When I was studying for the bar, my mother consistently reminded me to “drive the horse in the direction it’s going; don’t pull against the reins.” It took me longer than I’d like to admit to understand what she was saying, but once I did, it made my bar prep life a lot easier.
Often during bar prep, students get stuck in a multitude of spirals. Most involve anxiety attacks, or explosions of anger at trivial disappointments. I am no stranger to these explosions. In fact, the first time my mother threw the phrase my way was after I found out my aunt was coming to stay for the weekend and I wouldn’t have access to my study room (i.e. the guest room).
I threw a fit – similar to the ones I’ve seen my three-year-old g-dson throw – and dragged the massive desk into my bedroom. I shut the door, turned on brown noise, and instead of studying I griped about having to move the desk, having family over a few weeks before my exam, possibly having to go study elsewhere, missing my old apartment in New England, and wishing this awful experience would just end already. Needless to say, I didn’t get very much done that morning. And every time I called or texted my mother about a frustrating experience, she repeated the phrase again.
I thought she was crazy, but I learned that what she meant was, “go with the flow,” and I’m going to explain below why this is such an important tool for your bar prep.
It Makes Studying Easier
It takes more energy to stay upset about where you are in time and space than it does to just go with it. It took me a long time to figure out that if I just went with the flow and didn’t get riled up about what I was supposed to be doing (and how the Starbucks drive-thru line was moving at a sloth’s pace) I would have saved myself a lot of grief.
During bar prep, your brain power is stretched thin. You have a limited amount of time to try and learn as much information as you can, and spending any of it being affected by frustrating or anxiety ridden experiences is a waste. Now that isn’t to say that you won’t be frustrated or anxious at some point during your studying, but you can limit the effect these emotions have on your studying by going with the flow.
Going with the flow allows your brain to focus on what’s more important – the exam material. Our brains do a lot, and one of the things they are really good at is remembering negative events better than positive ones. This is probably because we relive negative events over and over, trying to understand what we could have or should have done to change them.
So, if your brain is forced to focus on how annoying other drivers are, that your neighbor’s dog barked too loudly this morning, and that you just finished reviewing the proper venue for a case that arose in State B but the defendant lives in State A, which do you think it’s going to have an easier time remembering?
Make a choice early on in bar prep that you will go with the flow. If someone cuts you off in traffic, or there’s a longer line in the grocery store than you’d like, take a breath and go with it. Don’t focus on how it could have been different. Stay in the moment, and then when you sit down to study, you won’t have thirty other things taking up priority in your brain.
It Reduces Stress
For most examinees, they have jobs riding on the bar, family members counting on them, or they’ve tied their own self-worth to it. Adding extra frustration from situations that don’t go your way can just add to that stress and negatively impact your bar prep.
Elevated stress levels can cause – besides acne and chronic pain – memory loss and anxiety. For me, extra stress causes autoimmune flares, which gave me shingles at the ripe old age of 3. Going with the flow allows you to lower your stress levels, thereby keeping illness and fatigue at bay, and allowing your brain to absorb what you’re studying.
Driving the horse in the direction it’s going, and not pulling against the reins boils down to this: don’t make your bar prep more stressful and less effective by getting bogged down by the annoying minutiae that will inevitably pop up.
And honestly, it took me until two weeks before my second go at the bar to do this. Instead, I pushed against it. I cried anytime I had to change where I was going to study. I made all four of my nieces and nephew sleep on blow up beds in the TV room when they came to visit so I wouldn’t have to give up my study space. I yelled constantly at cars switching lanes abruptly. I very rarely took the scenic route, and I got very sick by the end of the bar.
But those two weeks leading into the bar, when I finally embraced going with the flow, especially the weekend before the bar, felt amazing. My whole perspective shifted. Instead of freaking out because I’d left my entire binder of notes on the airplane, I let it go and studied off my computer. Instead of panicking that the hotel had no fan for my room, I went out and bought one. And instead of fighting against my anxiety, I took a lot of time to let it swallow me, and then I was able to let it go the morning of Day 1.
So, this bar prep season, don’t fester on the frustrating experiences, just go with the flow, and I promise you will be a less stressed, better capable student.