The Seven Strategies of Excellence
The Seven Strategies of ExcellenceStrategy 1: Successful PhD Students Constantly Manage their Emotional States and Motivate Themselves
Strategy 2: Successful PhD Students Decide
Strategy 3: Successful PhD Students Believe Having a PhD is a Must
Strategy 4: Successful PhD Students Sincerely Believe that it is Possible to Complete Their PhDs
Strategy 5: Successful PhD Students Accept Responsibility for Their Own Destinies
Strategy 6: Successful PhD Students Model on Those Who Have Successfully Completed Their PhDs
Strategy 7: Successful PhD Students Adopt the PDCA Approach in TQM
Additional Tips for Success
From my observation of the many PhD students that I have met, I personally believe that what separates successful students from unsuccessful ones are the different habits, rules and beliefs that they have. These manifest themselves in the following strategies.
Strategy 1: Successful PhD Students Constantly Manage their Emotional States and Motivate Themselves
This rule is probably the most important rule. Almost all successes and failures in the PhD programme are a result of the candidates' success or failure in managing their emotional states. Emotional states of success precede all success and emotional states of failure precede all failure. If you feel like a failure, you will act like one. Feel like a winner and you will think like one and eventually be one. I always say in my motivation seminars that if you want to make something happen in the external world, you must first of all make it happen in the internal world. In order for you to become the person that you want to become, you must first of all visualise yourself as already becoming that person in your mind.
If you come to my classes, I can conduct hypnotherapy sessions where you can easily visualise the new you. However, I will briefly explain to you in this book what it entails, and I strongly recommend that you put down this book for a short while, and do the exercises immediately after reading this section. Don't just read on. Your life will not be changed simply by reading but by action. In my self-development seminars, my participants do lots of crazy things that they thought were not possible—all these demonstrate the power of the mind.
So how do you make things happen in the internal world? I will give you some simple strategies. First of all, sit yourself comfortably in a chair. Imagine yourself having already achieved your PhD. Ask yourself the following questions, ‘What will I look like?, How will I feel?, What do I stand to gain?’ See, hear and feel yourself having already obtained your PhD, attending the graduation ceremony, holding the certificate in your hand, having the adoration of the loved ones around you. See yourself as the third person, then step into the image. How would you feel? What would you hear? What would you see? Imagine what it would be like—the more vivid the feeling, the better. Imagine the image in bright colours, up close, huge and loud. Note that it is not about cold logic, it's about emotion and motivation. Associate all the pleasures you can think of if you get your PhD, and all the pain you can think of, if you fail to get your PhD.
When I was studying for my PhD, I truly believed, at that time, that failure to get my PhD meant death—more precisely financial death. I would have no job to go back to and to make matters worse, I would have to pay back the massive monies I obtained from my PhD scholarship. It would basically bankrupt me. I imagined my loved ones, my wife and two children in torn clothes, starving and the cynical smiling faces of people who always were jealous of me and doubted my capabilities—that my failure to complete my PhD was proof to them of my incompetence. Visualising this for a brief moment was enough for me and I did not want to dwell too long on this negative thought—for it may then turn out to be a reality! Then, I imagined what it would be like if I succeeded, and how I would feel. I imagined being surrounded by my loved ones, who were in a state of wealth and comfort. I imagined how good it would feel to have proven my critics wrong and yet not lowered myself to their level. I would be basking in glory, having achieved the highest level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs—the need for self-actualisation. I would feel immensely proud and would say to myself, ‘My future is now secure, as I have job security.’
Actually, when I think about it now, some of the beliefs that I had at that time were simply untrue. For example, you and I both know of millionaires who don't have PhDs. And there are plenty of PhD holders who are not millionaires. I have said in the beginning of my book that one of the wrong reasons for doing a PhD was to become a millionnaire. I understand now, after attending Robert Kiyosaki's seminar, that having job security is not the same as having financial security. But what is undeniable is that these beliefs (mistaken as they were at that time) were so strong that they motivated me to push past obstacles, knock down metaphorical brick walls and obtained my PhD. I achieved the results that I wanted, and ultimately, that is all that counts. If you want to do the same, you have my permission to model me—motivate yourself the way that I have done. You may even wish to modify some aspects of it. Do whatever it takes to motivate yourself to success —that is my message.
It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Why is it that most people don't decide and choose to procrastinate? It is because most people do not put themselves in the correct emotional state to decide. It is in your moments of decisions that your destiny is shaped. Decision or change takes only a moment. It is arriving at that decision that takes a long time. Decide to do a PhD and decide to do whatever it takes.
It is not sufficient to say, ‘How nice it would be if I had a PhD’ or ‘I think I should do a PhD.’ You have to convert all your ‘shoulds' to ‘musts'. All too often we say we should do this and we should do that, but we never get round to doing it. Why is this so? Because, until we take consistent action in that direction, it is still a should for us and not a must. When a goal is a must, we operate from a different mindset—we are not willing to accept anything less. There is a burning desire to have a PhD—burning bridges as you move forward and not turning back. When something is a must, we will stretch beyond our comfort zone. Our minds are constantly ‘switched on’ and receptive to new ideas and strategies—for when we give ourselves no option but to succeed, we will always find a way and are motivated to take action. Put yourself on the line.
I took massive consistent action while I was pursuing my MBA and my PhD. I raised my level of acceptance, I burnt bridges and I did not give myself the luxury of quitting and turning back. My relatives and friends who did not fully understand me during those times, often advised me not to do what I was doing because it was too drastic and risky, and because I was a newly married man with a baby—that I'd better stick to what I was doing and play it safe. Too risky for a married man with a baby? I was doing it for myself and for my family and for our future financial security! Needless to say, those people who advised me have not got MBAs or PhDs and are still doing the same jobs that they did years ago and struggling to make a living. The path of a leader is often a lonely and controversial one—but one with untold rewards both intrinsic and extrinsic. If you want to follow the crowd, you will become one of them. The question that you must ask yourself now is, ‘Whom do I want to become?’ Listen only to those people whom you want to become.
Belief is nothing but a feeling of certainty that something exists or is true. It is backed up by references or ‘evidence’ that support that idea. If you do not have any references, it is merely an idea and not a belief. The more references you have to support the belief, the stronger the belief becomes. The truth is that you can find references or evidence to support any belief—even outrageous and dis-empowering ones. I did my PhD at a time when there were many references to support the belief that getting a PhD is next to impossible, that the failure rate is extremely high, that supervisors are racist and unhelpful, that students fail through no fault of their own. However, I began to examine these so-called evidence and found out that in a lot of cases, students who failed to complete did not have a strong enough desire to obtain a PhD. They were often too wrapped up in their own businesses to care. In short, for these people, getting a PhD was not a must but rather a should. I began to assemble a new belief that I could complete a PhD. I began to collect references to support that belief—that I had a strong desire; that I was willing to do whatever it takes, just as I had done for my MBA; that I had always been good at studying since I was a child (my parents had always pushed me to study since I was in primary school). So I believed that it was possible. What you believe, you will achieve (even though there were a couple of episodes during my PhD candidature that attempted to shake that belief).
If you do not have a plan for yourself, you will fit into other people's plans—and they may not have your best interests at heart. Life is like a river and most people tend to go with the flow and not consciously decide. When they reach a fork in the river, they don't consciously decide to go either left or right but allow the river currents to decide for them, i.e. they take the path of least resistance. If I had wanted to take the path of least resistance, I would have stuck with my old job and career and tried to please everyone but myself. You have only one life—do not live for others (other than your family). I am not suggesting that you become a selfish person. Sometimes you have to give to yourself first before you can give to others.
For example, I am now able to conduct free motivational seminars for orphans and help numerous others improve their lives and relationships with others—something that I was not able to do previously. Coming back to the river analogy, if you allow yourself to be dictated by the river, you may find that one day, you are about ten feet from a waterfall in a boat with no oars! You could have prevented this by some wise planning and action taken further upstream. I knew one person who at the age of sixty lamented that he had stayed in the firm thirty years too long. I felt sorry for him and I learnt a valuable lesson—it was not going to happen to me! What has all this got to do with me, you might ask. The answer is, ‘everything’. You have to decide right now which is more important—your current job or your PhD, your boss or your PhD (that is, if you have to decide between one or the other—you may be very lucky to have a very understanding boss).
Another thing is, do not blame your boss or your job, or give other reasons for failing to complete your PhD. People tend to look for excuses in order that they can reduce their pain and frustration for not completing their PhD. The truth is, you have failed to complete your PhD because you have allowed other peoples' interests to interfere with your own. Do not expect other people to take your interests into account, when you yourself have failed to do so. You see, taking absolute responsibility gives you absolute power. Giving excuses and blaming others take power away from you. Life is about results, not excuses.
Model those who have successfully completed the PhD programme. In the past I made the mistake of modelling my seniors, i.e. those who have been in the PhD programme much longer than myself, but have yet to complete it. I found subsequently that some of their strategies did not work—I eventually completed my PhD earlier than them. I also made the mistake of modelling myself on those who had completed their PhDs some ten or twenty years earlier. I found out subsequently that what they had done may have been acceptable during that period, but is not necessarily acceptable now. The SPSS was not available then, and hence, complex statistical analyses were not expected during those times. However, it has become more or less mandatory in this day and age. It is becoming increasingly difficult (though not impossible), to get by with qualitative research nowadays.
PDCA in the context of TQM (total quality management) stands for Plan, Do, Check and Action. I will now present these four steps in the context of a PhD research.
The first stage—Plan
You must first of all know your outcome. If you do not know what is your outcome is, how are you going to achieve it? For a PhD, however, the outcome of the research is often not known from the outset. So, you may have to start by delineating the boundaries and say to yourself that whatever your outcome may be, it lies within those boundaries. In that way, you will not stray away from the path. However, at the same time, you have to flexible in your approach. What you do not want is to be too rigid and unable to change direction as the situation demands. Neither do you want to go to the other extreme where you are constantly changing topics and even subject areas, and having to start from scratch each time.
The second stage—Do
The next step is essential. Having a great plan is useless if you do not take massive consistent action. Nothing great can ever been achieved without action. Your thesis will not be written by itself. You alone (and not your supervisor) will have to write it.
