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

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.



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