. It may not be easy, but neither is having an anchor around your neck. Advisors who live in the 1970s aren't much help in today's job market. Read this article from Leonard Cassuto to diagnose your relationship with your advisor. If you need to fire your advisor, read Cassuto's advice on the subject. Then grit your teeth and take control of your future by finding a new advisor.



ABDSG: Your advice doesn't apply to me as I am totally committed to seeking a tenure-track position after graduation.


JVW: Your statement implies that those who don't secure tenure-track jobs fail because of a lack of commitment. That's not the reason they fail. There's a cruel calculus at play here, and effort and commitment are sometimes beside the point. The numbers of tenure-track jobs shrink every year, and there aren't enough jobs to go around, even for the over-qualified candidates now coming out of graduate school. So you need to know the math, and you need to be preparing for a variety of careers.


And here's an interesting twist: the skills you develop by being open-minded about potential careers may just be the skills that push you over the edge in a tightly contested tenure-track job search. The idea of an academic job is changing underneath our feet, thus the models many grad students see on a daily basis (i.e., tenured faculty at research universities) are often not the kinds of models to copy. On the other hand, look at the profiles of young faculty members at selective liberal arts colleges, and you will see that their CVs are increasingly incorporating public-facing projects.


In what ways might government agency jobs be a good alternative to working in the academy? And how is this avenue best pursued?


The U.S. government employs more PhDs than any other single employer, and these PhDs are not all in Washington, D.C. In fact, when you spend time on, you are almost certain to find a job that interests you.


Candidates with a Master's or PhD are able to apply for higher level positions, so be sure and read up on the tiered system before you apply. A great way for graduate students to see if civil service jobs are a good fit is the Presidential Management Fellows Program. A great resource for the transition from academia to government work is Alexandra Lord, who I interviewed a while back. Be sure and check out her website, Beyond Academe.


How can I best find a non-academic job where my educations and skills will be valued? For example, I like to write, and I want a job that will allow for life-long learning. What kinds of workplaces will value my critical analysis skills and my desire to publish?


I'll give you a quick answer: start reading job ads and researching companies that sound interesting to you. Look at non-profits and startups, established firms, and boutique outfits. In short, do your homework. Begin with the job boards over at Versatile PhD, and go from there. Keep your mind and options open!


What's one skill I should be working on while in graduate school (but probably haven't)?


Public speaking comes to mind. And not the Tony Robbins brand of public speaking. I mean learning to be aware of how you are presenting ideas (and yourself) in a variety of contexts. You can read my thoughts on the subject here.


How should graduate schools get involved in creating a mindset shift that would help graduates find satisfying employment?


Graduate education, particularly in the humanities, is shifting underneath the feet of graduate students. And I think that's why it is really important for graduate deans and provosts to listen to those with their ears closest to the ground. The short answer is that graduate schools must give their own students a voice in strategic planning, a topic I wrote about with a colleague just a few months ago for The Chronicle of Higher Education. I'm gratified to see that graduate schools are responding to the changing times in ways that even two or three years ago were unheard of.



James M. Van Wyck is an Alumni Dissertation Fellow at Fordham University. Over the past several years he has held various posts at Fordham, including Facilitator for Graduate Student Professionalization in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he helped shape the Fellowship in Higher Education Leadership. His writing can be found in venues such as The New England Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed. Follow him on Twitter: @jmvanwyck



If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, fill out this brief application for a free consultation with a dissertation coach.



Feel like a Fraud? 5 Tips to Vanquish the ABD Impostor Syndrome | Issue 205

Reading time this issue: Under 10 minutes 


  • Why You Must Dare to Fail


  • Words from the Wise on Self-Doubt and Vulnerability


  • Stop Feeling like a Fraud: Five Expert Tips to Conquer Your ABD Impostor Syndrome Registration for Free Teleworkshop, Overcome the Impostor Syndrome



Feel like a fraud?  Worry if you are smart enough to finish a doctorate? 

Master proven concrete tips to overcome or prevent the impostor syndrome while you finish your dissertation




When did you last dare to try something you might fail at?


For me it was late January—when I joined our local CrossFit gym.


CrossFit seemed like a big stretch for someone used to mere walking, but when my daughter Sara "incentivized" it, I took the bait.


A rowing machine won't get anyone trembling. But when was the last time you hoisted a barbell? How about planks and pushups? As Cross Fit regulars swung themselves up on overhead bars, I watched in awe, unsure of what I had just signed up for.


Watching the more fit folks streak past me at first could have led me to quit. But my trainer scaled things down for me, while everyone encouraged me to just keep at it. No smugness. No comparisons.


What a valuable lesson they offered me—one seldom offered in school and work environments. All too often we judge ourselves and get judged on how well we perform before we've had a chance to develop our potential.

What about you? Do you tend to set the bar too high, literally and figuratively, with new challenges? Do you place it at the expert level (often the most salient)? Then when you don't clear it, do you give up? Or worse, do you let fear of failure keep you from taking a shot in the first place?Fear of failure provokes self-limiting doubts—the kind that define impostor syndrome. This pernicious condition hits doctoral students especially hard, with drastic impacts on academic progress and career choices.


When was the last time you felt like giving up on your dissertation? Doubted your ability to finish? Felt like a fraud around other students and faculty?


If you find yourself struggling with negative feedback on your latest draft while congratulating your peers who just defended their dissertations, it's easy to forget your own strengths. You start wondering if you really have what it takes to finish.


Impostorism can affects post-graduation goals as well. Collet and Avelis found it outranked all other factors in explaining why women downshifted goals away from research institutions and toward teaching institutions—especially in the humanities and social sciences.