The third stage—Check
You should have sensory acuity and check your progress (i.e. notice what you are getting). To me there is no such thing as failure. There are only results. However, it may not be the results that you want. So, check to find out whether or not you are getting the results that you do want!
The fourth stage—Action
If you get the results that you do not want, then change your approach and take a different course of action. Einstein defined insanity as doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. If you want to have a different result, then you need to change your approach. How many times should you change your approach? Once, twice, one hundred times or a thousand times? The answer to that is—keep changing your approach until it works. Do not say to yourself, ‘I've tried everything.’ If you have, you would already have achieved the results that you wanted. You may say, ‘Well, I've not tried everything but I've done thousands.’ Well, my response to that is, ‘Name a thousand.’ You may respond, ‘Well, I haven't done a thousand but I've done several hundred.’ My response to that would be, ‘Name a hundred.’ You will eventually say, ‘Well, I did these three things over and over again that didn't work!’
Thomas Edison was reported to have tried 10,000 times before he managed to invent the electric light bulb. For him, each time he did not get the result that he wanted was not failure but a learning experience—he learnt 9,999 ways not to invent the light bulb. The second last experiment actually resulted in a small explosion which nearly killed him and his assistant. Immediately after the explosion, Edison calmly got up and wrote in his notes. His assistant, obviously furious with him, shouted, ‘Are you going to wait until 10,000 failures before you give up?’ Edison replied calmly, ‘I did not have a failure. What I found out was another way not to invent the light bulb and how to create a small explosion, which may be useful in the future.’ You see, mistakes are only failures if we fail to learn from them.
Similarly, Colonel Sanders was reported to have ‘failed’ about 1,000 times to get restaurant owners to pay him for his recipe. Restaurant owners would say, ‘Why should we use your recipe and pay you? We have our own recipe.’ Today, we all know that Kentucky Fried Chicken is a global franchise. Similarly, Sylvester Stallone was reported to have been turned down more than 1,500 times before he got his first acting part—by sleeping over at the producer's office and refusing to leave. By the way, this was not for the movie Rocky but for a prior movie where he appeared only for a few minutes! He was turned down by some of these agencies four of five times in a row. Sylvester Stallone's real-life story is actually much tougher than his fictional character's in Rocky.
In addition to the seven strategies, I have some advice for you—take care of your health. Nothing great can be achieved without energy. To have boundless energy, you must have enthusiasm for your PhD and take care of your nutrition. Note that I said nutrition and not food. You need to drink enough water—between three and five litres of clean, clear water every day—not coffee, soft drinks or alcohol. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, cut down on meat, fried foods and processed foods like crisps, chocolate bars and other junk food. Of course, there's a lot more to it and you may wish to read up on it—written by people with PhDs in diets. My PhD is in psychology. By the way, I'm not a fan of the Atkins diet insofar as intake of protein is concerned.
Since writing a thesis involves much sitting down, i.e. a sedentary lifestyle, you need to have regular exercise. The trick is to have regular aerobic and gentle exercises every day, rather than a one-off strenuous anaerobic exercise. If done incorrectly, it would indeed be one-off, i.e. once and then you're dead! I used to play squash which is an anaerobic sport. During my PhD studies, I played for the university and my local club. I used to feel proud being able to beat players literally half my age in this sport dominated by the young. I remember a game in which I played against a 19-year-old student from Liverpool University—matching him power for power and he finally collapsed and I won the game. I may have won the game, but I paid the price the next day—I felt feverish and about 100 years old. What had happened was that, as a result of the anaerobic activity of squash, toxins had accumulated in my body. I still did not learn from that incident, being a masochist, and continued to play squash. But now, having read up more about health, I have come to the wise decision to stop doing anaerobic exercises. I do not know you personally, but I observe that the problem with a lot of Malaysians is that they do not exercise at all. I recommend that you do regular aerobic exercises. I am not saying you have to dress up in leotards and take up aerobics. Aerobic activity is any activity (such as jogging, swimming, etc.) conducted at a light or moderate pace such that your muscles are not deprived of oxygen. Anaerobic activities, on the other hand, are any exercises that are carried out so intensively, that the body is deprived of oxygen. I now engage in regular aerobic exercises in the gym and play golf (I do not take the buggy, I pull the trolley and move quickly around the course—doing nine holes in less than an hour and a half).
Lastly, have sufficient sleep. Your body and mind needs to recover. There is no use in cramming, drinking tons of coffee and burning the midnight oil—these are not MBA examinations. Doing a PhD is a long and continuous process. Regular, consistent action is needed, not inconsistent spurts of activity. If you are tired during the day, take a short break. If it is already late at night, then go to sleep. I had one experience when I was tired and it was past midnight, but I pushed myself to continue for many more hours working my data analyses using the SPSS. I discovered the next day (when I was fresh) that all the analyses that I had conducted the previous night were wrong and the entire thing had to be thrown out. In short, I would have been better off going early to sleep that night! It was a valuable lesson that I learnt and I never repeated that mistake afterwards.
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The Seven Strategies of Excellence
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