Finish Your Dissertation in 2020: Set Intentions Instead of Resolutions

Motivational poster for the new year of 2020

Have you started a new year with a resolution to exercise more, lose weight, or be more productive only to lose sight of your goal within a few months or weeks? If so, you are not alone. Setting resolutions can produce behavioral changes, but those changes are often only temporary. When you set a resolution, you tend to reference the past (what do I need to fix or change so I avoid repeating my past) or your future (what do I need to do to avoid negative outcomes in the future). In this way, your resolutions can anchor your mind in the past and future instead of in the present moment where you actually have the power to take positive action and influence outcomes. So what is a good alternative?

Instead of resolutions, consider setting intentions.


An intention is a guiding principle for how we want to show up and be present in any area of life. Setting intentions allows us to step back and view the bigger picture of our lives. By stepping back, we see what matters most, and what we want to create, nurture, and build.  So, step back now and ask yourself, “What guiding principle(s) would support my academic goals in 2020?” “What will actually help my dissertation be done?” “What will help me be productive and take action even when I am not feeling inspired or motivated?”

See if you can engage with this activity with your heart as well as your mind, and feel your way into what intentions seem wise given your goals. Here are some examples to get you going: “I focus on learning instead of being right,” “I am willing to struggle”, “Take action even when I am uncertain,” or “Every Sunday night, I plan for the week ahead.” Or you could have a simple mantra, like “Release perfectionism”, “Act with courage”, or “Be curious.”  You may want to brainstorm with a friend or family member as you consider what intentions would serve you well. Write down your intentions in a meaningful place so you can remember them (your mind won’t be able to hold onto them until they are well-practiced), or you could even make a vision board where you print out the words and paste them onto a poster or piece of cardboard. Your intentions are here to remind you that your real power to finish your dissertation resides in the present moment.

Practice holding yourself to your intentions on a daily basis. Allow them to help you discern what your next steps are and to align your behavior with your goals. If I declare, for example, that I am willing to struggle in 2020, I am more likely to stay with writing in a given session even when it gets hard. Whenever you notice you are not working well, it’s likely a sign that you have lost sight of your intentions and it’s time to reconnect. Think about your intentions and imagine what it would feel like in your body to be behaving in a way that is informed by them. When you consistently act in alignment with your intentions, you naturally take more positive and proactive action that will bring you closer to finishing your dissertation.

2020 FOR YOU

So what are your intentions for this New Year? What are some actions you can take to bring yourself into greater alignment with your goals and intentions? We would love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments! We are here to be of service to you.

9 Comments on “Finish Your Dissertation in 2020: Set Intentions Instead of Resolutions
  1. I found this information very useful and have greatly changed my views about new year resolutions. I am a PhD student and I have been trying to get some encouragements for my Dissertation. Thank you.

  2. Jen Academia

    This was a wonderful shift on how to enter the new year!

  3. Debra Tillery

    I have read your articles previously and they were very helpful.

  4. Christie Cavallo

    Great advice!

  5. Phyllis Bryant

    I will be seeking out a new dissertation chair that appreciates my approach to writing. I have wasted an entire year being held to an outline, instead of writing freely, as I am so used to. I’m so ready to finish this year!

  6. Kristen Nelson Sella

    2020 is my year to finish my dissertation! This post is so helpful. My intentions are to be willing to struggle, release perfectionism, and take action even when uncertain. I plan to set daily manageable goals (I am easily overwhelmed when I think of all the things I need to do and then I procrastinate in response).

  7. Grace

    Thank you! I am in the last 3 months of writing my dissertation and lost motivation. This helped!

  8. Michael Schwartz

    I suspect I’m in a (possibly very) different situation from most here. Started my dissertation in 2010(!), shortly before getting a tenure-track position. So I’ve only worked on the diss intermittently and have two (of four total) chapters fully completed. Still, I intend to finish this thing, if it kills me. I’ve never paid for any sort of “coaching” to get me moving towards the finish line, but I have to admit feeling curious. Perhaps I need more accountability. I’d really like 2020 to be the year.

  9. This piece helped me. i wonder if copies of the book are available so one can use it as reference. Kindly advise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *