Have you ever found yourself caught up in anxious thoughts, getting distracted by 'what ifs' and your inner voice chipping away at your confidence? Are you worried about exams (or anything else) and know you need to find your focus again, to be able to achieve the outcomes you want?
Then this post is worth 3 minutes of your time to read. I offer some tips and observations in response to what people say is most likely to cause them difficulty.
Exam prep is well under way in our house with lots of focus on studying: covering all the subjects, learning approaches to help memorise facts, figures, and formulas. Equally important - in my opinion - is the mental preparation.... building the mind-set for success by being able to stay calm and focused even when under pressure.
Here are four steps to help, with more detailed explanations below.
Pause. When you feel anxious, uptight, mind racing, or any of the things that show you're affected by pressure or stress, stop what you're doing and take a step back.
Notice where your attention is going. If you are thinking about not wanting to let people down, "what if I fail?", "I'll never remember all this", "this is boring", then simply acknowledge that and how you're experiencing it just now, without judgement or telling yourself off. You might have a mental image, or imagine sounds, or physical feelings and emotions. This is natural and we're wired to respond to what our subconscious perceives as a threat. When we understand this, and acknowledge it, we then have a choice in what to do about it.
Breathe. When we are having these natural reactions to pressure and anxiety, all sorts of things can happen that are not helpful when we really need to use our brain for thinking, for example in exams or while studying. We might notice our heart rate has gone up, breathing is shallow and faster, we may start to sweat, or have cold hands.
The first thing to do to ease this is take a deep breath. Notice how the cool, clean air feels as you breathe in through your nostrils, all the way in...... and the warm air as you release a relaxing breath. As you focus on your breathing, notice how your body softens, and the tension starts to drift away. Ideally doing this for at least 2-3 minutes, regularly, will make the biggest difference - a video will be posted soon to guide you through it.
And if you find it a challenge to be still, moving around can help. Go for a walk, run, dance, do exercise of any kind that suits your fitness level. The main thing is to change state from anxious to calm and focused.
Focus. Now you've cleared some head-space you can choose what you want to focus on, in line with the outcomes you want. And your brain has more capacity for thinking, now that you have more oxygen and less stress hormones running around!
If you allow your mind to wander onto worries and problems, you are more likely to end up with those things happening.
So instead, vividly imagine success as if it's already happening, for example....
Reading your exam results, and you've got all the grades you wanted
Feeling the amazing sense of achievement and pride
Knowing you have done everything you possibly can, and it's worked!
Imagining your parents' reaction when you tell them
Celebrating with your friends
Planning your next steps with uni, college, or work
Hearing your favourite feel-good song
You get the idea, and I'm sure you can think of examples of your own. In fact, I recommend making a point of developing a whole load of positive outcomes like this - the ones that work best for you! Here are easy ways to remember:
Focus on what you WANT, not what you don't want
What you focus on, you get more of
And remember, this doesn't replace the need for study, it helps to enhance the results of your efforts. So now you have a way to find calm and focus, you're all set!
One final point, and sorry if I sound like an old nag here. Your phone is a distraction, so if you want to stay focused, put it away in another room. Our brains love the reward of a notification, and actually flood our system with happy chemicals so we are drawn to pick it up and take a look when we hear a ping or a buzz. And hey presto, we've ditched the studying and found something that [ONLY IN THE SHORT TERM] feels much nicer to immerse ourselves in. You will be doing your friends a favour too if you limit how much you go online, and maybe could use this as a reward, say after a couple of hours of studying?
It's up to you, and these techniques work. All the best with these next few weeks - it's so worth it.
If you have any questions or would like to explore working one-to-one with me (think about it like a mindset tutor! :-) ) I'd love you to get in touch.
“Finding other methods to deal with what I feared in life, and how I perceived my own story, was now my new mission. First, I looked around at my life and worked out what needed to go. I had built up beliefs about myself, about others around me and about how the world worked that weren’t conducive to a healthy mental state long-term. This needed to change.” ~ Fearne Cotton