I talk about motivation every year around this time. That’s because we are at the slap-happy stage of bar prep. You’re getting the work done and haven’t lost all your drive but that laser-focus from the first few weeks isn’t there. A quick look at social media reveals lots of clever bar exam posts, photos, tweets, and hashtags. I’m not saying you need to go off the grid or avoid social media as it can be a wonderful way to find and share motivation but the key word is motivation. This is the psychological drive that compels you to a certain goal. It is intrinsic and comes from within. It means that you attribute success to factors under your control and believe you have the skills to reach your goal. So please stop with the those unstaged pics of you with caffeine, you about to study, or you workingreallyhard. Not motivational and so overdone. You can do better.
According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest will remain at rest. There is a natural tendency to do what we’ve always done. It’s called inertia. But taking even the smallest step is starts the momentum that keeps you going. Staying motivated is not always easy. But you have a choice- you can stay where you are or take action. The decision to act is a scary one but crossing the threshold is liberating.
Motivation and inspiration don’t happen to you. You make it happen by taking the first step. Although this ultimately has to come from within, sometimes you need a little external push to get going. Nothing wrong with that- just get going.
What does “get comfortable being uncomfortable” mean? It’s something I’ve been saying for years. When I coached swimming, I said it to my athletes all the time. In swimming, every hundredth of a second matters so when you’re five meters from the wall and you think you need to take a breath, don’t. You are less than a second from finishing and taking a breath (or lifting your head) creates drag which can mean the difference between winning the most Olympic gold medals ever or… not.
Getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable also means not being afraid to fail. Swimming great Katie Ledecky fails “spectacularly” and that is why she wins.
There’s no magic bullet…[Katie] doesn’t have this incredible wingspan. She doesn’t have webbed feet. You look at Katie, just like with Michael [Phelps], and you realize the differentiator is between the ears. And their hearts. Their appetite for competition, their unwillingness to lose, and their embracing the challenge. And not just the challenge on competition day, which is a huge part, but the challenge of the training grind.
– Bruce Gemmell, Ledecky’s coach
At the Rio Olympics Ledecky finished so far ahead of the competition that she spawned Chuck Norris-like memes.
So, what does this mean for the bar exam? It means that you push yourself past your comfort zone. It means you don’t quit when things get hard. It means you mess up, make mistakes, and fail. A lot. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable means you are prepared for and can handle just about anything. Things don’t have to go perfectly for you to succeed. You have learned how to adapt, adjust, and move forward. No one likes feeling uncomfortable but avoiding that feeling and being afraid to fail is exactly why people fail the bar exam. They are afraid to make mistakes and afraid to be wrong. They are afraid of what others will think and that their best isn’t good enough.
It’s week two of bar prep and the uncomfortable feelings are creeping in. You can avoid them and take a breath or you can hold on, push through and get to the wall first.
Bar Prep occurs in five stages. As a recent Bar Examinee, I will tell you what you’re about to experience.
Any difficult process begins the same: we all deny it’s happening. With the bar exam, the denial occurs passively as other big things happen in your life. You just finished final exams and graduated. Or you just relocated. You just got engaged or married. You recently had a child. You are looking for a job.
These major things will cloud your vision. You know that bar prep is around the corner, but you are not ready to accept it.
The next stage is nostalgia. You will begin your studies in earnest. You will go to classes, watch videos, take notes, etc. on topics that you studied way back at the beginning of law school. Contracts, property, constitutional law, torts, and so on.
You will have energy and your familiarity with these topics will put you a bit at ease. You will strangely feel like this is not going to be so bad.
This stage lasts for about a week—maybe two, if you’re lucky.
After a brief period of something resembling okay-ness, you will descend into discomfort. You will realize that the exam—and your preparation—will cover many topics only some of which you are familiar with and others you have never encountered before. You will feel overwhelmed and underprepared.
You will write your first graded practice essay and feel a jolt of unease as you fail to recall from memory any rule statements or legal propositions. You will feel very bad about yourself and very uncomfortable with your studies.
You will start to shift into new topics before you feel solid on the old topics. You will be tested on three topics in one day and you will forget that you had already covered the first topic that seemed so familiar only recently.
The multiple choice sets you complete will be harder than you expected. And you will struggle to hit your targets.
But here’s an important piece of information to hold onto during this time: your discomfort during this stage is the reasonyou will pass the exam. Your discomfort will drive you to study hard and focus. You will not be distracted by seemingly endless number of other, better opportunities happening in the early summer.
