How to Gain Motivation Studying for the Bar Exam

You’ve seen all the euphoria from people who passed the bar exam.

You’re probably “inspired” and “motivated” when you look at bar exam success stories and accounts of people who excitedly announce they passed the bar exam.

When that happens, we say things like “if they can do it, so can I” (true). Or “I needed this today.”

Today?

That’s some “new year, new me” type energy. I’m not letting you off the hook like that.

Anyone can desire to pass the bar. Anyone can fixate on the goal and SAY they want it.

These are people who come to me desperate and lost… get “inspired” or gain “perspective”… and then return to the same old cycle looking for hits of relief.

What’s your motivation for taking the bar exam?

To begin with, what’s your reason for wanting to pass this exam?

You actually don’t have to take this exam, you know? (Should I even be telling you this?) I accidentally convinced someone to not take the bar exam again.

But YOU want to pass the exam, right? Why?

Prestige? To support your family? To wear a nice suit? To make award speeches on social media? Because you’re supposed to? Because you went to law school and think you have no other choice?

This is your “motivation.” Motivation literally just means a reason to act.

But “I want to pass the bar exam” is a heavy statement that requires commitment and thousands of actions in preparation.

Being calm, collected, and confident on the bar exam is based on decisions and actions you make well ahead of time. This is part of “preparation.” You could try to conjure up “confidence” at the last moment, but all bets are off when it’s game time and the cards are on the table.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Look, you often won’t feel confident. That’s normal. Expect that. Don’t get misled by the allure of being confident on the bar exam. That’s not the point.

If you want someone to comfort you and give you cookies, visit your grandma. You want to be barred like those people? You want to know how exquisite that feeling is?

Then don’t waste your time chasing after confidence. Chase after competence.

Then maybe you’ll find yourself feeling pretty confident of your answers on the exam (and they’ll actually be right). 

The point here isn’t to feel confident right now. The point is to pass the bar. There’s your motivation right there.

Sounds real neato… How do you keep this going?

Maintaining your motivation during bar prep

Whether you’re just getting started on preparing for the bar exam for the first time, or whether you’re retaking the exam once again, I want you to keep it up and not run out of steam during your bar preparation.

But motivation is not sustainable by itself. This is a marathon. What can we do about that?

1. Use your fleeting motivation to create momentum

Feeling comes after doing.

Motivation is a byproduct of what you do, not the other way around. If you wait for motivation to drop from the sky, you’re going to be staring at the cloud for a while. Instead, develop momentum by doing something consistently.

The more you move, the easier it is to keep moving. Maintain the momentum.

I’m more likely to keep going to the gym if I keep going to the gym. I’m more likely to regret it if I keep skipping “just this time.”

Studies show that we get more motivated when we see progress.

The opposite is also true: An object at rest stays at rest.

It’s kind of a catch-22, isn’t it? You have no need for motivation by the time you’re doing what you need it for.

That’s why you make use of small actions that don’t require motivation. And if you happen to stumble upon external motivation, strike while the iron’s hot. Ride the wave.

"Momentum. That's a brilliant way to put it. 

Right before reading your email, I was feeling curious why I was feeling better (and even excited) after an hour of Remedies study, when I felt absolutely terrible when I woke up today & the last thing I wanted to do was bar prep. 

Momentum it is. That's a relieving and hopeful word. If I can bring myself to start studying, the momentum will carry me and get me excited."
Click to embiggen

2. Create the identity you want.

Motivation can come from your self-identity. If you tell yourself “I’m someone who studies every day” or “I’m someone who goes to the gym every other day,” you’re more likely to live up to it.

When I anticipate that my motivation might waver later, one trick I use is to put on my gym clothes. Then, sure enough, I go later. The uniform is your identity.

Create an identity, or an avatar, that serves you. What story can you tell yourself that you are, for example, someone who is serious about preparing for the bar exam?

More importantly, what can you do to make that story come to life? Remember that feelings follow action.

3. Enjoy the process.

I used to be really into this one puzzle-platformer video game.

It’s hard! You’re expected to fail a lot. I died hundreds of times each level. But the game showed me this:

"The more you die, the more you're learning. Keep going!"
“The more you die, the more you’re learning.”

When I got stuck at an impossible-looking screen and was tempted to give up, I managed to get better from trial and error and eventually make progress.

Video games may be more fun than bar prep, but you can also make the bar exam fun with a sense of progress built in.

People are simple. We work hard for good outcomes.

The more you die, and the more plants that die under your care, the more you’re learning.

The best way to make this happen?

Enjoy the process.

You could power through bar prep by hating your life, but that’s less sustainable than having momentum on your side.

