Today we’re excited to have Lauren Fire from Mind Over Bar here to answer some questions about mentally preparing for the bar exam.
Without further ado…
Although you practiced law for a number of years, your passion is now mindfulness and the law. How did you discover this passion?
I’m fascinated by the human mind. Ever since high school I’ve studied all the best sellers on success, relationships, productivity, motivation, and growth. I began studying mindfulness and meditation in 2001 during law school when I realized that my drive for success had literally driven me into a wall. I had allowed stress, fear, self-criticism, and anxiety to affect my attitude, energy, motivation and ultimately my ability to perform. I suddenly wasn’t living up to my full potential, and I wanted to know how to fix it, and fast. Nothing motivates like results. Once I started to discover the tools I needed to tame my own mental dragons (or at least co-exist with them), I found myself even more fascinated not only by the human mind, but also by the emotions and the amazing mind-body connection.
What lead you to want to help students get through the bar exam specifically?
I think the bar exam is like the Tour de France of studying – it’s ridiculously draining and taxing on the mind and body.
And law school doesn’t really prepare you mentally or emotionally for the challenge.
Many traditional bar exam courses adopt the “scare the crap out of you” strategy, which can work for some, but can leave others feeling constantly inadequate and over-stressed. I’ve seen first hand how stress, self-criticism, fear and anxiety can effect performance. So I want to tell law students and bar exam takers to think about this stuff. You need some sort of inner game plan. The way you relate with your mind and take care of your body can make or break you just as fast, if not faster than the MBEs, the rules, or the writing. I feel drawn to help students create inner game strategies for the bar exam because I believe I can teach something that can really make a difference.
What do you think makes the bar exam cause so much anxiety and mental exhaustion?
In law school, the game is fairly easy to figure out. You know what you need to learn, you have ways of comparing yourself to others to measure your progress, and you have guidance. That’s all gone when you study for the bar exam.
Students want to know: Am I working hard enough? Am I learning fast enough? Am I doing this right? But they have no way of finding the answers.
So now they are swimming in uncertainty, which can easily create fear and anxiety. Then you add the fact that most people studying for the bar are perfectionists with completely unrealistic expectations, believing they must “know it all” or feel totally confident by exam day. And don’t forget the posting boards, scare tactics, and unattainable schedules set out by many bar exam courses. It’s the perfect emotional storm.
Why is it important to have tools to manage the mental aspect of the bar exam (along with memorizing lots of materials and practicing mountains of essays)?
Your inner game can make or break you on the bar exam. If you don’t have a healthy way of working with your thoughts and emotions and taking care of your body, you can dramatically increase your stress levels without even realizing it.
I see students that become their own worst enemies, putting mountain after mountain in between them and passing.
You can lose your motivation, stop caring, face increasing anxiety or fear, have difficulty sleeping, get a cold, or just burnout. On the other hand, by simply putting attention on your mind and body, thinking through your challenges and creating attack plans and strategies, you can change the whole game for yourself. The bar exam can become just another hurdle on the way to a successful career, instead of an evil fire-breathing dragon you must fight.
For students currently studying for the bar, what are three tips you would give them to find exam success?
- You are not going to know it all. Let it go. If you’re worried, go back to your study plan and create a strategy that makes you feel confident that you will do the most you can do. Then don’t waste anymore time or mental energy worrying about it.
- You are not going to be 100% confident. Let that go too. If you want to be more confident, know that confidence isn’t going to show up at your door one day wearing a banana suit. You must create confidence. Sit down and write out everything you are worried about happening on bar day. Then create a step-by-step plan for how you will deal with it. Whether it’s running out of time, panicking, not knowing an issue, or just having to pee, adequate planning is the first key to confidence.
- If you struggle with anxiety or fear, start to find ways of calming yourself down. Experiment with finding ways to relax and calm your body and clear your mind. Then practice. Cause yourself to feel that anxiety and fear, and then calm yourself down.
For students taking the bar down the road, is there anything a student can do before bar prep to help get mentally ready to take the bar exam?
It’s never too early to start looking at how you relate with yourself. Instead of focusing on your failures, start learning how to focus on what you want and creating a real workable strategy to get yourself there. Find a strategy that does not employ self-criticism. Making yourself feel guilty and ashamed is not a sustainable way to motivate yourself. Instead, focus on finding your drive – what you want and why do you want it? Let your drive pull you toward success in law school and ultimately in your career. In short, stop beating yourself up and start building yourself up.
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Thanks Lauren! Feel free to leave questions in the comments below.
Lauren Fire is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course, a brain strategy course that focuses on the mental challenges of the bar exam. Through the Mind Over Bar Course and private coaching, Lauren helps law students and bar takers tame their mental dragons and create inner game strategies for ultimate success in law school, on the bar exam, and beyond.
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Want information on other bar exam tips? Check out these posts:
- Establish a bar exam routine.
- What do you do if you aren’t sure bar prep is working for you.
- Tips for the bar exam significant other.
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