The title for this post comes from a couple experiences I’ve had over the past few days, where various graduate students have gotten in touch with me, requesting information about dissertation coaching. While I’m always happy to hear from people considering coaching, I felt sad from some of the emails I received. The ones that made me sad, in particular, were the ones from students- ABD’s, perhaps just like you- who were sharing with me volumes and volumes of pain, angst, grief and sadness around their dissertation processes- stories about changing topics, advisors dying, committee politics, stress-filled proposal defenses, and so on. In many cases, the long, long painful story ended with a statement like, “And because of [all that]… I’ve been unable to work for [weeks, months, years.] I really would like to pursue dissertation coaching, but after I feel less overwhelmed and overloaded.”

And so, here’s the thing: If you want to wait to pursue dissertation coaching, that’s totally fine- but the overwhelm and overload isn’t going to go away by itself. I share this with you today because I want you to understand, clearly, that¬† you must behave (act) differently if you want to be different. It’s a normal response to freeze and slow down under intense stress- I’ve done it myself- yet what I also know, after helping thousands of dissertation writers in the past 14 years, is that slowing down and stopping is not usually the best avenue to make forward progress.

You know that little thing, Newton’s first law of motion which says {paraphrased} “A body at rest tends to stay at rest, while a body in motion tends to stay in motion.” That applies here.

You might also be familiar with Newton’s second law of motion which says {paraphrased} “A body moves only when a force acts upon it.” More on that in a second.

You might be feeling like slowing down because you need a chance to think. You might feel like slowing down because you think you should be able to figure this out for yourself. You might feel like if you could only just get [more rest, more time off, more help, more information], the keys to the dissertation kingdom would magically unlock for you, and all will be well.

Unfortunately, and I’m sorry to say this, that rarely happens. Dissertation overwhelm and overload can quickly become a chronic condition, one in which you find yourself stuck with no real way out. This does not happen all the time, of course, but it makes me so sad when I read what are, essentially, horror stories about the dissertation, and yet the answer is ‘I won’t actually do anything different, but I think things are [miraculously] going to change.

Going back to Newton’s second law, in order to get into movement, you have to have a powerful force that moves you forward. Dissertation coaching can be that force. You don’t have to have it all figured out before you start; in fact, you can figure it out as you go along. That’s usually the best way.

Waiting to get dissertation coaching assistance until you figure it out yourself is like waiting to start exercising until you are first already physically fit. This is not about being perfect to begin; it’s about getting started and improving along the way.

It’s also a lot like deferring feedback from your advisor until you first write the perfect paper.

It doesn’t make much sense, yet this happens a lot, too.

So the take away point is this- you can freeze and be overwhelmed and hope things will change- or you can take clear and decisive action to make things change.

You must act differently to be different.