Until you reach the end of your dissertation there is always more work to do and the next action to complete. It is easy to focus on what you need to do or what you failed to do and forget to acknowledge yourself for what you accomplish along the way. Until you submit your dissertation for review, few people if any are aware of the day-to-day work you do or the times you pushed through and worked when you did not feel like it. There is no built in external reward system inspiring you to keep going. I believe an important strategy to sustain motivation over time is to pause and acknowledge yourself for what you do accomplish. No matter how much dissertation work remains, the small accomplishments along the way deserve to be acknowledged. Some students withhold acknowledgment from themselves because they believe that focusing on or even criticizing themselves for what they have not done or how much more there is to do will be more motivating. In my years as a dissertation coach, I have yet to see self-criticism or always focusing on how much more there is to do to be an effective long-term strategy for motivation and productivity. If those were effective motivation strategies, I would not have a job! When you pat yourself on the back and give yourself credit for your hard work, you are likely to feel more motivated and inspired to keep working. Acknowledgment of the work you do today increases the odds that you will look forward to feeling good for the future work you complete and be more present to your own capacity to get dissertation work done. Some of my clients actually write a statement such as, “acknowledge myself for a job well done” as the last action on their work plan for a given day or week as a reminder to celebrate their accomplishments. You deserve to feel good about yourself as you make progress on your dissertation. Stop, review your accomplishments at the end of the week, and acknowledge yourself for everything that you did accomplish. If acknowledging yourself feels awkward or uncomfortable at first, it is just a sign that you need more practice. In time, you will become more comfortable acknowledging yourself and come to see that celebrating your accomplishments is ultimately more motivating than dwelling in your failures.

This article was written by Alison Miller, PhD, owner of The Dissertation Coach, a business dedicated to helping doctoral and master’s students successfully earn their graduate degrees.

Copyright August 2007 by Alison Miller, Ph.D., The Dissertation Coach