And here’s another important piece of information: do not let your discomfort dictate your study schedule. Follow the schedule your bar study program has for you. Do not study constantly or sprint ahead of the program. Slow and steady and uncomfortable is the path to success.
And if you are feeling especially overwhelmed, use your nervous energy to prepare in simple low-energy ways after you complete what you need to for the day: make flashcards of key terms and phrases; print out example answer essays and organize them by topic; organize yourself. Do mindless things that will help you study down the road.
I would like to tell you that things improve after ‘Discomfort,’ but I’m here to tell you how it is not how you want it to be. You will feel worse. Sometime after the Fourth of July (assuming you are taking the July exam), you will start to panic.
You will notice that there are only a few weeks until the actual exam begins. You will genuinely believe you cannot pass the exam.
You will nervously talk to friends, family, peers, and professors about the exam, about rumors about the exam, about crises arising among the ranks, and other disaster stories.
Here’s the thing: if you have been following your program and working slow, steady, and uncomfortably—and you have not been afflicted with a major medical emergency or family tragedy—you will be okay. You just have to have put in the work, keep putting in the work, trust the process, and be good to yourself.
I cannot stress this last bit enough: be good to yourself. Go see a movie, go out to dinner with a friend, get enough sleep, exercise some, watch some TV, breathe. If you put in the time and effort to study, you can take a moment to do something fun and relaxing. In fact, you really should.
In the final couple weeks before the exam, you will enter the ‘a lot’ stage. In this stage, you will feel many intense emotions. You must anticipate and prepare for this inner tumult to prevent it from torpedoing your efforts.
About two weeks out, make sure you have all the items you will need for the exam and all the logistics are worked out.
Your car is running (or whatever transportation you need to the exam)
Your computer is functional and test-ready
You have proper identification and documentation to enter the test area
You have pens or pencils (as necessary or required)
You have comfortable and test-acceptable clothes and footwear
Doing all of these little things in advance will help you control your headspace come the days of the exam.
Finally, identify the two or three topics you are most afraid of getting essays on and make attack outlines covering the major areas within those topics. And read them, study them, and memorize them. You may not get tested on these topics, but you will not be afraid of being tested on these topics during the exam.
Treat bar prep like a full-time job. Study slow, steady, and uncomfortably. Make progress each day and review topics that trouble you. Take your studies seriously, but do not allow them to consume all of your waking hours. Take time to breathe, relax, and care for yourself.
You’re still focused on law school exams and graduation so the bar exam is the last thing on your mind. But it’s there. Looming in front of you. Waiting…
You don’t have to start bar prep but you do have to get into the right mindset for it. Ten weeks is a long time to do only one thing so to go into it without some sort of mental preparation is a bad idea. You will get tired, overwhelmed, discouraged. It’s going to happen and you will have to push through and keep going. Ignoring it makes things worse because then you are in denial and you’ll have to spend time accepting you’re a bit of a mess. Then you have to figure how to get yourself back on track and in control.
Lawyers plan for the worst and hope for the best.
You want to be a lawyer and lawyers plan for the worst and hope for the best. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of material you have to learn and feel like there is no way you can learn it all? Regain control of your thoughts by making a list (but not of things you need to do):
things that inspire you
things you are grateful for
things you love about yourself
your happiest memories
your favorite people and why
a meal plan, a shopping list
Feeling discouraged because you can’t seem to make any progress? Identify and address the roadblocks in your way:
Perfectionism: stop waiting until something is perfect and just do it. You have to learn from your mistakes so go ahead and make them and then move forward.
Comparing yourself to what everyone else is doing: this is unproductive because it leaves you bitter, jealous, and insecure. Focus on yourself and what you can do.
Complaining about the amount of work: this rarely changes anything. You still have to do the work and the more you complain, the longer you have to work.
Feeling stressed because you aren’t getting anything done? Identify the time sucks and what you can to do boost productivity:
Focus: silence your phone (and hide it from yourself); black out background browser tabs/notifications; write distractions down for later; go for a short walk.
Increase efficiency: use a productivity tool like the Pomodoro Technique; quit multitasking (it doesn’t work); step away from social media during study hours.
Prioritize: don’t check email first thing in the morning (or every five minutes); make a to-do list each evening; sort your to-dos by “musts,” “shoulds,” and “wants.”