What makes us so vulnerable to the impostor syndrome?


Who gets to witness the inner doubts or years of struggle others undergo on their way up the ladder? Without that awareness, you feel like a fraud next to established folks who now make it look easy. You wonder when you'll be found out as an inadequate, inferior being let in by mistake.


Sure, your first draft might look dismal next to the published articles and dissertations you have read. But it would likely hold up well next to first drafts by other ABDs.


Think the impostor syndrome only hits the untalented or uninitiated? Nope. High achievers are the most likely succumb to it, as illustrated by this remark by celebrated novelist and poet Maya Angelou:


"I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out."


If you've ever felt any of the symptoms of the impostor syndrome, don't miss our expert strategies for overcoming it below. It's time for you to enjoy your learning and celebrate your successes!Here's to your path and your success!


Here's to your path and your success!




Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC
Editor, ABD Survival Guide


P.S. I can now hold a plank for over 60 seconds. :)




"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." ~ Bertrand Russell


"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." ~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced." ~ Vincent Van Gogh


"I don't believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me." ~ Tennessee Williams


"Every album, I'm worried that I'm a dork and a fraud--'What if I can't sing anymore?' then I stop thinking and start playing guitar, and I realize that it's okay to suck, and move forward." ~ Pink


Video pick: "The Power of Vulnerability," by Brené Brown, TED Talk, December 2010.




Feature Article






By Eva Ross, Ed.D., and Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D.


Ever feel like a fraud while working on your doctorate? Do thoughts like these nag you when you try to work on your dissertation?


• "I am too tired to work on the lit review—I'll wait until a more ideal time." 
• "My chair tore my chapter apart; I must not be as good at writing as I thought." 
• "I just need to read a few more books before I get started." 
• "I am determined to do this on my own—I will not lower myself to ask for help." 
• "I should be able to juggle it all—work, family, and school-and not drop a ball." 
• "I don't need to know everything, I just need to find it when I need it." ~ Albert Einstein


If any of these sound familiar, chances are you have developed a good case of the impostor syndrome. Let's look at how to cure it—or at least tame it into submission.





Statistics and experience show that you have considerable company, including ours.

Eva's experience: When I received the acceptance letter from my chosen doctoral program, I worried that it might just be a clerical error. I called a colleague to make sure it was for real. As time went on, I learned that I was in fact "good enough," although there were moments of "impostorism."


Gayle's experience: While finishing my dissertation as a full-time instructor, I suddenly became haunted by a crippling fear of not having created a doctorate-worthy masterpiece. At a faculty meeting one wintry afternoon, I gazed around the table at some of my less-than-amazing Ph.D. colleagues and realized, "If they merit a doctorate, surely I do too!" I defended in March.


The fear of not being good enough, of being an intellectual phony, is pervasive among doctoral candidates. This damaging yet pervasive fear leads to a perpetual anxiety about being unmasked as unworthy of the degree—even after earning it.


In The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, Valerie Young, Ed.D., develops the impostor syndrome concept originated years earlier by Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., and Suzanne Imes, Ph.D. She reports that a surprising 70 percent of people studied suffered from impostor syndrome symptoms at one time or another, especially high achieving individuals. Graduate students and women appear to be especially susceptible.


Drawing on the work of Clance and Imes, Young and others, we will explain what makes you vulnerable and how you can banish the impostor syndrome so you can finish your dissertation and move on with confidence.





A healthy sense of competence develops in parallel with your actual mastery. Explaining away your successes as to luck, favoritism, or other circumstance leaves you vulnerable to the twin arrows of anxiety and doubt when new challenges arise, providing fertile ground for the impostor syndrome.


When you caught in its grip, you are more likely to describe your competence in self-sabotaging ways that are inherently unsustainable. Young describes five such types: the Perfectionist, the Natural Genius, the Expert, the Rugged Individualist, and the Superwoman/Superman/Super-Student, each with unrealistic, self-imposed rules about competence.





Read Young's classifications below and highlight any that resonate strongly with you. Then read on to learn how to overcome these handicapping thoughts so you can finish your dissertation and future projects with confidence.

The Perfectionist: "my work must be not just good or great, but flawless." The best way to describe the perfectionist may be "Everything I do must be 100% perfect, 100% of the time." Do you put off writing until the time is just right, when you feel inspired, rested, etc.? Do you keep revising the same section to get just the right word—thus getting far behind schedule?


The Natural Genius: "It should always come easily for me." If you are "a natural genius," you judge success based on ability, rather than effort, in working on the task. For you, having to work hard implies incompetence. For example, "If I were really good at writing, I would not have to rewrite anything."


The Expert: "um, am I qualified to speak on this yet?" Do you create self-imposed hurdles by imagining that you need more studying, more certificates, or another diploma before you can put yourself out there? The fear of not knowing enough easily paralyzes you. The expert is always in rehearsal, never quite getting to the accomplishment stage.


The Rugged Individualist: "I don't need anyone's help." Do you stand on your firm principle that you need to accomplish this all on your own—and that this will establish your competence? Do you refuse to ask for legitimate help—and thereby add unnecessary obstacles and delays to finishing your dissertation?


The Superwoman/Superman/Super-Student: "Watch my juggling act!" Are you convinced you have to juggle multiple roles and do them all well at the same time? Are you plagued by beliefs like this one: "I can be an ace employee, a wonderful mother, and a stellar dissertation student all at the same time."





Highly successful people who fall prey to the imposter syndrome see the proverbial glass as more than half empty. They find it hard to appreciate their own inherent worth, personal strengths and talents, and demonstrated accomplishments, as they focus heavily on real or imagined deficiencies.