If it’s not fun, you can just enjoy not having fun!

How am I able to send emails to my subscribers and write blog articles, consistently, year in and year out?

(Not to mention coordinating with bar supplement companies, constantly updating my products, and working a full-time attorney job.)

I explained to a friend that time spent doesn’t matter if it’s your passion. Staying up at 2 AM working on MTYLT hits differently and is in fact energizing, compared to trying to draft a patent application at 2 AM.

This is why I encourage bar takers to enjoy the prep process because it’s much easier to remember things if you’re having fun. It may be difficult, but you don’t have to suffer.

"You're so on the money in your explanation to your friend-I concur. I was up until 2am when I was learning to put a website together and didn't even feel the time.  Thank you for the reminder on mindset in enjoying bar prep. I had, for a time, looked at it as a job, like your first job with all the grunt work. Now that I am truly in charge of my professional life, I am betting on bar prep being a different experience."

My repeat attempt at the bar exam was about trying different things and intentionally taking small steps to be prepared. I needed to figure out this bar thing. To do that, I needed to enjoy the process.

Granted, bar prep is pretty much the dryest activity in the world… How did I enjoy the process of bar prep?

✅ No more lectures. (Or as needed)

✅ No more filling in meticulous lecture notes until the sun went down.

✅ No more cookie-cutter plans.

✅ I took plenty of breaks.

✅ I tried different things to see what worked for me.

Bar exam preparation is about learning, not mere education. Insight, not just information. Retention, not mere exposure and familiarity. Understanding, not just memorizing.

These things are much easier to do if you enjoy the process.

When things started clicking because I was going through examples instead of theory, when I saw my scores go up, when I wasn’t dead tired from filling in the blanks…

These got me through the days and weeks. My parents said I looked much happier than my first attempt. I was even working part time on my second attempt.

Hard work doesn’t mean you have to suffer.

To reach your long-term goal of passing the bar exam, motivation must come from yourself. To do that, enjoy the process.

Here’s an example, from someone just like you:

Chelsy enjoying the process of bar exam prep

When you’re having “fun,” you’re enjoying the process itself, and the result is sure to come eventually.

She passed btw:

Chelsy passed the bar exam

What about Pralika, a repeating foreign lawyer?

Foreign lawyer/attorney enjoying the process of bar exam prep

Oh yeah, she passed, too:

Pralika passed the bar exam

And this passer?

"To say I was exhausted is an understatement. The only thing I knew was that I could not do what I did last time again. So, I did a lot of research. And that's how I found you. I bought resources based on recommendations I had found, and I went through them all so I could have a plan. I made a schedule, I read your emails, and I kept figuring out how I could pass based on my learning style. My drive for passing? I didn't think I could take it a third time, I didn't want to tell people I hadn't passed AGAIN, and I wanted to keep my job. Was I perfect the whole time? Absolutely not. I had to re-do my schedule multiple times. I got burned out. I was working full time and trying to learn my new job while studying. I had a health scare and had to re-focus on my own physical and mental wellbeing. Things felt exhausting and pointless a lot, but I also made time to enjoy the actual work. I made it into a game. Today, I learned that I passed the February 2024 Bar. I have been studying, waiting, or taking the bar since May of 2023. When I sat down for the bar this time, I felt calm. I had done the work and I had prepared as best as I could."

Do you see a pattern?

You’ve wished enough. You’ve expressed your desire enough.

Your desire to get one good result after another causes you to start looking for shortcuts. You become impatient.

So your action step for today is to find one thing you will try to make this process enjoyable and sustainable. Here are six visual ways to make bar prep more enjoyable.

I’d love to know what you’re going to do make bar prep enjoyable, so let me know down in the comments.

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24 Replies to “How to Gain Motivation Studying for the Bar Exam”

  1. I hate preparing for the bar. Each time I’ve studied for it, I’ve felt like I’ve been on a different planet, mentally, because it’s so exhausting. Therefore, I procrastinate, a lot. This email was what I needed. I will change my mental approach to enjoy the process.

  2. For me it is going to be my mindset as I approach this bar preparation. What resonated with me in this article/email is the statement is that Bar Exam preparation is about “Learning, Absorbing and Understanding.” To change my mindset to have this Learning, Absorbing and Understanding I will focus on doing just that, by not looking at how many Q’s I need to do in a certain amount of time, not placing undue pressure on myself to get X amount of work done in X amount of time, but stopping and really absorb and understand what I am doing. So, changing my mindset to not rush through just to clear checkboxes, etc. This will make the process enjoyable because it will be a load of pressure off me mentally which translates into stress.

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