When we think about how we’d like to improve, we often get stuck on the sheer magnitude of the task ahead.

And I can tell you that nothing felt more momentous than trying to finish a PhD dissertation while running a business and raising two babies.

The sheer enormity of the task nearly had me paralyzed. And as I entered my 7th year in my PhD journey, I knew it was all or nothing. I was driving my husband crazy – and I wasn’t far behind him.

But there was one thing that had me stuck: an inability to focus.

The task was so big (as were the changes I needed to make in order to accomplish it) that all I could do was procrastinate.

More often than not, when we face situations like this, we need to change patterns that have taken a lifetime to develop – and can take a lifetime to break. In my case, the pattern was a disdain for working at a desk all day.

So, I took the recipe for lifelong change (self-awareness, habit reformation, mindfulness, determination, and hope) and applied it to this specific situation.

Self-awareness: a realization that I hated working at a desk, followed by a realization that I would have to get over that if I was ever going to finish my dissertation.

Habit reformation: a decision to place myself at the library for a set number of hours each day – and to do so until the dissertation was done.

Mindfulness: Consciously making the decision to go to the library every day, even on days when I tried to convince myself that I could get just as much work done sitting at home in bed.

Determination: Pushing through the pain of sitting at the library, something I detested. And realizing that the pain of sitting there was far less than the pain I’d feel if I never finished my dissertation.

Hope: Keeping my eye on the prize – that PhD I’d worked almost a decade for.

I can’t tell you how often I didn’t want to be at the library. But as much as I hated being there, I hated the idea of not finishing my dissertation even more. I couldn’t imagine having started something so important to my future and not get it done. In the end, I sat at that desk in the library most days for almost a year until I finally finished.

Was it easy? No! Was it worth it? Yes! Did I get something out of it? Yes, a PhD. But even more than that, I proved to myself that I could stick it out. That I could keep working on something that was super hard, knowing that I would benefit from it for the rest of my life.

Enforcing that major change showed me that no matter where life took me, I could face a challenge like this again and again. And no matter what, no one could ever take away what I’d accomplished. My PhD journey ended up being as much about me as it was about sociology. And, tough as it was, it was all worth it in the end.

Want to learn more about how to enforce lifelong change? Read all about it here.

Image Credit: Annie Spratt