When feelings of vulnerability then arise, they attempt to combat it by overusing their strengths in ways that ultimately backfire: a commitment to excellence morphs into perfectionism, independence into rugged individualism, and so on.


Self-acceptance is thus sabotaged not only by feeling "not enough," (Brown, 2010, 2013) but also by a "fixed mindset" that equates self-worth with performance, with no allowance for mistakes, a doomed perspective (Dweck, 2010).


What can you do?


Adopting a "growth mindset," one which makes room for learning from mistakes, can help you overcome imposter syndrome thoughts. Also, learning to "dial back" strengths appropriately while developing an appreciation for the power of vulnerability can move you forward. Let's see how to do that for each of Young's types.





If you are dogged by impossible standards, it's time to shoot for merely "excellent," and at times, just "good enough." "Research shows that perfectionism hampers success," writes Brene Brown, Ph.D. "In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis." Give yourself permission to write a lousy draft that you can edit later—you'll finish sooner if you do.


Your new motto: "Giving 100% is not required in all situations."





Instead of focusing on proving your ability in everything you do, focus on improving it through practice, urges Stanford professor Carol Dweck. Neural plasticity research shows that most capacities, even intelligence, can increase over time with effort. When struggling to master coding or to revise difficult sections, try this reframing: "Mastery is a good thing; I just need to recognize the time and effort I will need to get there."


Your new motto: "Success does not happen overnight; it takes time and effort."





Do you feel in constant need of rehearsal, yet never ready to go on stage? Are you putting off finishing your lit review until you have read everything under the sun on your topic? Consider this reframe: "A good knowledge base is important, but it is unrealistic for me to try to learn everything about the subject." After all, your dissertation is your first book—not your life's masterpiece. Keep a growth mindset here.


Your new motto: "The learning journey never ends."





Successful scholars regularly enlist aid from others, from colleagues and family to stats consultants and coaches. Try this reframe: "It is great that I can be self-sufficient if I need to be, but I need to be thoughtful about it. There are times when it's better to draw on other resources." Brown also challenges the myth of going it alone, noting that it hampers the cultivation of connection and authenticity which we need in order to thrive.


Your new motto: "Part of being competent is asking for what you need."




We see this as the perfectionist on steroids. Before you drop from overwhelm, see how these reframes work for you:


"I can honor my desire to do many things well, but I do not need to do it all simultaneously."


"Just because a person can do it does not mean that she must do it."


We get sucked into perfection because we imagine that it will protect us from feelings of vulnerability, notes Brene Brown. "Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame," she asserts. Authenticity is messier, but it's a lot more sustainable.


Your new motto: "Letting go is liberating."


From ABD Impostor to Dr. You


As you replace dysfunctional beliefs with healthy ones, the old ones may surface occasionally as critical voices from the past that can still provoke anxiety if you grab on to them. A good strategy here is to simply acknowledge them and tell them to "go to the back of the bus" because you intend to hang on to the wheel.


Then step on the gas: Write that next paragraph or analyze that next set of data. And keep going even if those bullies holler, because you are driving this bus to your defense and beyond.


When you at last reach the end of your dissertation journey, go right ahead and savor being called "Doctor"—without the shadow of an impostor's doubt. You will have earned it.



Recommended Resources


Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead


Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are


Clance, Pauline Rose, and Imes, Suzanne. "The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention," Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, Fall 1978. [pdf available here]


Dweck, Carol. S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success


Young, Valerie. The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

About the Authors

Eva Ross, Ed.D., C.M.C.


An academic and life coach who resides in the Great Lakes area, Dr. Ross devotes herself to helping graduate students (especially doctoral candidates) conquer the inner and outer obstacles to their degree. Her coaching invites clients to clear their emotional static, allowing them to move toward greater clarity and purpose in achieving important goals and a greater sense of well-being. Contact her at

Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C., C.M.C.


Dr. Scroggs, a positivity and productivity coach, speaker, and ABD Survival Guide Editor, makes her home near Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. A former college professor, she has helped countless students and clients finish and flourish through proven positive psychology strategies. If you are ready to conquer self-doubts and procrastination, harness strengths and motivation, and develop clarity and focus to propel you to your goals, contact her at Enjoy free resources at

Free ABD Survival Guide Teleworkshop


with Drs. Gayle Scroggs, Eva Ross, and Nora Misiolek


Join three experienced dissertation coaches for a free one-hour call to master the five strategies and banish the impostor syndrome forever. Get back to your dissertation with renewed confidence and self-compassion.


WHEN: Monday, March 14, 2016


TIME: 7 - 8 PM Eastern Time USA


Receive the call-in number when you register.




In the subject line in all caps, put ABDSG TELEWORKSHOP and your name. 
In the body of the email, tell us a little about yourself:


a. What is your field or dissertation topic?
b. Where are you in your doctoral studies?
c. What are your biggest challenges to finishing your dissertation?
d. What would you find most helpful for your situation? 
e. Anything else you'd like to ask or tell us?


We'll send you back a welcome letter with the call-in number.





If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, fill out this brief application for a free consultation with a dissertation coach.



Awesome tips for accountability, mind wandering, email overload, and more | Issue 204



If you had to send a hated organization or personal enemy $100 when you miss your writing goals, would you be more likely to get your dissertation out the door on schedule?


Yes, say the Yale behavioral researchers who created To keep you from the tendency to succumb to immediate gratification, Stickk leverages another human tendency—loss aversion. In short, you are forced to put your money on the line.


You decide the weekly goal, e.g., number of words or pages written, pounds lost, Facebook or TV time quota, etc., and the stake you are willing to bet that you will do it. Then designate one of their "anti-charity" groups (an organization you really don't want to get your dollars) or a friend or foe to get your stake if you don't follow through.


