Today we are honored to have Dr. Hank Weisinger returning to talk about the pressure of law school. Dr. Weisinger is trained in clinical, counseling, and organizational psychology, is a New York Times Best Selling Author, and is the author of Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. Welcome!
Last week we talked about how to handle pressure leading up to the big exam. Today, Dr. Weisinger is giving us tips on how to handle pressure right before the exam.
The Night Before
Even with a pressure-less mindset, feelings of pressure begin to creep back into your mind the night before your exam in the form of fear of failure and disappointing others. You can defend yourself with these two maneuvers:
- Affirm your self-worth. Depression is rampant in law schools. I’d say a major reason is because many students define their self-worth based on how they perform. Thus, a subpar or even average performance plummets their self-esteem. Acknowledging the experience, skills, and other positive qualities you possess the night before is an effective way to buffer yourself from the pressure you are about to face because it helps you realize that your identity is not tied solely to the work at hand. In fact, you’d be smart to do this everyday.
- Write out your feelings. Worrying about what can go wrong before an exam or worrying about your results during the exam diminishes processing power in your working memory capacity. Located in the prefrontal cortex, WMC allows you to keep in mind the information you will need in your pressure moment. Writing out your worries or concerns the night before your pressure moment makes it less likely that these thoughts will intrude on your WMC by surfacing during your pressure moment and distracting you from the task at hand or cause you to blank when you need to recall a piece of information. Expressing your concerns in writing also allows you insight into the sources of your pressure. These insights allow you to reexamine and reappraise the situation in a way that decreases pressure. In effect, you will have written pressure off!
You don’t have to be pregnant to have morning sickness before your 9 A.M. exam; it’s common for both sexes. Most likely, you feel the familiar butterflies and your thoughts are racy. Your defense strategy here is to do more than stay calm; you need to take advantage of the evidence that shows’ putting yourself into a confident positive mood enhances your memory and creativity. Do this by using these positive mood-stimulating actions:
- Walk like a Champ. An early man who stood up straight compared to others was perceived as more powerful and thus, more likely to rule, so it is not a coincidence that champs,” be it on a political debate, or walking the 18th at Pebble Beach, stand up straight and expand their chest (and this helps them regulate their breathing). It’s not surprising that current neuroscience research attests to the fact that when you stand up straight, your brain increases testosterone, a hormone that makes you feel bold and often increases your ability to perform under pressure. Studies show that just a few minutes of “confident posturing” will stimulate feelings of confidence and lead to better performance. When you get out of bed, chant like Jerry McGuire: “I love getting up in the morning,” and assume a confident posture all the way to the exam room.
- Smile. Many studies confirm the fact that smiling increases your feelings of enthusiasm and promotes a positive attitude. Smile when you drink your first cup of coffee, smile as you are eating a protein bar, smile as you are walking to the exam, and smile when you see the first question!
“I’ve done it before.”
If you are in law school, you’ve been a successful test taker. Remembering your past successes ignites your confidence —you did it before and you can do it again. The more frequently these successful experiences are thought of, the more they are embedded in your brain and the more likely they are to resurface in the current experience. Before your exam or any pressure moment, flashback on a success in a similar experience so that you can stimulate the same type of feelings
More about Dr. Weisinger
Hank Weisinger, Ph.D. is trained in clinical, counseling, and organizational psychology. He is the author of several successful books, including the New York Times Bestseller, Nobody’s Perfect, and the senior author of the recent New York Times Bestseller, Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most (Crown, 2015).
He has consulted and conducted workshops to dozens of Fortune 500 Companies, government agencies, taught in numerous business school executive education programs and executive MBA programs, including Wharton, UCLA, Cornell, NYU, Penn State, and Columbia.
Dr. Weisinger has appeared on over 500 television and radio shows, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, Oprah, ESPN, and NPR. He is currently working on Helping Your Kids Handle Pressure: Giving Your Sons & Daughters Life’s Ultimate Edge, soon to be an online course. You can sign up for the online version of Performing Under Pressure here.
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Other helpful law school tips:
- Caution Law Student Under Pressure! Handling Law School Stress
- Defending Yourself Against Law School Pressure: Leading Up to the Exam
- Podcast Episode 29: Handling Pressure in Law School (Guest Dr. Hank Weisinger)
- All The Supplies You Need to Start Law School Right
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