Your computer is due to crash—what you must do right now

Issue 198



What if you lost all your dissertation files in a computer crash? It happens more than you think. Your hard drive is going to fail sooner or later, asserts WSJ tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler, so start using a cloud back up immediately. After test driving CrashPlan, Carbonite, SOS, and BackBlaze, Fowler awarded top marks to CrashPlan. About $60 buys peace of mind annually from any of them, without the limits and bother of external drives. [For you Apple folks, note that PCMag gives the similarly priced iDrive five stars.]


EDITOR'S TIP: Sadly, some friends recently lost critical documents in crashes and a house fire. Don't delay—choose a service and back up after you finish reading this issue.



How often do you wind down at day's end camped out in front of the TV? Surprisingly, you could be better off washing the dishes. Florida State University researchers found that mindfully washing dishes calms the mind and decreases stress. By focusing on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water, and the feel of the dishes, participants reported a 27% drop in nervousness and a 25% increase in inspiration compared to those in a control group.


Contrary to popular belief, typical TV viewing does not refresh tired, busy folks—and can actually make them feel worse. Apparently they feel even guiltier about wasting time—unless they watch History Channel documents. The guilt cancels out any short-term pleasure they felt while watching.

EDITOR'S TIP: Besides dishwashing, your other "boring" tasks could also offer benefits if you do them mindfully. That simply means focusing on the task, e.g., when dusting, pay attention to dusting; when transcribing, transcribe. If you catch yourself ruminating or planning, gently nudge your attention back to the task at hand. While humans are prone to let their minds wander, a wandering mind is typically an unhappy one, and as you will see below, an unhappy mind is typically an unproductive one.




Does feeling moody keep you from getting any productive work done—no matter how determined you are? You are not alone. Empirical studies show negative moods to be associated with reduced cognitive performance and flexibility, whereas positive moods are associated with more creativity and productivity.

Monitor your mood and brain power with a free app from University of London's researcher Sophie von Stumm . Meanwhile, she advises how to make the most of your moods:


  1. Feeling good? Then work. "So next time you are in high spirits, don't head to the park or pub with your friends, but tackle that work project or textbook that usually seems too hard to take on," von Stumm advises.

  2. In a bad mood? Then smile. Studies show that even forced smiles (e.g., by holding a pencil horizontally in one's mouth) will improve mood. "Also, smiling will make you more likable, and smiling will make your voice sound more appealing," she adds.


TIP: Try the pencil maneuver and see how you feel. For more proven positivity strategies, see Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.





When you feel that afternoon droop, go ahead and eat that chocolate bar. It will improve your attention—if it is 60% cacao chocolate, known as "dark chocolate". Brain wave measurements of 122 participants who had eaten 60% dark chocolate showed more alertness, according to a new study. "A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can't pay attention, particularly students," said investigator Larry Stevens. "We could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention."


However, the dark chocolate also increased the participants' blood pressure. To keep counteract that effect, researchers administered chocolate with L-theanine. A relaxant found in green tea, it lowers blood pressure while producing brain alpha waves associated with feelings of calm ad peace, Stevens explained. The combination worked as hoped.


While chocolate laced with L-theanine is not yet commercially available, Stevens noted, it shows potential.


TIP: While getting your chocolate stash, pick up some green tea for your afternoon snack.





Trying to shed excess pounds? One doctoral researcher advocates improving your happiness instead of a simple focus on losing weight. "Positive psychology techniques promote positive thinking and positive feelings, and this 'feel good' effect may lead to an increase in motivation," says University of Adelaide psychology doctoral candidate Sharon Robertson. Greater motivation in turn promotes weight loss behavior, she explains. She used positive psychology interventions to increase participants' hope, personal strengths, gratitude, and happiness while avoiding any focus on weight loss. Half lost weight during the initial four weeks while three quarters had lost additional weight at the 12-week follow-up.


TIP: Increasing your hope, strengths, gratitude and happiness can also speed you toward your doctorate. Try it on your own—or get your own positive psychology dissertation coach by contacting



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 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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