Have you ever had a week where you planned to make a huge amount of progress on your dissertation, but then, for whatever reason, life got in the way, and you weren’t able to complete the work you planned?

(Yes, of course, right?)

So what did you do in that situation? Did you stick stubbornly to your mental planning, even when it was not matching up to reality? Did you keep convincing yourself that somehow, magically, you’d find the time or energy or space to make your plan a reality, even after it became crystal clear this wasn’t going to happen as you thought?

But then, again, another week went by, and you found that you, again, didn’t make the progress you planned. And then, perhaps, you either became critical and judgmental about yourself, and decided to plan again and try even harder, or you felt kind of hopeless and avoidant about ever actually getting the dissertation done.

So- in this situation- what was correct? Your expectations? Or reality?

When I work with dissertation students, I remind them that when your expectations and reality conflict, it’s your expectations that need adjusting. It’s just like if I gave you a map of a city, one that you’d never been to, and you tried to tour the city with this map. But then, after a few minutes, you realized that the map wasn’t lining up to the streets and pathways in front of you. The map said you needed to turn left, but there was no left turn there. The map said to go two blocks, but the road ended. (You get the idea.)

How long would it be before you rejected the map, maybe called me and said, “I can’t use this map, it’s wrong. I’m not getting where I want to go.”

Hopefully, it wouldn’t be that long. You’d realize that the map (expectations) were out of sync with your experience (reality)- and you’d opt for following what you were experiencing- what your reality actually was.

So why don’t you do this when your dissertation planning doesn’t match up to your life? You keep sticking to the map (expectations) even when the reality doesn’t line up. This is the exact opposite of what you want to do.

When you have a week that doesn’t go as planned, it’s not about blindly sticking to what you planned. It’s about re-evaluating what you can get done, without giving up totally on getting anything done.

Here’s what I mean- let’s say that you have a regular schedule of how you get ready in the morning. You might be awake by 7, and showered by 8. Let’s say that one day, this routine gets disrupted- maybe your friend calls at 7 and you speak with him or her for a couple of hours, and then realize it’s 10 and you’ve not yet showered. Do you decide that because the shower didn’t happen at 8, it won’t happen today?

Most likely not.

Yet many of you approach your dissertations in this way- if it didn’t happen strictly as planned, there is room for it to happen differently.

So when we look at flexibility, we’re looking at the idea that you can adjust your goals, and adjust how you reach them- without giving up totally on doing anything at all.

When you become fluid with this skill, you’ll find that you’re able to move your dissertation process forward with more confidence and greater success.