Meet your goal and you keep your money. You also choose a friend to serve as a referee—adding yet more accountability. If you feel stuck because you lack motivation or accountability, Stickk could be worth a try. For more details, visit habits turn out to be the key to finishing your dissertation. 




Your brain did not evolve to write a dissertation, alas. Writing diligently requires a single-minded focus that your hunter-gatherer ancestors did not need.


But you can create effective workarounds, say the authors of One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness. Given that the human brain is better wired for multitasking, you get a dash of dopamine and gratification for finishing low priority tasks like checking email or straightening the pencil drawer.


That impedes the single focus you must have in order to be productive. Successful work (such as dissertating) necessitates managing interruptions due to distractions and stress. Rasmus Hougaard and his two coauthors offer two simple mindfulness-based rules to boost focus and work output:


(1) Focus on what you choose to do. Becoming mindful allows you to choose long-term gratification over short-term gratification. Ask, "What will matter in the long run?"


(2) Handle your distractions mindfully. As interruptions occur, be strategic about how you handle them to maintain your control. Ask, "Must it be done now— or can it be dismissed or deferred?"


This approach gets you working with your brain's natural tendencies. Furthermore, mindfulness increases the brain's serotonin levels, thus dampening the usual dopamine-based vulnerability to distraction.





Solve your overstuffed email inbox problem with the Spark app for the iPhone and Apple watch. Its 4.5 rating from users propelled it to Apple's "App Store Best of 2015" list.


This free app from Readdle helps you retake control using "intelligent" automatically sorting incoming mail for faster, easier processing. You can find your most important messages easily and even "pin" them so they don't get swamped by new emails.


Additional features like Smart Search allow you to use natural language to sort through your messages, save emails as PDF files, and sync with tools that you use like Google Drive or OneNote. Download here or at iTunes.


Heads' up from Cult of Mac: Watch for the upcoming release of Spark for iPad and a more distant release of Spark for Mac.Android users take heart: You can access similar features with the highly rated Blue Mail app, available here or at Google Play.


Do you consider your dissertation a mess? If it were a piano, would you deem it unplayable?


Then it's time for a jazz break.


First, take 15 minutes to appreciate Tim Harford's TED Talk about the greatest solo piano performance in the history of jazz—and what it says about the role of frustration in fostering creativity. Something magical transpired when Keith Jarret was talked into playing an "unplayable piano" in Koln, Germany, forcing (or inviting?) him to focus on just the keys that worked.


Harford taps cognitive psychology, social psychology, complexity science, and even a little rock and roll in describing how Jarret's and parallel stories illustrate that creativity flourishes when we embrace the mess, obstacles, and frustration inherent in the creative process.


By the end, you will be motivated to bang out some new tunes on the "unplayable piano" of your own dissertation. To double your inspiration, savor the recording of Jarret's celebrated Koln theater performance right here.



Do you misplace your phone or keys? Forget your chair's great advice? Have trouble remembering where you put that great journal article?


Go ahead and blame the ice cream or cold pizza you polished off before bed.


Research has identified five common daily habits that can exacerbate forgetting: late night snacks, too much sugar, too much tofu, chronic low stress, and being single. Each one of these turns out to impact memory, according to recent reports.


While we don't advise popping the question to the next available single you meet, go for smaller lifestyle changes to boost your memory. How might you begin to integrate exercise and meditation into your routine to reduce stress levels? Make a plan to stop the snacking and reduce your fructose consumption. Commit to consuming more salmon, walnuts, etc., or to taking a daily DHA capsule to get the omega-3 oils that ameliorate the damage.



This issue of ABD.Links was compiled by Gayle Scroggs and Nora Misiolek.


Thank you to the artist at for permission to use his cartoon. 




An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resource 

She also speaks fluent Spanish and delights in new exotic Scrabble words as she savors life in the Chesapeake Bay area, California, and Argentina.


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 published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may 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.



Subscribe to our other free e-mail Newsletter: The Coaching Toward Happiness News




The Seven Habits That Will Get Your Dissertation Out The Door Fast | Issue 203



Good writing habits turn out to be the key to finishing your dissertation. How many of these seven critical habits have you mastered? Find out what you are missing—and discover how to create a smoother, faster, more enjoyable path to graduation by setting an intention.




Create Your Intention to Finish Your Dissertation—Then Act on It


Resolutions are so yesterday. So don't worry if you've broken or forgotten yours already. What you really need is to set an intention that will contribute to finishing your dissertation.


Setting an intention focuses more on the path than the outcome. To set one, use these two simple steps:

1) First get clear about your intent, e.g., "I intend to honor my commitment to my goal of earning a doctorate."

2) Then follow through by directing your full attention and energy toward it every day. Act as necessary to manifest your intention, e.g., create your outline, code your data, write your lit review, contact your advisor, etc.


Notice that, unlike with a resolution, there is no deadline, no failure, no giving up, andno beating yourself up. If you fall short one day, you forgive yourself and start again the next.


Prime yourself each morning by restating your intention. This creates a readiness "to receive, to sense, to focus, to behave in a certain manner" explains neuroscientist Daniel Siegel in Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.


No need for perfection—you just need to keep practicing. Every day brings you one day closer to converting your good intention to a solid habit—and one day closer to graduation. Trust the process and discover the satisfaction that comes with honoring your own dream, step by step.


When it comes to developing good writing habits, few know more than my esteemed colleague Mary Beth Averill, Ph.D. Review her seven key habits for ABDs in our feature article below. Then set your intentions, and start practicing. Before you know it, you will be sporting that title of "doctor" and a priceless habits toolkit for whatever you set your sights on next!


