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
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
A FEW WORDS FROM THE WISE
"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.
FOR FURTHER READING
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
YOUR OWN COACH
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.
GAYLE SCROGGS, Ph.D., P.C.C., Editor, ABDSG.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 (www.MentorCoach.com), 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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