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Have you met any goals in your life? You know, achieved something you really wanted- at any point, ever?

My guess is yes, you probably have.

And not just one thing either, but probably a whole bunch of somethings.

You wanted to be admitted to graduate school- and you did. Perhaps you wanted to buy a house- and have. Maybe you wanted to get married or be partnered- and you are. It might be that you wanted to present a prestigious conference or be published in a prestigious journal- and you’ve done one or both of these things too.

On the personal side, maybe you’ve wanted to stop smoking, eat better, exercise more- and you’ve done all those things, or are actively working on them.

So, let me ask you: if you’ve been able to complete all these other goals successfully, why has the dissertation been so *!$#?? hard?

You might have a lot of explanations for this, but one observation that is very likely true for you is that, if you’re struggling with your dissertation, but you’ve achieved other goals in your life- it likely means that you’re not approaching dissertation completion like any other goal.

Let me explain.

I believe that the strengths you have in your life are the strengths you bring to your dissertation process. And, also, the challenges or growing edges (which I like better than the word weaknesses) in your life are the same as those in your dissertation. Your dissertation mirrors your life.

If you can accept this as possible, you can see that the same issues you have challenges with in your life- maybe things like overscheduling, disorganization, not enough discipline- these are the same exact issues which are making your dissertation process difficult. Add onto that feelings that you don’t know what you do, or how to do it, and you have the makings of a very fine recipe for dissertation avoidance.

So, the first step is to realize that you will finish your dissertation the way you reach any other goal:

  • You determine what you want to achieve, and by when.
  • You set up a plan to get there.
  • You do what must be done, at each step, to walk in the direction of your goal.

If we take quitting smoking as an example: You determine you want to stop smoking by June. You begin by reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke. You start to substitute for your cigarettes. You try to find solutions to your cravings and keep shifting your mind away from how much you want to smoke. And so on. Eventually, a few days becomes a week, weeks become months, and months become years.

Is it easy? No. Do you have to have it all figured out before you begin? No.

Is the end guaranteed? Most likely- if you keep walking the path and doing what you need to do.

It’s that step which seems the most difficult for ABDs to understand. You must have faith that if you show up regularly, do what you’re supposed to do, and KEEP GOING EVEN WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE QUITTING– you will end up where you want to be.

Don’t make the mistake of believing the dissertation is a special kind of goal, one that can’t be met by your regular means. Actually, the opposite is true. When you apply to the dissertation the same strategies you’ve used to successfully achieve goals in the past- your finished dissertation and doctoral degree is no longer an if, but a when.