Wishing you positivity and productivity as you practice,




Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC
Editor, ABD Survival Guide




"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it."~ Greg Anderson


"The secret to getting ahead is getting started." ~ Mark Twain


"You might not write well every day, but you can edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page." ~ Jodi Picoult


"Pay yourself first (money, energy, time, love). You'll have even more to give." ~ Unknown


"Accountability breeds responsibility." ~ Steven R. Covey


"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit." ~ Aristotle

Feature Article: Seven Habits that Will Get Your Dissertation Out the Door Fast


By Mary Beth Averill, Ph.D.

Developing strong writing habits has been shown to be the surest way to finish your dissertation as quickly as possible. Waiting for your dissertation writing muse to appear will not get you the gown with hood and velvet stripes.


Cultivating good writing habits now is like investing money in a guaranteed stock portfolio. First, you will finish your dissertation. Second, you will continue to reap dividends and interest throughout your entire career.


There's no question that reliable good writers are highly valued inside and outside of academia, so nurture your inner writer. Imagine the confidence you'll feel now as well as later in job interviews and your future career when you can trust yourself to take on important writing challenges and get them out the door in a timely fashion.


What are the most important writing habits for the doctoral student? Here are seven top ones that I have distilled from my three decades of experience as a coach and mentor:



"What have you enjoyed about your writing/research this week?"


Obstacles to writing are never hard to find, but focusing on the enjoyment is more likely to help you create and sustain your writing habit. Members in one of my writing groups requested that I ask this question every time we meet. When they can't think of anything, I ask them to "dig deep." Starting the writing process on a positive note has changed the long term tenor of the group and the way group members see their writing projects.


Take time each week to reflect on what you have enjoyed about your writing or research process. Activities that we feel bring us joy and satisfaction become easier to approach than ones shrouded in negativity. Furthermore, positive emotions have been shown to improve energy, creativity, and performance.





Writing from the start means writing from the very first day of the project.


Unfortunately, too many students think they must wait until they have "something to write." This turns the writing phase into a new or added process rather than a continuation of what they've been doing all along—leading to writing blocks.


However, by cultivating the habit of writing memos to self, taking notes on your reading, or sketching out mind maps and outlines, you'll be able to tap your own momentum.





Academic writers who write every day, even for short periods of time, produce more text in a year than those who don't.


Work on your dissertation in some way every day. When you do, it is always somewhere in your mind, fostering insights that would otherwise be lost.


A big mistake is to insist on waiting for large chunks of time to write. You already know what happens: Those chunks are easily eaten up by emergencies, meetings, and other normal demands of life. So take advantage of short bursts of time until you have longer periods.


There's nothing quite as motivating as success. You set yourself up for success when you commit to short periods of time that you can actually protect. If you aren't feeling very productive, you can tell yourself, "Just 20 more minutes to go...just 15 more minutes...just 5 more minutes..." Should you find yourself getting into flow with time to do more, by all means continue—but first acknowledge and celebrate that you met your initial daily goal.





Have you had those hours or days when your brain just won't get into top gear?


Be ready with what one client calls a "brain-dead" to do list. These are tasks that must be done but don't require your best thinking or creativity. Examples include data cleaning, adding text citations, editing references, and sorting through notes or archival sources.


Not ready for a real "first draft"? Give yourself permission to work on an outline or a "zero draft." Write memos about articles you have read for your literature review. Use freewriting to summarize what you know about a topic without bothering with footnotes. Spend time editing what you have written. These tasks will also keep you connected to your dissertation and will fulfill the "write every day" directive.





Paying yourselves first means that you value the doctoral potential in you, and you value the work you do toward the degree.


Until you finish, your dissertation needs to be a top priority. You can pay yourself first by working on it when you are at your best. That means protecting those times that you have the highest energy, creativity, and/or mental clarity. For some, this means getting up a little earlier and writing before breakfast or before heading to work.


Every time you do this, you are honoring your own goals and values. Notice how good that feels!






Consider joining an ABD group, finding a writing buddy, or hiring a coach.


Dissertating can be a lonely pursuit. Any of these may be good ways to report weekly on your progress and to get some problem-solving help when needed. One of my dissertation clients met several times a week at the local library with other dissertation writers. They limited the amount of time they spent checking in and checking out and mostly sat in silence at their computers making progress while feeling camaraderie.





Become more mindful of your process and progress through journaling.


Monitoring one's behavior is critical for creating a new habit, says willpower expert Roy Baumeister. Use an electronic or paper journal to document your progress and plan for the next day's work.


"How's the dissertation coming along?"


Does this innocent query provoke anxiety and even shame when you feel behind? Does admitting that or claiming otherwise leave you feeling worse?


Solution: Create an update you can share cheerfully: "I've developed a new method to...," "I just came across an interesting paper on...," or "I have some interesting data about..."


Then get back to writing so soon you can respond with pride: "It's done—and you may now call me doctor."

Use it to record ideas that you want to come back to later instead of getting off track during your writing time.


Each day, record when you started, a phrase or so about what you did, and where you will start the next time you sit down to write. You can adapt the journal to fit your needs by adding a word or page count, comments on your writing process, or whatever makes it meaningful and useful for you.


Celebrate your progress in your journal. My journaling clients report feeling frequent pleasure at discovering they've made more progress than they had thought.


If you begin cultivating these seven habits, you will be pleased at how quickly you get those velvet stripes—and be set up for a lifetime of success.






Baumeister, Roy, and Tierney, John. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength


Boice, Robert. Advice for New Faculty Members


Fredrickson, Barbara. Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life




Mary Beth Averill, Ph.D. has been coaching academic writers for over 30 years. She facilitates ongoing groups for ABDs and faculty writers. With Hillary Hutchinson, she is the coauthor of 

How to Become an Academic Coach.



