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Quandaries in your academic project? Use your inner mentor

Most of us probably had mentors in graduate school and may still maintain contact with them. But they may not be available every time we need their advice or guidance. I suggest that we all have a mentor that is always available, night and day, every season and semester, for every situation and circumstance.

The IM

This is your Inner Mentor (IM), also called your inner guide, self, voice, spirit, higher power, soul, subconscious, guidance system, intuition, even your heart or gut. It has more power than your department or committee chair, the dean of your school, and even the guy who issues your annual parking sticker.

Maybe you haven’t recognized or used your IM. Maybe you don’t want to acknowledge it. But you’ve already experienced it: when “something” feels off about a certain person or conference you’ve been invited to, when “a little voice” tells you to turn right instead of left, when the “perfect words” suddenly trumpet in your brain as you revise your presentation or greet your mother for the first time in six months.

As you learn to use your IM more consciously, you’ll see that it can help and guide you to many right decisions and actions. With more practice and results, you’ll be less hesitant to turn to it, and you’ll use it not only for academic project quandaries but for anything

Where does the IM come from? Various spiritual teachings tell us it is implanted, embedded in us (a sprinkling: A Course in Miracles, 2007; Bodian, 2012; Chopra, 2004, 2011; Harra, 2009; Williamson, 2000). You can subscribe to any of these teachings or not. But does it really matter? If you have spiritual squeamishness, whatever explanations or origins you choose to give the IM, its efficacy remains intact.

When and How

When to access your Inner Mentor? Any time, any place, for any question, predicament, or occurrence. A quiet time is preferable, such as a daily meditation session (no excuses, please). Other times can be just as effective: waiting for a traffic light, in a dentist’s office, or during exercise or a coffee break.

An effective variation is to ask your questions before sleep, and the technique has a scientific basis (Rodriguez, 2016). Many creative people, even geniuses (Einstein, Dali), made a practice of this. Edison advised: “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious” (Freedman, 2018). And of course, a pad and pen or iPad should be at your elbow.

How to access your Inner Mentor? Get quiet, take a few deep breaths, and just ask what you want to know. Make the question the only thing you focus on. If you’re very concerned about something—like what the hell to do with that impossible mass of articles for your literature review—it won’t be hard to dump everything else from you mind and just ask.

Then—listen. This is admittedly the hard part. Resist self-talk and trying to figure out a rash of possible solutions. The widely known physician, author, and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra (2011) called this our tendency “to force solutions” (p. 52). Suspend your skepticism and the seduction of logic. You’ll have plenty of other chances to do your appropriate research and activate your rational mind and critical problem-solving skills. Now, humility is called for.

What Does It Feel Like?

I’ve always liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s (2006) account of her first encounter with her Inner Voice in her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. In the middle of the night, agonizing over her terrible marriage and what to do about it, sobbing uncontrollably, she begged some admittedly amorphous god to please tell her what to do. Startling her, the voice came sure and strong: “Go back to bed, Liz” (p. 16). This was as practical and correct as it gets.

Gilbert’s (2006) description of what the IM feels like is sane and swallowable:

It was merely my own voice, speaking from within my own self. But this was my voice as I had never heard it before. This was my voice, but perfectly wise, calm and compassionate. This was what my voice would sound like if I’d only ever experienced love and certainty in my life. (p. 16)

When I hear the IM, my responses are close to Gilbert’s. I feel it in my body—lightness in my chest, stomach fear erased, overall sense of well-being. I feel it in my mind—certainty and fitness of the answer, and a blissful peace. With the guided decision, I know what to do.

Test It

So, waddaya wanna know? Pick a subject, a knotty situation, a dilemma, or even something you’re vaguely curious about. Practice that prior-sleep technique. Or go apart from the crowd, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Go outside, if possible, and take in some greenery. Sit there. Ask your question. Wait.

If you hear nothing except your own mental frittering, ask again. If you get impatient, still yourself once more. If you can’t settle down, you may need to walk away and come back later. When you do, the answer may appear two hours later as you’re making the popcorn for a Walking Dead marathon.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that your IM is nothing less than infallible. Kind of like an academic nag, it is always with you. The more you rely on your IM, the more you’ll develop the habit of turning to it, listening, and following. And you’ll come to trust its all-encompassing knowledge and peace.


A Course in Miracles. (2007). Combined volume (3rd ed.). Mill Valley, CA: Foundation For Inner Peace.
Bodian, S. (2012). Meditation for dummies (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.
Chopra, D. (2004). The book of secrets: Unlocking the hidden dimensions of your life. New York, NY: Harmony Books.
Chopra, D. (2011). The seven spiritual laws of success: A practical guide to the fulfillment of your dreams (rev. ed.). San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen.
Freedman, P. (2018, February 26). Life-hacks: 4 ways to come up with ideas in your sleep. Calm. Retrieved from
Gilbert, E. (2006). Eat, pray, love: One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. New York, NY: Penguin.
Harra, C. (2009). The eleven eternal principles: Accessing the divine within. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press/Crown/Random House.
Rodriguez, K. (2016, August 1). How Einstein and Edison solved problems in their sleep. Inc. Retrieved from
Williamson, M. (2000, October). Meditation. O, The Oprah Magazine. Retrieved from

Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015).

© 2018 Noelle Sterne

Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and motivational counselor, Noelle has published over 400 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.