Once you receive your bar exam scores, your first inclination is probably to pour over your numbers, comparing MBEs and reading essays. But even after analyzing weaknesses, many continue to study their bar exam stores, reading essays over and over, obsessing over missed points. Although this may seem helpful right now, obsessing over numbers can actually hurt more than help, as it may keep you from dealing with the elephant in the room – your feelings about not passing the bar exam.

Turning toward your feelings right now is probably not at the top of your list of things to do. But instead of obsessing over your bar exam scores, you can use this time to learn a new way of processing your emotions using mindfulness. Learning to process these emotions now can strengthen your confidence by increasing your capacity to deal with mental struggles, giving you an edge the next time you sit for the bar exam.

Here are the three steps to incorporate mindfulness, allowing you to stop obsessing over your bar exam scores now, and start processing your emotions:

1. Notice Your State

The first step to cultivating mindfulness is to simply notice what is happening by scanning your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations, and naming what is happening. For example, scanning right now I notice tightness in my chest and a feeling of general angst that I did not notice before. When I look deeper, I notice that my angst comes from worrying about what people will think of this blog post. If you scan your thoughts, emotions and body sensations right now, what do you notice?

When we do not take the time to notice what is happening, we can get stuck in thought spins and body tension patterns without being conscious of how those patterns are affecting us.

2. Let Go in Your Body and Breathe

Now that you have taken stock of what is happening in your thoughts, body, and emotions, the next step is to let go in your body. Now that I realized that my chest is tight, I also realize that I’m breathing very shallowly and clenching my jaw. Knowing that, I can take a deep breath and let go of the tension that I’m holding in my chest and jaw.

This may seem very simple, but it is actually very powerful. Many of our internal organs, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, liver, and digestive track are surrounded by nerves that send information to the brain. If we are holding tension around any of these organs, this can send the wrong message to the brain, actually worsening negative thoughts and emotions.

3. Non-Judgmentally Allow the Emotion

Now, identify the strongest underlying emotion, separate from the thought patterns, and name it. Is it sadness? Anger? Frustration? The next step is to name and allow the emotion, positive or negative, without fighting it, judging yourself or analyzing it. Many times, it’s not the emotion that generates the most pain, it is how we try to avoid the emotion, over analyze it, or judge ourselves for it.

For example, when I noticed that I felt angst about writing this blog post, my first inclination was to decide that I should not be feeling it right now and get mad at myself for my feelings, forcing myself to work harder. If you are obsessing about your bar exam scores, chances are that you are potentially trying to avoid an emotion, or trying to find ammo to judge yourself. This just makes it worse.

Instead, the third step is to simply let the negative emotion be, just as it is. Be compassionate with yourself. If a small child came to you feeling sad or scared after failing a test, how would you treat that child? Treat yourself the same way.
Even the strongest and most powerful emotions, like those that may come with not passing the bar exam, will pass on their own. The more you analyze or judge emotions like sadness and anger, the longer they will linger.

Learning to be with your emotions will give you confidence that you can handle difficult times. When you can recognize an emotional state, create space and be present with it, you actually increase your capacity to handle anything that happens now, or in the future. The capacity to do so is the practice and the beauty of mindfulness. So put down that bar exam scores, stop obsessing about the MBE’s, take a deep breath, and remind yourself: this too will pass.

Lauren Firestein is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course, an innovative course that focuses only on the mental challenges of the bar exam. The course teaches in-the-moment practices you can use to deal with any mental challenge and rock the bar exam.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes. Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
– Rumi