Contact Mary Beth at 541.349.9999 or


You Will Break Your New Year's Resolution—Unless

You... | Issue 202


As the New Year dawned, did you nobly resolve to dissertate every single day? Did you vow to socialize less, turn off the TV early, or go running every morning before breakfast?


Did you pat yourself on the back for your new commitment to shaping up your dissertation or yourself? Not so fast.


Brace yourself for the bad news: Chances are a whopping 4 in 5 that you will give up by Valentine's Day. At least that's what the research shows, says Marti Hope Gonzales, Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota. Good intentions don't guarantee success.


There's hope, however. You can still set yourself up to be among 20% who succeed—and here's how: Employ proven strategies based on motivation and goal research. That's what the All-but-Dissertation Survival Guide provides year round, with special tips this month for keeping those resolutions.


We invite you to take advantage of our carefully curated tips and apps to create the good habits that will spur you to your doctorate and beyond.


"Habits are like financial capital — forming one today is an investment that will automatically

give out returns for years to come." ~ Shawn Achor


Before you jump into action, take time to plan. In his Psychology Today post, Ray Williams offers these evidence-based guidelines: Focus on just one change at a time. Developing new habits eats up your daily reserve of willpower, so don't spread it too thin. Break it down into small steps.


"For most of us, though, the problem is not a lack of goals but rather too many of them." ~ Roy Baumeister, Ph.D




Frame the goal in terms of what you will do rather than what you will stop doing, advises procrastination expert Tim Pychyl, Ph.D. Take time to reflect on how this change complements your values and overall goals to enhance your interest. "Do everything you can to keep your personal goals manageable and meaningful and you will see the tasks as less aversive," he explains.




Find a user-friendly way to monitor your progress on your resolution. It's easy to forget to follow through on a new habit, and unfortunately, that spells disaster, as shown in research by willpower expert Roy Baumeister, Ph.D., and colleagues. You can tack up an old-fashioned wall calendar or pick from the mushrooming Android and iPhone habit tracker apps to keep track of the pages written, the pounds lost, the runs completed, and so on. We describe the number one app below.


"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." — Jim Ryun 



Top-rated HabitBull sends fun daily reminders to your smart devices so you can keep your promise to yourself. You can track several routines and habits simultaneously, including simple ones ("I turned TV off at 9 pm") and quantitative ones ("How many words did you write on your dissertation today?") . You can easily keep track of your progress as it syncs across devices. Watch your streaks grow-and feel that surge of pride and motivation! Download HabitBull on Google Play, where it sports a 4.5 rating from over 15K users, or in the iTunes store. Discover 23 more habit-changing app options here



Your behavior is exceptionally sensitive to environmental triggers, so why not leverage them? "Set up a workspace, a home, and a life that supports your aspirations," recommends Kira M. Newman, Editor at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. Post a photo that represents the next phase of your life and career, or maybe a panorama of the Caribbean paradise to visit after graduation. Place view books by authors who inspire you. Wear a special piece of jewelry that can serve as an anchor when you're tempted to give in. "Consider tweaking the screensavers, passwords, and desktop photos you encounter every day," she adds.


"If you're tired of starting over, don't give up." ~ Anon. 



Experts agree that social support builds motivation and adds accountability. Involve a buddy or join a support group. For example, you could start or join an academic writing group or team up with another student to meet regularly for a dissertation date. Or consider a coach, as coaches are trained to provide support and accountability. When you involve others, you can share your struggles and celebrate your wins, building an upward spiral of success.


"Fall down seven times, stand up eight." ~ Japanese proverb


Finally, keep in mind that making important lasting changes always involves challenge. You're more likely to succeed if you acknowledge the difficulties and temptations and plan accordingly. Never allow a lapse to become an excuse to give up. Every time you start over you are that much closer to success. You are not starting at zero. Use what you learned to get back on track and plan better for the next challenge. With grit, you'll get there! 


Wishing you at least one new awesome habit,


The ABDSG Editorial Team


Four Tested Strategies for Enjoying Guilt-free Holidays While Finishing Your Dissertation | Issue 201



Does your inner Scrooge threaten to ruin your holiday by keeping your nose to the grindstone? Do visions of unfinished dissertation chapters haunt your dreams and festivities? Discover why having fun can help you do your best on your dissertation and learn three proven strategies for enjoyable, sustainable success.




1. Editor's Note
2. Words from the Wise
3. Feature Article: Four Tested Strategies for Enjoying Guilt-Free Holidays while Finishing Your Dissertation




December 2015



Dear ABD Survival Guide Reader,




Feeling torn between the Dissertation Imperative and holiday temptations? Stop choosing between academics and life.The good news is that your socializing and celebrating during the Season of Joy can enhance not just your mood but also your dissertation progress. Read our feature article for more. Are you feeling discouraged by "not enough dissertation progress" so far this year? I challenge you to list your wins for 2015.


Keep writing until you come up with at least 20 accomplishments, big and small. Now reflect on each one: What does it mean to you as an academic or a whole person? Focusing on what you have done will energize you far more than beating yourself up again. Besides, chances are you did more than you realized. Wishing you and yours a joyous, energizing holiday!







Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC

Editor, ABD Survival Guide





"Every man who possibly can should force himself to a holiday of a full month in a year, whether he feels like taking it or not." ~ William James


"More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies." ~ Rudyard Kipling


"The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative." ~ Barbara Fredrickson


Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard." ~ Colin Powell



Feature Article: Four Tested Strategies for Enjoying Guilt-Free Holidays while Finishing Your Dissertation



By Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C.


