I spoke at the University of Maryland this past Friday, on the topic of “Meeting Your Dissertation Goals this Semester”. The students were bright, motivated, and very engaged, asking many good questions and drawing important observations about themselves and the dissertation process.

One question, in particular, stood out for me. One student asked, “What if we’re just not meant to finish? What would you say to someone who just isn’t going to be able to finish?” (This is paraphrased, but conveys the general idea.)

I thought this was such a telling question, on multiple levels. Whatever you say about yourself and your dissertation process ultimately becomes your truth- it becomes what you live. So if you say to yourself, “Well, this is not for me… I probably can’t do this.”- you will be right, and, most likely, will not take the actions required to finish.

The second level of this question seemed to ask, “What if my resources (time, energy, finances) are not up to the task of finishing?”- which, again, is partly a question of mindset. I noted in my presentation that negative thinking has actually been shown (in functional MRI studies) to decrease the neural activity of the brain, notably within pathways of creativity and whole brain processing. Simplistically, this means that when you are thinking negatively, you are shutting down the number of possibilities you can consider.

This is a problem because, typically, the more possibilities you can generate, the better your ultimate solution.

The main point of this post is to remind you that whatever story you tell about yourself and your dissertation process ultimately becomes your truth. While positive thinking, alone, won’t get the dissertation done, it is a necessary prerequisite to building resilience- and resilience, constantly applied, will “get it done”- once and for all.

If you don’t “think right” about your dissertation process, you won’t “act right” in terms of doing what is needed to get the project done. Only you can decide if the effort of “thinking right” is worth the ultimate goal- “your name, Ph.D.”