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As you may know, I recently opened up a new set of dissertation coaching groups, starting in just a couple of weeks. Each time I offer these groups, I receive a lot of emails from dissertation writers, many of whom are in a panic, because their deadlines are coming up and they are uncertain if they will finish in time.

Time has a funny way of just moving along, whether or not you get your dissertation done.

When I work with clients, we call this the “boiling frog” syndrome.

If you haven’t heard of this before, the metaphor relates to an anecdote about a frog being boiled alive. The anecdote states that if you put a frog in a pot of hot water, it will immediately jump out and get away. However, if you put a frog in cold water, and ever so slowly turn up the heat, the frog won’t notice and will be cooked to death.

Now, leaving aside whether this is actually a true phenomenon or not (though some people have apparently tried it and reported that yes, indeed, if you turn the heat up slowly enough, the frog will be cooked to death)- but leaving aside whether the phenomenon is true, the metaphor is apt.

In my more than 10 years of working as a dissertation coach, I see, again, and again, how too many dissertation students only get activated when their time is almost up- when the water is boiling and they are about to be cooked. Otherwise, day after day, year after year, they move through their lives in a pot of water which is gradually becoming warmer and warmer- and they don’t seem to notice. Or, if they notice, they spend so much time worrying or being anxious that they don’t actually make progress on finishing the dissertation.

There are several reasons for this, I believe. One is that they don’t know what to do, and even more pointedly, they don’t know how to figure out what to do. The dissertation has become overwhelming, and they are stuck in an constantly repetitive set of small steps which don’t create enough results. A second reason is that they don’t discipline themselves to complete the work they know they need to do, because it’s easier to put it off. Third, they have become so comfortable in the process of being ‘all but dissertation’ that they forget this is a journey, not a destination.

Stated another way, they have become too comfortable with the status quo, and it’s not until the heat turns up (in the form of deadlines, advisor admonitions, or being turned out from the program) that they actually take action to try and finish.

It really, really doesn’t need to be this way.

You can complete the dissertation easier and more quickly than you believe. It doesn’t mean that the process will be easy. It means that you can do it, with a strategy, commitment, and showing up to do the work.

Get out of the habit of thinking you need the water to boil before you jump out of the pot.