I read an article recently that says that people tend to seriously overestimate what they can accomplish in one year.

A tendency to overestimate in the short term is one reason for a lot of dissertation frustration and failure. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were trying to train your pet in a new behavior, and you initially set the criteria that your pet, (let’s say it’s a dog) your dog would need to sit up and beg, and you would reward it with a treat.

Let’s say that your dog sits up and begs, and you give it a treat. Your dog does it again, but then you decide that you should change the behavior, and so you don’t give your dog a treat. Then, the third day your dog does it again, and you don’t give your dog a treat, and so on, and so on.

What ends up happening is very quickly the dog will extinguish his learned behavior. Without a proper schedule of reinforcement and reward, certain behaviors will die off.

How this relates to your dissertation process is this: Most of the time you don’t give yourself adequate rewards and reinforcements for continuing your behavior. Let’s say that you decide you’re going to sit down and work for a half an hour today, which by the way, is a very good amount of time to work.

So you’re going to work for 30 minutes today. You sit down, and you accomplish that, and you may give yourself a reward, and that feels great. Then somewhere between today and tomorrow you’re going to think about your progress, and if you’re like most of the people that I’ve worked with or that I know, you’re going to start criticizing that. You’re going to start saying–Well 30 minutes is really nothing, I probably could do an hour tomorrow.

Then what is going to happen is you are going to sit down and you are going to do kind eke out maybe an hour; or maybe you wont, maybe after between 30 and 45 minutes, you’ll find yourself not really making any progress, and you’ll eventually just give it up for the day.

But you will leave that saying–Well I didn’t reach my goal, so I’m not going to give myself a reward.

Then you’ll say—Well, if I didn’t really quite meet an hour, the intelligent thing, or the emotionally relevant thing, would be to say–Well I didn’t quite meet an hour, let me backup and see if I could do another 30 minutes or another 45 minutes.

What most of you will do, is you will end up saying—Well ok, what I should do then is probably just put in a two-hour block or four-hour block. Again, you will go into the work, you may or may not reach that goal, and you’re not going to give yourself reward.

Then pretty soon, like teaching your dog a new trick, the behavior is going to be extinguished because you haven’t reinforced it.

A better situation, or a better way to approach it, is to give yourself the time to meet reasonable and doable goals. So you would work for 30 minutes, and then reward yourself. The next day work for another 30, and reward yourself. The third day, 30– reward; the fourth day, 30–reward, etc., etc.

Now in a week of doing this, five days of doing this, you’ll have put in at least 2 1/2 solid hours on your dissertation, which for some of you will be more than you’ve been over the past month or month and a half.

The idea is that you need to be consistent, and you need to set doable and reasonable goals along the way because you don’t want to be caught in the trap of overestimating what you can do and then extinguishing any positive behaviors before they have a chance to actually become part of your repertoire.