If you thought you were organised – think again

In the last month I have realised a lot, I hesitate from saying ‘learned a lot’. It is more that I now understand what my Advisor said to me 2 months ago. She said, once you have finished this module someone else could pick it up and do the project. I now get it and, most importantly, believe that I can deliver such a project proposal.

Initially, I didn’t start because I didn’t know what to do which was daunting. Finally I thought that re-reading the module manual was better than doing nothing. It worked as things that seemed meaningless three weeks earlier now made sense and were helpful. I discovered the book “Doing Work Based Research” (Costley et al) which covers this module well. It also explains, in ‘a nutshell’, some of the larger words that academia is fond of. Although however many times I read the definitions of Ontology and Epistemology, I still don’t understand what ‘your epistemological perspective’ means. Initially I wasn’t bothered until I remembered that there are 3 aspects to this doctorate: Firstly I need to meet the required academic standards. Then there’s personal development in building and presenting sound arguments as well as designing and completing projects. Thirdly, and importantly, is the contribution it makes to my profession and that’s easy to neglect.

I can readily talk about my doctorate and people are enthusiastic: I talk about how I’m planning this module, the questions I have and the structure of the doctorate. But I’ve realised that when someone asks me ‘so what is the doctorate on?’ I get anxious. This happened yesterday when my coachee asked me that very question. I felt apprehensive and this is the reason: I say I am creating a neurobiological model of ‘Themselves’ which is about your brain and how you can create change in it. Each time I get a similar reaction – it’s a smile and an enthusiastic acknowledgement of what’s been said, coupled with a look which says “I haven’t really got a clue what you just said but I want to be polite about it”. So I reflected on what drove me to do this project: In simple terms, what difference do I want to make? And I came up with: “Would you like to know more about what’s going on inside there (point to head) so that you can do things that you want to do and currently don’t? And in making that change, knowing it’s going to work and be sustainable”. It is not about me robotically changing them. It is about us having a knowledge-based understanding so we can make informed decisions about the coaching required. The model is to ’inform change’ not to ‘do change’.

I’ve also started to receive interesting articles and book recommendations. One that grabbed my attention was about Prof Ian Robinson. His book “The Stress Test” is about why some people thrive under pressure while others go to pieces. It really aligns with some of the principles in Dan Siegel’s ‘Mindsight’ and Dan Goleman’s podcast ‘On Focus’. It talks about getting in control of your emotions, maintaining focus on your task, keeping going when things get tough and the ability to view things as challenges rather than threats. The article states that the fear response in physical terms is close to that of excitement. Therefore you can ‘rebrand’ your symptoms as excitement and that results in a change of brain chemistry and behaviour. For me discovering Prof Ian Robinson has been very useful and he’s on my list to talk to. So I’m really thankful to Kate for sharing the article with me (us).

I am now appreciating how much time I need to put into this project. During the last three weeks I have put days into it and have found that understanding has emerged and patterns are forming. This is mainly down to being able to scan read an article or book to find out key concepts and methodologies. If it seems useful I read it more thoroughly. In this way I have covered off one manual, 3 books, 16 articles and numerous web-pages generating over 50 pages of notes.

With so much going on in my head, information on research methods everywhere and the neuroscience snippets, I need to be exceptionally organised otherwise I just have lots of bits all congregating in various formats. So the big difference has been getting organised, which I thought I was but now I’ve had to shift up a whole level. Firstly to save the planet’s forests I have downloaded the app SmartNote for my Kindle Fire which is excellent: Even better with a writing stylus. I can merrily take as many handwritten notes as I want and it converts them to text which I email to myself. Incidentally, whilst investigating smart-pens I found an article by Pam Mueller (Princeton) looking at how handwriting improves information retention. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/6/1159 Another related article is http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0

Next I invested in a scanning pen for taking sections directly from text although it is a bit slow and variable. I also created a master spreadsheet file to log everything in so it’s in one place (people, books. youtube, websites and my thoughts). Overall I feel much better as I have an easy way to capture information and a central place to put it. That has freed me up to focus on planning the project in detail. Now I have the first of four plans (2x2m paper and lots of sticky notes). Eventually they’ll become spreadsheets although I think more fluidly this way.

So I’m over that initial phase of uncertainty –again – and on a roll: Learning to jump in sooner as one thing leads to another. Therefore, the icing on the cake has been receiving the assessment letters back from my first 2 modules. I was nervous, it just became very real, and I passed them both with encouraging feedback: Delighted, relieved and back to the four project plans and my epistemological perspective.