31 May Exam Stress – living in the now
Exam season is well and truly upon us now, with both GCSEs and A levels taking place for my children. I’ve been really impressed by their dedication to preparing for exams, as well as their calm approach. Whilst I keep hearing from others how stressed out their youngsters are, or what a stressed atmosphere there seems to be in the household, I can honestly report that, apart from the odd moment, things here a pretty calm.
So I’ve been reflecting on what makes the difference, and observing in those moments of stress, what is going on. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
Working for, and taking an exam, is a lot easier if you are just focused on what you are doing right now.
If you can give your full attention to the revision you’re doing, or the questions in front of you in the exam, with a clear mind, you give yourself the best chance of success. If instead, you are using part of your mind to think about: what will happen if you can’t remember this stuff when you get into the exam; what happened last time; what will happen if you don’t get the grades you want; etc., etc., then the amount of brain space left for the task in hand is radically reduced! The horrible outcomes you are imagining then become that much more likely!
There’s a lot of nonsense and hype around major exams.
It’s so easy for youngsters to buy into the hype surrounding performance – the feeling that everything hangs on getting these grades (for example to get into university) and that if they don’t, their whole life will be in tatters. It simply isn’t true. There are always other options, possibilities, and ways of embarking on a career – even if it’s a different one from the one you first envisaged. Having a fixed idea of the ONLY way that you can feel happy and successful is not only unhelpful, but it’s just not how life works. Often chance happenings, and unexpected opportunities open up when our best laid plans fail to materialise.
Planning for the future only works up to a point!
When we spend time focusing on the future with negative ‘what ifs’, there is always a factor that we fail to include in our scenario-building. It’s the ability we have to access new and helpful thinking in every moment, to take advantage of ‘unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way’ (William Hutchinson Murray). Whilst we are stuck with one version of the future, we preclude so many other, better versions.
Our version of the future (perhaps one where we fail to get the grades we want) can seem extremely real. We have the best special effects department in the world in side our heads, and what it creates can be really impressive. Just like watching a feature length movie, the scenarios we create and play out for ourselves can seem so real, that we even experience the feelings that go with them – anxiety, stress, self-doubt. But none of this is real. That future is nothing but a figment of our imagination, and cannot make us feel anything. Our feelings are entirely created by our dodgy thinking right now. The future will take care of itself, when it becomes the present moment. Because in the present moment, I can draw on all the resources I have to deal with the situation I’m in. When a situation is just made up in our imagination, of course we can’t deal with it – it’s not even real!
That’s not to say that revision isn’t a good idea, and that being prepared isn’t extremely worthwhile! Do what you can do, and then let the cards fall where they may – your inner guidance system will take care of the rest.