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Keeping Yourself in Check

One of the biggest challenges many doctoral students face is maintaining motivation and drive in the face of negative self-talk.


Self-talk (your internal monologue) is an important area to monitor because what we think about is what we are most likely to create and/or become. This is especially relevant when examining self-talk because self-talk is most often negative. “Well, that was stupid”, “Why’d I do that?”, “I’m never going to get this” … When looking at this in relation to earning your doctorate – which is a lengthy and involved process in the best of situations – self-talk can be a strong influence on your ability to finish your dissertation and earn your degree.


So how can you tell if your self-talk is potentially toxic? If your self-talk is negative, it will be filled with phrases like, “should have,” “would have,” and “could have.” Negative self-talk also triggers negative emotions/emotional responses (stress, anxiety, worry, tension, fear, and feeling overwhelmed). If you are regularly mentally or emotionally exhausted, feel off-balance, or drained, it may be that your self-talk is primarily negative.


Most doctoral students work long hours, and most of those hours are in solitude. If your self-talk is consistently negative and left unchecked, odds are high that it will not only get worse during the dissertation writing process but also slow down the dissertation writing process. This is why it is important to learn how to identify and control any negative thoughts you have early before they can take hold and seriously impact your progress towards your degree. It is also important t understand that thought management is an ongoing process; it is not something you do just once and then move on. You must be intentional with your efforts to evaluate and manage your negative thoughts and keep them from influencing your chances of academic success.


So, check yourself often and regularly. Recognize that there may be an uptick in negative self-talk at specific times or after specific events (end of term, after exams, after receiving writing criticism, etc.). And recognize that negative self-talk that occurs in the academic domain of your life may not always originate there; it is not uncommon for negative self-talk to start in relation to one area (financial concerns, relationship stress, etc.) but bleed into another.


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