Is your dissertation still unfinished as we move into peak holiday season? Are you wondering if you deserve any time off?

It is not merely okay but truly essential to take a work break and have fun with family, friends, and festivities.


Research confirms what you've no doubt experienced: Doing things that make you happy enhances your focus and zest, while driving yourself relentlessly leads to burnout.


So it is time to savor skiing and skating, go to the movies with friends, put tinsel on the tree, ice a gingerbread house, play silly games, sing carols or karaoke, dance and move--in short, do something that feels great.


Squelch your inner Scrooge that tells you to skip holidays and to toil without ceasing. Boot that inner critic and the grindstone into the nearest snowbank. You need to cultivate daily positivity.


Positive emotions serve as your "tiny engines of flourishing."


Would you like to boost your creativity and productivity? Improve your relationships, your resilience, and even your physical health? Positive emotions—those "wantable" states such as pleasure, amusement, gratitude, inspiration, awe, joy, love, contentment, pride, etc.—can do just that.


Research shows they serve as the "little engines of flourishing," explains renowned expert Barbara Fredrickson, distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina. When you have an abundance of positive emotions compared to negative, you broaden your perspective and build your cognitive, social, and physical resources. Imagine how those benefits could speed you on your dissertation journey.


When feeling stuck or down, taking steps to invoke positive emotions will provoke an energy shift that can send you back to work with renewed vigor and greater clarity. High positivity can also lead you to suffer fewer headaches and other aches and pains. You might even sleep better.


To benefit as much as possible from your merrymaking, incorporate these proven strategies.


1. Honor both your work and fun priorities—but not at the same time.


The key is to be mindful about being truly present when having fun, and being mindful when dissertating. Don't let one activity bleed into the other and spoil it. Give yourself time to learn to shift gears gracefully and effectively, with minimum stalls and sputtering, between your priorities.


Acknowledge any interfering thoughts that pop up, and then remind yourself of all the ways that each dimension of your life supports the others rather than undermining them. Go for Yin/Yang rather than Tug-o'-War.


Has your Inner Nag ever tagged along, uninvited, when you've taken time for fun? ("Why aren't you revising Chapter 2?!") The best way to calm your Inner Nag is write down your dissertation schedule and then stick to it. Then there is your Inner Whiner ("I wanna go play!"), who will pester you relentlessly when you keep your nose to the grindstone too long. Regain your focus by reassuring your Inner Whiner that you've also reserved time for play.


2. Create a realistic plan—and then stick to it.


If you know that you will not really sit down to write at certain times, then don't kid yourself as you fill out your holiday schedule. You'll just beat yourself up afterward and not enjoy the day.


Get the "musts" on your calendar first, e.g., teaching duties and advisor conferences as well as any can't-miss family or other high-priority events whose scheduling is beyond your control. Then look at the empty spaces and reserve modules for dissertation work and socializing or other fun.


Put dissertation work modules with a specified start time on your calendar as this is twice as effective as simply stating which days you will work. Surprisingly, it turns out that stating a start time instead of a completion time works best as it sets up an automatic mental alarm that nudges you to get to work.


Beware the "planning fallacy," i.e., the common tendency to assume best-case scenarios while preparing schedules and budgets.


As Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman has demonstrated, humans tend to grossly underestimate time and costs--even for familiar activities. So leave some slack in your calendar for the unexpected.


3. Short circuit rumination by pivoting to positivity.


Holidays and vacation time come loaded with high expectations that set us up for disappointment. The magic of the season may elude you, or your productivity might fall short of your hopes.


You are what you think. Fretting and ruminating turn out to be especially harmful, leading you into downward spirals of negativity. Dwelling on the downside will put your brain in a chemical stew that creates a drag.


Create a list that includes four or five "go-to" activities that you have already discovered to be good at short-circuiting your bad moods. "As you create new habits of thought, you literally rewire your brain," Fredrickson observes.


Opt to rewire your brain by pivoting from negativity by intentionally transitioning into a more positive activity: Go for a walk, sing, play with the dog or kids, go to the movies, whatever lights you up. Negative emotions tend to be short-lived—unless you choose to stoke the drama.


4. Practice savoring the good times before, during and after.


You can triple the benefits of positivity by honing your ability to savor positive experiences.


Savoring is the opposite of anxiety and worry. It refers to intensifying and prolonging good experiences through anticipating future ones, through being present during them, and by reflecting on their pleasant memories.


Savoring leads to new neural connections that make positivity more likely. In Just One Thing, Rick Hanson instructs readers how to focus on the good more effectively to rewire your brain. Here is his recommendation:


"For survival purposes, the brain is good at learning from the bad, but bad at learning from the good. So help it by enriching an experience through making it last 10-20 seconds or longer, fill your body and mind, and become more intense.


Also absorb it by intending and sensing that it is sinking into you as you sink into it. Do this half a dozen times a day, maybe half a minute at a time. It's less than five minutes a day."


This simple practice develops inner calm and resilience that enables you to stay centered during the ups and downs of the holiday season.


Now Go Play!


With thought and care, spiced by social support, you can develop a life-long habit of balancing your work and your personal life that will serve you long after you've become Doctor.



Learning to integrate work and play transforms them from competing activities into mutually reinforcing activities, leading to true flourishing.


Want someone in your corner to help you create more positivity and productivity? 
Apply for a positive psychology dissertation coach by clicking here


Working with a coach can help you finish faster and build habits

for a lifetime of success and well-being.




These make great holiday gifts and reading for a happy, peaceful 2016.


