How to Handle Bar Prep Stress

“Why do things have to be so hard?”

Maybe right now you’re feeling like the future is uncertain and you’re stressed and you’re screaming on the inside and blah blah blah.

Rule 1: Bar prep sucks.

Rule 2: You’ll have to deal with even worse things if you pass the bar.

Picky clients, taking on legal responsibility for everything, unlimited vacation days that never actually happen because of billables that everyone hates, etc. I’m about to faint just thinking about this.

Tired of learning? You’re going to become a professional learner and problem solver. The bar exam doesn’t test a lot of relevant skills, but it does test your ability to learn and work with different things.

Wow! Thank you for pointing out our harsh reality. Give me back my dreams and excitement right now.

But I’m not saying this to paint a grim future. You could be “stuck,” but you don’t have to feel stuck.

Most of your stress comes from “thought hell.” Your thoughts become your own enemy.

A friend sent me this anecdote:

Someone asked himself how to handle life. The flat gave him all the answers:

Roof said: Aim high.
Fan said: Be cool.
Clock said: Value time.
Calendar said: Be up to date.
Wallet said: Save now for the future.
Mirror said: Always observe yourself.
Lamps said: Light up other’s life.
Wall said: Share others’ load.
Bed said: Take a rest and dream.
Window said: Expand your vision.
Floor said: Always be down to earth.
Stairs said: Watch each step you take.

Toilet bowl said: When it’s time to let go, just let it go…

So how do you handle the uncertainty and stress of bar prep?

Basically, surrender and let go of your shit. If you’re feeling bummed about this whole ordeal, see if you’re constipated by certain expectations and should’s…

See if you can let go of them… because you actually can.

Your fear is temporary. Even your excitement of passing will be temporary. Humans are fickle. Humans are adaptable also. You can shift how you think and change how you feel.

Why not surrender to the situation? Hardship will happen to you. Expect it. In fact, lean into it.

Embrace the suck.

Tell yourself you want this challenge. It’s exactly what you ordered. If you’re going through hell, you might as well enjoy it. [Click to tweet]

It’s not torture. It’s an experience. It’s a challenge. No pressure, no diamond.

Understanding abstract law, practicing, and self-critiquing are supposed to be challenging; that’s where improvements come from. Relish in the opportunity and time you’re given.

Is this delusion? Only if you think it is.

James Bond loves to do things the hard way. He invites it. He welcomes it.

The more you resist the pain inside you, the more you’re going to feel it. Avoiding, procrastinating, agonizing about your struggling is a form of struggling.

There’s a phenomenon that happens after the bar: People don’t know what to do with their free time anymore. Over time, they developed a new habit of packing their time with bar studies.

Maybe you’re resisting and questioning your life right now. The resistance comes from wants.

But most wants are malleable. If we learn to step away from certain habitual desires (like sugar, coffee, alcohol, TV shows), we may begin to see that we didn’t really need them after all. Then the new habit is formed. You stop expecting the pleasure that used to be a habit (that may not have even served to your benefit).

We can direct our mind to serve us instead of the other way around. We can pick our battles instead of always submitting to our mind as if it were a crying baby who needs to be placated.

Old expectation: “It should work the first time! It should work my way! It should be easier than this!”

New expectation: Damn, chill.

“Frustration is the product of a demanding mind. . . . Instead of should-ing all over yourself, learn to practice patience.”

Go slow to go fast. What if you were motivated instead by curiosity and the process of learning? (Idea credit to Seth Godin) If you’re less hung up on how little you can get away with doing, or whether it’ll be on the test (caring about predictions), one day you may realize you already surpassed your goal.

Old expectation: “I want to hang out with my friends and take multiple days off at a time. I’m tired. I deserve this. I have a life!”

New expectation: “I’ve committed to this. Now’s the time to do my best and see what comes of it. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’ll get used to it. There’s plenty of time for relaxing after this important time in my life.”

Old expectation: “I want to pass so that people don’t judge me. I need to make my friends and family proud and show everyone that I can be successful.”

New expectation: Passing is inevitable if you learn the exam (as well as learn the law) and get incrementally better.

Also, this isn’t the only way to find success. I know multiple people who either left the law or didn’t even start their career (after passing), and they’re as happy as can be. No one is judging them. In fact, I admire them.

Old expectation: “This is the most I’ve ever studied in my life, so I should pass.”

New expectation: There’s some but not a perfect correlation between whether you pass and how hard you worked. But you can maximize your chances.


1) Do your best to prepare (now). Most of the work is done up front. Hard work and smart work. ← This is your current focus.

Hard work isn’t the same as hardship. It’s OK to have to work hard, even if you don’t see the results right away.

But your mind can make or break you at the critical time even if you’re well prepared. So take a lesson from what high-pressure performers do (competitive athletes and such)…

Once you get on the hot seat, do this to forget the pressure and stop yourself from choking:

2) During the exam, detach yourself from the end result (will I pass or fail).

Plenty of time to drive yourself crazy with worrying afterward. You could literally study for a bar exam during that waiting period.

Focus on doing your best with each in that moment. Enjoy the challenge. If your best preparation ends up not being enough anyway, what’s the point of worrying?

So, to do part 2, you need part 1 above. Preparation earns you the right and the ability to “enjoy the hunt.”

mentality during the bar exam vs. anxiety

“Who … is the invincible human being? One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice.”—Epictetus

If you choose to surrender to the situation instead of being trapped in your thought hell…

If you wake up each morning and tell yourself that you know it’s going to be a challenging day and that that’s to be expected, you may start to realize…

Maybe it’s not that bad.

If you feel stuck in a cycle of stress, overwhelm, anxiety, it is possible to change all that if you’re willing and able to teach yourself new beliefs and perspectives. For more help with this, check out my quick-bite program on handling the various mental and emotional challenges of bar prep—Mental Engines.

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