Posted on

Use your inner mentor for your academic project predicaments

Most of us probably had mentors in graduate school and may still keep in touch with them. But they may not be available every time we need their advice or guidance. Did you know? We have a mentor that’s 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 the dean of your school, your department or committee chair, or even the guy who issues your annual parking sticker.

If you feel squeamish about the IM, let me reassure you: You’ve already used it—when “something” feels off about a certain person or conference you’ve been invited to; when “a little voice” tells you to turn to this page instead of that; when the “perfect words” suddenly trumpet in your brain as you rethink your problem statement, revise your presentation, or greet your mother for the first time in six months.

Where does the IM come from? Brain researchers and psychologists show us diagrams and draw distinctions between so-called normal and abnormal voices in our heads (e.g., Peshin, 2022). Various spiritual teachings tell us the IM 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 versions or none. But does it really matter?

You don’t have to call the IM anything that’s uncomfortable. It’s been referred to as “that voice in my head” or “inner speech” or “my guidance system.” Whatever labels, origins, or explanations you choose to give the IM, its efficacy remains intact.

What Does It Feel Like?

The IM isn’t what some call “thought chatter,” the incessant flitting barrage of thoughts we all have. It has a different quality, and we can harness it.

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

Gilbert’s (2006) account 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 ask and then hear the IM, I feel it in my body—stomach fear erased, wonderful lightness in my chest, overall sense of well-being. I feel it too in my mind—like Gilbert, a certainty and fitness of the answer, and a blissful peace. With the guidance, I know what to do.

As you learn to use your IM more consciously, you’ll see that it can help and steer you to many right decisions and actions. With 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 . . .


When to access your Inner Mentor? Any time, any place, for any question, dilemma, 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 yourself 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 or phone for dictation should be at your elbow.


How to access your Inner Mentor? Get quiet, take a few deep breaths. 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 difficult 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 intricate possible solutions. The widely known physician, author, and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra (2011) calls this our tendency of feeling “compelled to force solutions” (p. 52). Suspend your skepticism and the seduction of logic. You’ll have plenty of other chances to activate your rational mind and critical problem-solving skills. Now, humility is called for.

Test It

So, waddaya wanna know? Pick a subject, a knotty situation, an impasse in your writing or thinking, or even something elusive you’re vaguely curious about. At night, use that prior-sleep technique. During the day, go apart from the crowd, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest. Get 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 in two hours as you’re making the popcorn for a Walking Dead marathon.

Practice and Continue

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’s always with you. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at stilling yourself.
As you increasingly rely on your IM, you’ll develop the habit of turning to it, asking, listening, and following. You’ll keep seeing evidence of its effectiveness in your work. And you’ll come to trust its all-encompassing knowledge, certainty, and peace.

Bodian, S. (2012). Meditation for dummies (3rd ed.). John Wiley.
Chopra, D. (2004). The book of secrets: Unlocking the hidden dimensions of your life. Harmony Books.
Chopra, D. (2011). The seven spiritual laws of success: A practical guide to the fulfillment of your dreams (rev. ed.). Amber-Allen.
A Course in Miracles. (2007). Combined volume (3rd ed.). Foundation For Inner Peace.
Freedman, P. (2018, February 26). Life-hacks: 4 ways to come up with ideas in your sleep. Calm.
Gilbert, E. (2006). Eat, pray, love: One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. Penguin.
Harra, C. (2009). The eleven eternal principles: Accessing the divine within. Crossing Press/Crown/Random House.
Peshin, A. (2022, January 17). What is the “little voice” inside your head? ScienceABC.
Rodriguez, K. (2016, August 1). How Einstein and Edison solved problems in theirsleep. Inc.
Williamson, M. (2000, October). Meditation. O, The Oprah Magazine.

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

© 2022 Noelle Sterne

Guide to Making Time to WriteNoelle is a contributor to TAA’s book, Guide to Making Time to Write: 100+ Time & Productivity Management Tips for Textbook and Academic Authors. Available as a print and eBook.

Learn more


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 Sterne has published over 700 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. Following one of her own, she is currently working on her third novel. Visit Noelle at