As we head into the holiday season, some of my students have been asking about how to manage it all: COVID-19, trying to socially distance for family gatherings, wondering whether and when to book trips home—all compounded by the added stress and anxiety of bar study.
If you’ve had any these topics on your mind, these steps are for you!
1. Be Careful
It goes without saying that you should take care of your health and the health of those around you. If there’s anything you can do to limit COVID-19 exposure, shore up your immune system, take time away, or otherwise protect yourself, do it.
When it comes to bar study, be careful with that as well. Make sure you’re not just falling in line with a program that doesn’t work for you. Don’t expect the rules to magically stick when you’re not spending time actively memorizing them every single day. Be careful to spend your time where your weaknesses are, and understand that the study process is supposed to feel uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, you’re probably doing it wrong.
2. Be Realistic
Should you really expect yourself to buy gifts for everyone in your circle of friends? Extended family? Where do you draw the line? Is it even wise to contribute to overburdening the post and delivery workers since gift-shopping and gift-giving can’t be done in person? Can you actually get any studying done while airsick on the long flight home? Is it a little too ambitious to expect yourself to cook an entire holiday dinner from scratch? 2020 has been a year of unpredictable firsts, so ask yourself: what are you really up for?
Give yourself permission to scale back from your usual commitments and routines. For example, you can:
- Postpone, simplify, hand-make, or re-gift presents, or narrow the scope of gift-giving down to just the most important people in your life
- Go ahead and cook with the pre-made, catered, or off-the-shelf version
- Don’t expect yourself to write essays while in transit, just memorize or relax instead
Take a hard look at what you expect of yourself and what others expect from you. Who is making the rules about where you spend your time? Hint: it should be you! What are your real priorities? Are you acting out of a sense of obligation or making a conscious decision about what’s best for you?
I’m not saying you need to skip festivities, just make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew.
3. Be Indulgent
I’m not talking about eating the last of the fudge or spending more than you budgeted on holiday shopping—but hey, no judgment if you do! What I mean is, you should indulge in activities that make you feel calm, relaxed and pampered (bonus points if these activities are also free and simple to achieve). Why pamper yourself? Because taking care of numero uno will help you ward off stress and anxiety and ultimately make for a more enjoyable existence during a tough time.
Here are some easy ideas:
- Light candles at dinner, even if you’re eating on your own
- Make a sweet treat for yourself
- Sleep as much as you need to without setting an alarm
- Max out on study-friendly creature comforts like comfy clothes, a cozy blanket, and a warm drink
- Slightly alter your routine to make it feel more luxurious or special—use the nice coffee cup, the full-fat cream, and the plushest towels you have
- Watch a movie that fills you with nostalgia or makes you laugh
Even if everything else feels on the verge of falling apart, some good self-care can go a long way toward setting things right again. Take care of yourself first so you can take care of your to-do list with more patience and productivity.
4. Be Firm
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries—for others, for your calendar, for yourself. Can you take all these packages to the post office for me? No. Can we schedule a zoom call with the entire extended family during your practice exam? No. Should you think about all the “what ifs” that go along with worrying about this exam? No.
Don’t be afraid to say no. You have limited time and resources. You need to put your energy where your priorities are – whatever those may be.
Here are some ideas:
- Tell family, friends, and/or your partner what times you won’t be available and then turn off your phone notifications while you study
- Don’t say yes to anything you don’t want to do or don’t have time for
- Banish negative thinking and damaging internal monologues
- Map out your daily study calendar and stick to it
I realize some of this advice might sound overly self-centered. But you know what? Studying for the bar necessitates focusing on your exam and yourself to the extent that you need to prepare for it. So, yes, you are focusing on yourself right now, and that’s okay. Of course, you can go out of your way to help others and no, don’t have a free pass to be a terrible neighbor, partner or friend just because you’re busy. However, this exam takes a lot of work and you really do need to prioritize that.
5. Be Productive
Recently, a student told me that it had been tough to study because their first action upon waking up every morning had been to check the news, which inevitably spiraled downward into anxiety about politics and COVID-19, which then translated into difficulty sitting still long enough to practice essays. I could relate. I was actually checking the news first thing in the morning too, despite it having a negative effect on my day. I didn’t even realize how draining it was.
First step in being productive? Stop doing the stuff you already know is holding you back.
Here’s what you could try instead:
- Stop starting the day anxiously.
- Upon waking up, pause, think of something positive, set a plan for the day, relax, listen to some good music or an uplifting podcast
- Stop going through the motions
- Ask yourself whether what you’re doing is working. If not, change it.
- Stop worrying about not passing
- Stop spending your time haphazardly
- Come up with a way to effectively track and manage your time
- Stop being an unhealthy, sedentary hermit if you can possibly help it (I’m talking to myself here too!)
- Make healthy eating and exercise a habit, even if it’s just stretching. Get out for a walk, or at least some fresh air.
- Stop judging yourself harshly and feeling inadequate when you make mistakes
- See every small failure along the way as an opportunity to do better. Sounds corny? Yes. Works? Also yes.
This morning while sipping my coffee, instead of my usual news program, I let Yo-yo Ma sweep me away into my second-favorite cello concerto (coincidentally, the one I listened to every single morning while studying for the bar). It was an instant pick-me-up.
I went a step further. Instead of perusing various disasters and tragedies in today’s headlines, I watched, at random, a TED talk about a guy who free-climbed a 3,000 foot vertical cliff without any ropes. And you know what? I feel better about today already.
Believe it or not, there are some parallels to draw between preparing to tackle a figurative mountain of study tasks during uncertain times, and conquering a literal, actual mountain. The good news? If you slip up, no one dies.
Bottom line: You can do this. The next couple of months will be tough, but you can get through them. Stay disciplined. Take care of your mental and physical health. Keep your eye on your goal and work your way through diligent practice with safety nets hundreds of times before attempting the real thing without any ropes.