This recent post from Kerry Ann Rockquemore, president and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity in the US may be of interest. It was reproduced in Tomorrow’s Professor eNewsletter. This is part of Kerry Ann’s Monday Motivator, unfortunately only available via subscription to NCFDD.

Throughout this summer, I’ve dedicated the Monday Motivator to helping readers better understand and develop a relationship with their resistance to writing. This week, I want to go a little deeper into that evolving relationship by encouraging each of you to engage in an exercise I call “Resistance Tracking.” It’s a deceptively simple exercise but one that I’ve seen have such a powerful impact on those who commit to actually doing it so I thought I would share it with you.

Why Track Our Resistance?

We’ve talked a lot about resistance this summer, but I think we need to move from just talking about it towards getting smarter about moving around it. You know you’re experiencing resistance when you want to do something — and you should do something — but you just aren’t doing it. For academic writers, it means that you want to finish your ____________ (dissertation/book/article/grant proposal) so that you can ______________ (finish your degree/move on with your life/get a job/get tenure/move your ideas into the world), and yet, you’re just not doing it! It may be that you keep procrastinating the act of sitting down to write.

If you’re reading this, it’s more likely that you’ve committed to daily writing, but when you sit down each day something happens. Maybe you get a strong urge to check email, Facebook, or the news. Maybe you suddenly feel a bodily need that you must fulfill before you get started writing (hunger, thirst, too cold, too hot, etc.). Maybe you become suddenly distracted by your immediate environment that must be cleaned or organized before you can concentrate on writing. Maybe some unresolved conflict (that has nothing to do with your writing) must be solved before you can focus on your intellectual work. Or maybe you find yourself gazing out the nearest window, thinking about the meaning of life and wondering whether you are wasting yours cranking out work that very few people will read. Each of these examples illustrates the most common forms of academic resistance: procrastination, avoidance, and denial. And, of course, if you should happen to be experienced and nimble in moving beyond these basic forms of resistance and actually start writing, a new and deeper well of resistance often arises in the form of your inner-critic(s).

If you experience any of this resistance, CONGRATULATIONS! You’re a perfectly normal academic writer. While I’ve encouraged you throughout the summer to better understand your resistance and explore the fears that lie underneath it, this week I want to encourage you to get even more intimately acquainted with how your resistance works to keep you from doing the one thing that will have the greatest long-term impact on your success in the academy: writing for publication. The purpose of this (slightly painful) exercise is to get clear about your unique individual patterns, to both see and feel your resistance as it manifests, and to begin laying the groundwork for your own personal diagnostic tool.

How to Track Your Resistance

Every day during your writing time, keep a small notepad and writing utensil next to your desk. Throughout your writing time, you simply make a quick note of whatever comes up to keep you from writing. Some of your resistance will take the form of behaviors (clicking on Facebook, checking email, etc.) and some will take the form of thoughts (“This is awful,” “Who do you think you are?,” “You need to read more before writing anything else,” etc.). The goal of this exercise is to capture everything that emerges to keep you from writing during your scheduled 30-60 minutes each day this week in one place. Please note this will be most effective if you can resist the urge to judge your resistance; all you need to do is view these thoughts and behaviors with compassionate curiosity, record them, and then get back to your writing.

For example, last Monday my resistance tracking looked like this:

  • I gotta pee.
  • I’m thirsty.
  • I wonder how dehydration impacts cognitive performance?
  • Uh-oh! I drank too much water, now I have to pee again.
  • I wonder if I’ve eaten enough protein today?
  • How many grams of protein are in one scoop of brown rice protein powder?
  • What is brown rice protein anyway?
  • I should post “I’m writing” as my Facebook status so that people can send me positive writing energy.
  • I hate writing. I don’t feel like doing this.

[And once I actually started writing]

  • Why can’t you ever finish anything ahead of time?
  • Why didn’t you work on this over the weekend?
  • You’re so lazy and disorganized! Why can’t you get your shit together?
  • Please stop writing this before you embarrass yourself!

This is pretty standard fare for me during a 30-minute writing session. I don’t need to feel embarrassed or frustrated by this list because I can see my wiggles and negative self-talk for exactly what they are: manifestations of my resistance. They are each designed by my bodyguard to keep me from writing so that I can stay safe from sharing my writing, from putting my ideas into public space for criticism and debate, and from the possibility of success or failure. Once I see them in writing, it becomes perfectly clear that they are simple distractions that I can maneuver around by simply acknowledging the thoughts and impulses and writing each one on my notepad. At the end of my writing time, I can assess if they are truly worth acting on. And, after a week’s worth of data, I can see the patterns in my resistance: behavioral urges at the beginning of my writing time and inner-critic outbursts towards the middle and end. I don’t know what your patterns are, but I encourage you to become interested in identifying them this week.

The Weekly Challenge

This week, I challenge you to do the following:

  • Use your timer each day for your writing time. Trust me, this will heighten your awareness about starting and stopping your writing time as well as what’s going on during that time.
  • Each day, notice when you feel resistance and record it.
  • Ask yourself: What’s going on here? How do I feel?
  • If your resistance manifests as a behavior (or urge to engage in a particular behavior), record it.
  • If your resistance manifests as (a) strong inner-critic(s), record the dialogue and messages.
  • At the end of the week, take 5 minutes to look back over your resistance log to see if you can identify any patterns.
  • Don’t throw that log away! We’ll use it next week to create a resistance diagnostic tool that’s unique to YOU.

I hope this week brings you the energy to track your resistance, the desire to deepen your relationship with this ever-present piece of your humanity, and the confidence to know that you can move around your resistance each day no matter how it manifests.

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