It is my pleasure to welcome back to the blog Elena DuCharme to chat about mindset and the bar exam. Elena is a lawyer turned performance coach who works with bar studiers to help them conquer fear and anxiety and find bar exam success.
Lee: I practice yoga regularly and I know that working out the physical manifestations of stress and tension really helps me balance my mental state. Have you had similar experiences yourself with yoga or another physical activity or practice? Is this something you often recommend your clients explore?
Elena: Absolutely. Yoga, walking, hiking and other exercise has always helped me feel balanced and more serene, and it leads to mental insights as well. I exercised religiously during bar review, and I always recommend exercise to my clients. I consider it essential to high performance, for so many reasons.
First, exercise helps move stress hormones through and out of your system.
The fight-flight response is designed to get your body to move, once it goes past the initial “freeze” stage. It actually shunts blood away from your reasoning brain (because you’re not supposed to be analyzing your choices when you’re facing a wild animal— you need to act fast, without thinking), and it floods blood into the large muscles of your body, such as your legs and glutes, to prepare you to fight or run. This is why it can be so hard to sit and take an exam when you’re anxious!
Think about what wild animals like antelopes do when being chased by a lion—they automatically run. In fact, they run and then, when the lion catches one of them or gets tired and cuts out of the chase, the group stops running and goes back to eating. Because of the way they’re wired, their nervous systems “reset” and they behave it’s as if it never happened. They don’t have the cognitive wiring to generate mental images of future lion attacks. They just eat calmly until something happens.
But humans are wired a little differently. Our brains are uniquely wired to imagine the future, both good and bad. And the parts of the brain that kicks off the fight-flight response can’t necessarily tell if what we’re imagining is real or not. So when we start worrying, our nervous system automatically gets cranked up to help us deal with the scary thing we’re worrying about. That’s the fight-flight system just doing its job. It’s terribly inconvenient when you’re facing the bar exam, but the good news is that there are things you can do to retrain your brain so it stays calmer.
And that includes exercise. Exercise can help manage that nervous energy and move it out of your system, which will return your brain to a more optimal state for learning.
A second incredible benefit of exercise is that it makes you smarter. It literally helps grow your brain, including your memory, and it improves your cognitive capacity and mental clarity.
It also improves your attitude—your mood, or state of mind. In fact, studies show that exercise is hands-down a more effective antidepressant than drugs. And your attitude plays a huge role in your ability to learn and perform at your best. Happier people learn faster and do better.
So exercise is extremely helpful in developing and maintaining a calm, confident state of mind — both during bar review and on the days of the bar exam.
Exercise in the morning before the exam, and a walk at the end of each exam day will help clear your mind and body of stress and rejuvenate you. And even better, it could help you pass, quite literally. Studies have shown that kids who exercise just prior to an exam have higher test scores.
And mindful exercise, like yoga, may be giving you the best of both worlds—it’s training your mind to focus while giving your body the opportunity to process stress.
Finally, the icing on the cake would be to get out and exercise in nature. Regular exposure to natural settings has its own, independent calming effect on the mind and body.
Want help getting mentally ready for the bar exam? Elena’s Bar Exam Breakthrough course is designed specifically to address mental and emotional blocks that can sabotage bar exam performance, and build a confident focused, state of mind. The program uses a powerful combination of neuroscience-based processes that work at both the conscious and subconscious levels of your mind to actually rewire your brain patterns so you are not overanxious while studying and are optimally energized to study, learn and perform at your best on the exam.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Two Simple, Non-Woo-Woo Ways to Calm Your Nerves and Boost Your Score on the Bar Exam
- Why Your Mindset Matters When it Comes to the Bar Exam
- Taking care of yourself is a critical part of bar exam preparation
- Strategic Tips for Unwinding Stress