Have you ever had one of those days where you can’t find your keys in the morning, and then you finally locate your keys just to realize that you do not know where your cell phone is (and you really need your phone because it is synced with your schedule on your computer or holds all your contacts)? As a result, you are late to class or an appointment because you have to look up where you are going. To top off your morning, there is extra traffic on the road or you get stuck behind the slowest driver or a large truck which makes you even later.
Part of the reason for this is that nobody thinks clearly under stress. Your mind literally gets fuzzy. When you realized you were going to be late, your body triggered a stress response. So, if you have been studying for the last four or five weeks, and your glass is still half empty, this might be a good time to examine and change the way you are thinking because your thoughts control your behavior which in turn may impact your successes or failures.
I was listening to a Ted Talk on emotional first aid the other day where Guy Winch describes visiting a daycare center and seeing three toddlers playing with an identical plastic toy where if you slide the red button a cute puppy appears. After pushing and pulling a purple button, the first toddler looked at the toy and started to cry. A little boy sitting next to her looked at the girl, and without touching the toy burst into tears. The third toddler, a little girl, kept trying anything and everything she could think of, and eventually slid the red button, and out popped the cute puppy and she squealed with joy.
This was a perfect example to me of how worrying or thinking about failure could shut down the ability to succeed even where a goal is reachable. What was the difference between these three children? Was one child smarter? Although it is impossible to know exactly what the little boy was thinking, he did not even try to figure out the toy based on his observations of the girl next to him. And for the one that tried the purple buttons, success was just beyond her reach. Presumably, each of these children was equally capable of figuring out this toy, but for the two that did not succeed, their minds tricked them into thinking that they could not. Thus, it was a matter of mindset.
Let’s face it, there are 13 topics on the bar exam, and countless rules and nuances. Even if you follow the most detailed study plan, there is still a chance that you may be confronted with an issue or rule that you either skipped or glossed over when studying. There are also other unusual stresses or disturbances that could happen during the exam. There’s the obvious computer melt down or student next to you with an annoying habit, but I have also heard horror stories of power outages, fire alarms and more. A previous failure on the exam might also send you into a tailspin because you see a particular question or topic on the exam that you struggled with the last time. Also, discussions you hear outside of the exam room, in the elevator, at the test site center, or with friends in between exam sessions could impact your confidence. All of these frustrating and distracting situations could impede your ability to think clearly and therefore impact your ability to succeed.
Are you aware of how your mind reacts when you encounter frustration or experience set-backs? Under stress, your palms get sweaty, your heart starts racing causing your blood pressure to rise and stress hormones surge throughout your body. So this is a good time to figure out how to harness the power of positive thinking. Optimists do better than pessimists. I am not saying that positive thinking alone will help you pass the bar exam, but a proper mindset will better enable you to stay on track and overcome challenges and obstacles.
How Can You Erase (or Control) All Those Negative Thoughts or Self-Doubt and Remain Clear Headed?
Think positive thoughts and practice self-acceptance. While you are preparing for the exam, focus on the actions that you are taking to succeed. See my previous post on deliberate practice. Take one day at a time. Focus on accomplishing daily or weekly study goals, rather than getting overwhelmed by your entire study schedule. At exam time, remember that you studied long and hard. During the exam, use your attack plans and focus on simple and concise rules and doing a step by step analysis. Decide right now not to get hung up on any one question. If you come across something that challenges you or something you do not remember, make something up, do the best that you can and move on.
Keep your mind on the present. Now is the time. You can practice such mindfulness during your preparation by practicing Pilates, yoga or meditation during study breaks. If you start feeling stressed or tense during the exam, come up with a tried and true plan for yourself that works to talk yourself off the ledge. Some suggestions are to take a few deep breaths, say a quick mantra (“I am good enough, I am smart enough…), or even take a quick walk to the restroom.
Surround yourself with positive, supportive (and unstressed) people! Leading up to the exam, spend your valuable free time with people that believe in you and have an overall positive attitude. There is plenty of time in the future to be a shoulder to lean on. Focus all of your emotional energy on yourself right now. During the exam, I suggest limiting interactions with other students, and under no circumstances should you compare answers until after the entire exam is finished. There is no benefit in ruminating about a particular question or section you have seen. It is over.
Picture your own success. What does it look like? How will you feel when you receive the good news? What will you do to celebrate? I ran the LA marathon several years ago when it was 95 degrees outside by 8 am. Even though I could see the finish line, after running for 26 miles I struggled physically to move my body even as I got close. My legs felt as if they were going to collapse at any moment, but I willed myself to go that extra third of a mile. I made it to the finish line by believing in myself.
My mind let me get there. You can do that too. Save yourself from failing by believing that you can succeed.