Get motivated: bribe yourself with a reward; keep a “done” list; strike a power pose; make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
The bottom line is that you are going to do this. You are going to study, prepare, and pass the bar exam. Pretending that it won’t be hard is unrealistic and frankly, it’s immature. It’s time to develop the right mindset and start acting like the lawyer you want to be.
Studying for the bar exam was stressful but so is waiting for results. Ohio results post on Friday and this last week is the worst. You can only remember your perceived mistakes and friends and family who dare have faith in your abilities just get on your nerves. However, you don’t have to completely miserable. You can make the choice to adjust your attitude and make the best of it. Try this 7-day positive attitude challenge:
Day One: Make a list of five things in your life that you are thankful for.
Day Two: Smile at everyone you meet. No exceptions.
Day Three: Reach out to one person in your life and express gratitude.
Day Four: Choose an activity that makes you truly happy and spend at least thirty minutes doing it.
Day Five: Spend at least fifteen minutes outside. At one time (not two minutes walking from your car to the office, five minutes running across the street for lunch).
Day Six: No complaining. Go the entire day without a single complaint.
Day Seven: Look in the mirror and give yourself an old school Daily Affirmation talk, Michael Jordan style.
You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like you.
To succeed at any challenge in life, you’ve got to tune out the noise around you- the footsteps of others (ahead and behind), distracting “advice,” doubters who tell you it can’t be done. Instead, focus on your inner voice. Setting your own goal, charting your course and trusting your instincts take courage, but they are the surest route to crossing your personal finish line a winner.
I saw this quote years ago in a fitness (maybe running) magazine. So many years ago that I had to rip the page out instead of taking a photo. I couldn’t Instagram it with clever hashtags.
I old-school taped the page to my desk as a reminder to focus on my goals and to not worry about what everyone else is doing. Over the years it got torn and I had to keep cutting it down to the point that all that was left was the quote. A few weeks ago the paper reached the point of disintegration that it was time to let it go. At the time, I didn’t give it too much thought: It had been there so long I hardly noticed anymore. I was more concerned about scraping the tape off my desk surface. The next day when I got to my office and sat down at my desk, my hand automatically went to the spot where the quote had been. Maybe I noticed it more than I thought. Maybe there is a reason I kept it taped there for so many years. The Internet is a wonderful thing. I’ve downloaded a new version of my quote and taped it to my desk.
I hope this quote can serve as a reminder to all of you preparing to study for the bar exam. You all have the same goal of passing but “[t]o succeed at any challenge… you’ve got to tune out the noise around you… the distracting advice, the doubters…” With about a month until the official start of bar prep, this is the perfect time to think about how to do this: what you need to do to set your pace and run your own race. After all, it is “the surest route to crossing your personal finish line a winner.”
Preparing for the bar exam is more than studying 50+ hours a week for ten weeks. You absolutely have to put in the study time and commercial bar prep companies do a great job providing you an in-depth and structured study schedule. However, the ten-week bar prep period is fairly intense and quite exhausting. You will experience periods of self-doubt, uncertainty, and sometimes feel overwhelmed. Although you cannot avoid this completely, you can be prepared to work through it push forward with your studying. One way to do this is to start bar prep having a strong relationship with yourself.
Have an open mind. Be receptive to new and different concepts on how to live your best life. Don’t think of it as massive change all at once. This is a process and there are lots of little things you can do.
Give yourself a break. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and accept that you did the best you could. Remind yourself that you don’t expect perfection in others so you shouldn’t expect it of yourself.
Assess your lifestyle. Identify what is and isn’t working in your life. Break unhealthy habits and develop healthy ones. A little self-care goes a long way (Check out these TED Talks on the importance of self-care)
Build your tribe. We tend to be like the people we surround ourselves with. Bring people into your life that reflect your best self and will support who you want to be.
Make time for mindfulness. Introduce a few mindful living techniques into your daily routine. Develop strategies that stop negative thoughts from taking over and learn how to refocus your energies on positive thoughts that move you forward.
Take control. You are not a passive observer in your life. You may not be able to control every event and person in your life but you can control how you respond. It is this response, not the event or person, which determines the outcome.
Don’t kid yourself into believing that you can simply wake up on May 15th and magically have the ability to push through the next ten weeks. In order for your brain to function at its best, you’ve got to be mentally and emotionally strong. This requires planning and preparation. Professor Dumbledore is right: “It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”Make the choice now to be your best self.