I just finished reading a great book, Willpower, which talks about the importance of self-control and self management. While there were many good points in the book, a few stood out for me as being especially relevant to the dissertation process.

Willpower, as defined in the book, seems to be the capacity to make good choices. Willpower resides in us within a fixed amount, and every choice we make pulls from the same reserve of willpower. This would explain, for instance, why you are so capable of resisting a chocolate chip cookie at the beginning of the day, but, by the end of the day, you want that cookie like mad. According to the authors, this is because, as the day wears on, you’ve likely been subjected to numerous pulls on your willpower- and why, at 6pm, you consider eating the cookie that you so easily resisted at 10am.

Willpower is fueled by glucose; this is why we tend to seek out sugary foods when our willpower is depleted.

In any case, the findings from this book suggest a few key strategies for completing the dissertation.

First, automatic habits require less willpower than novel ones. This means, for instance, that creating an ‘automatic habit’ to write your dissertation first thing in the morning will make it easier to do, over time, than deciding each day when, how, or even if to work on the project. The authors cite a technique specifically related to writing, which says that when you sit down to write, you don’t have to write- but you can’t do anything else. You can do NOTHING else. So if you’re not writing, you’re also not checking email, posting on Facebook, or reading the news. The writers who use this report that they find it easier to begin writing (after an initial few painful days) because they’ve, essentially, given themselves no other option.

Second, slow and steady is the best way to achieve any goal. It takes less willpower to meet a small goal, consistently, than it takes to meet a grand goal inconsistently. Although the process of “showing up” each day is hard to begin, it gives the greatest benefits over time. I’ve seen this in my own dissertation coaching practice again and again. Students who show up consistently and work steadily make more regular progress than those who don’t.

Third, willpower can be depleted and needs to be restored. We like to behave as if our reserves of willpower are limitless- we skimp on good food, good sleep and relaxation, thinking that we’ll just keep powering through, solely on mind over matter. This book highlights that this is just not true, and, in fact, can result in significant breakdown.

Willpower is an important component of self-control and self-maintenance. There are strategies we can use to make willpower easier to demonstrate, across a wide variety of life situations.