Fredrickson, Barbara. Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life

Hanson, Rick. Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time



If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, fill out this brief application for a free consultation with a dissertation coach.


How to Write 5000 Words an Hour: Train Your Tortoise Brain | Issue 200

Through observing his own struggles and success, John Cleese—British actor, writer, and comedian (of Monty Python fame)—realized that his creativity acts like a tortoise that won't emerge until the coast is clear. A trained scientist, Cleese found that he first needed to create a "tortoise enclosure."


How can you entice your tortoise brain to venture forth to write your next chapter?


In 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter, Chris Fox, who penned his latest novel in just thirteen days, describes how to create your own tortoise enclosure:


1. Identify a time and place that your mind will associate with writing. Don't write in the same space you watch Netflix, he warns. Better to trudge to Starbucks, laptop in hand, at 7 a.m. every morning.


2. Erect barriers to prevent temptations. Use apps like Freedom to block distracting websites. Turn off notifications. Ask others to not disturb you while you write. Don't give in--every interruption sends you back to square one on the route to flow.


3. Set time boundaries. Fox starts his first half-hour sprint at 6:20 a.m., breaks for email and such, and then he completes one more sprint. His loved ones know to honor this sacred time, he says.


4. Eat that frog. Get your hardest task out of the way first thing each morning—or it will croak at you all day. (Fox credits Brian Tracy and Mark Twain for this one.)


TAKEAWAY: While your dissertation is not fiction (we hope), this strategy could work for many who struggle and sputter at the keyboard. As psychological conditioning principles would predict, eliminating competing stimuli and rewards for undesirable behavior should create the space for developing a writing habit that will strengthen with practice. [See Fox's book for more tips on writing productively.]


Shrink Any To-Do List in 4 Quick Steps: Use the "Four D's"

Our ABD clients always ask for time hacks. One of best ways to find more time is to pare down your To-Do lists by reviewing each item with "the four D's" in mind.


1. Delete anything not totally necessary.


2. Delegate as much as you can to family, staff, temporary hire, or other.


3. Defer whatever you can until you finish your top priorities. You won't forget them if you list them in "Later Start" or "Someday/Maybe" files.


4. Diminish tasks by cutting back on needed time and energy. For example, after breakfast, take five minutes to throw ingredients in a slow cooker—and then savor a healthy, steaming stew later. Save time, money, and energy, plus avoid settling for fast food. (Tip: Make enough for leftovers.)


Feeling Down? Beware Your Facebook Feed

If you turn to Facebook as a way to recharge yourself, beware. It turns out that our mirror neurons react to virtual emotions. Your FB friends' woeful posts are likely to demoralize you, while their happy news and silly pet videos can cheer you up, according to Lea Waters, Ph.D., director of the University of Melbourne's Centre for Positive Psychology.


In a Facebook study, 700,000 FB users' newsfeeds were altered—positive updates were deleted from some, negative posts from others. The result? People's posts tended to reflect what they were exposed to most. Read more here.


TAKEAWAY: Become aware of how social media affects your mood. Unfriend or limit posts from Negative Nancy's. Take responsibility for the likely effect of your posts. See if you can start an upward spiral. Meanwhile, if you want to jolt yourself from a blue mood, choose from this list:



Stop Kidding Yourself for Stalling: "All Reasons Are Excuses"

In The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life , Stanford Design School pillar Bernard Roth gives a swift kick in the pants to dawdlers. In every aspect of your life, Roth recommends adopting design thinking to start exploring possibilities and creating desired outcomes by tweaking successive iterations. Reflecting a definite bias toward action, he offers stark advice to pipe dreamers:


(1) Stop saying that you will try to do something. Assert that you will do it.


(2) Since "all reasons are excuses," stop using them—become a doer instead.


I define "achievement" as having a good life, feeling good about yourself and feeling in command of your life and your circumstances. So, if you want me to tell you who's in the way, it's you. ~ Bernard Roth, Ph.D.


TAKEAWAYS: Apply Rothian principles to your dissertation to get unstuck and get moving again. In short, no one cares how hard you are trying or how many excuses you can cough up for not progressing. Develop a growth mindset: Learning from successive attempts trumps waiting until you get it perfect. Enjoy more of this beloved professor's wisdom in his book.


Vitae: Not Just Another Academic Job Site

Don't miss Vitae—the free career management hub for PhD students, faculty, and administrators newly launched by The Chronicle of Higher Education. While you can upload your CV or resume, and search and apply for open jobs, the site offers much more: Join a discussion group, share syllabi with faculty members at other institutions, showcase your work and achievements, create an academic social network, follow people whose work interests you or with whom you might like to collaborate, use the dossier service, and receive digest news updates on topics in higher education that interest you.


No CHE account needed to register for Vitae—and it is free. Just sign up and create your profile. You can then customize Vitae services to meet your needs. Check it out at


Jingle into the Holidays with Smart Phone Apps

Did you forget the wine? The ugly Christmas sweater at the cleaners? The tie for Uncle Jim? With a smart phone app, you will always have your list when you need it—a great way to eliminate extra trips. Manage all your lists for groceries, holiday lists, and errands with apps like Wunderlist,Todoist, and OutofMilk. Save even more time by using apps from major retailers and specialty shops to order gifts for home delivery. Preordering for store pick up also shaves minutes off your wait.


What will you do with all that extra time during the holidays? Feel free to lean back and relax with a glass of pinot with those near and dear, enjoying the flickering Virtual Fireplace app.







You just read the 200th issue of the ABD Survival Guide.






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An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources at She also speaks fluent Spanish and delights in new exotic Scrabble words as she savors life in the Chesapeake Bay area, California, and Argentina.


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 published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may 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.



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