“I’m so unmotivated to study for the bar exam”

Feeling unmotivated to study for the bar exam? 

There’s a lot of talk about motivation around this time of bar season.

"How to bring back motivation?

I’m a retaker. I was doing pretty well score wise the last couple of weeks and felt generally decent. But this past week has me mentally exhausted and unmotivated. I can barely bring myself to do any meaningful study.

I know I can’t let this continue. It’s crunch time for God’s sake! How the hell do I bring back my motivation??"
"Failed simulated exam and feeling unmotivated

I'm a mess. I started off very optimistic but I'm just nervous and scared now. I've done all of the MBE subjects and 3 MEE subjects (I still have family law, corporations, agency and conflicts of law left). I scored a 79/200 on Barbri's simulated MBE and I'm just scared that I won't have time to practice. Has anyone failed the simulated exam but still managed to pass the bar? Do you have any advice? I'm sobbing."
"Seeking Motivation

I know this may be a little too soon into the process of preparing for the February Bar Exam, but how do you seek motivation? I know I’m supposed to study, but I just can’t seem to get through my tasks. I don’t know how more to get into the psyche of “I need to study because I want to pass” but I’m really struggling to motivate myself to put myself through the process. Any tips?"

Let’s first distinguish being unmotivated from being mentally exhausted.

If you’re TIRED, don’t accumulate exhaustion and enter a downward spiral. Stop at a reasonable point. Take an early day off. Reset your mind. Go the f🌕k to sleep.

Passive activities like watching (or rewatching) lectures, transcribing notes, or “reading” for hours also can be DRAINING if that’s all you do. Thinking about doing it is more exhausting than actually doing it. Don’t autopilot on default to avoid doing what helps you learn. Be more methodical and deliberate.

This is pretty boring stuff! It’s normal if you just can’t or don’t want to study right now. But this feeling will pass if you break eye contact with bar prep for a while. Your energy is at least as important as time, as we’ll talk about in the next email.

If you have the energy but still aren’t feeling motivated, that’s a separate issue. Being able to self-motivate is key. Otherwise, you might wait for a long time for things that make you say “I needed this today!” and do nothing about it.

Here are some strategies to fix the “unmotivated” issue:

1) Create momentum.

I find that motivation isn’t something to wait for because you could be waiting for a long time. 

Solution: Instead, if I just do the first step and stick to it for just a couple minutes, I gain MOMENTUM to continue, no longer needing the “motivation.”

“So basically ‘just do it’? Isn’t the problem that I can’t do it in the first place?”

Maybe you haven’t warmed up. It’s much easier to “just do” one micro-step than get overwhelmed by the whole task. Sometimes the first step is as simple as getting out of your chair so you can do that first jumping jack. (How’s that new year’s resolution coming along?)

The more you move, the easier it is to keep moving. Maintain the momentum. Studies show that we get more motivated when we see progress.

The opposite is also true: An object at rest stays at rest. Staring at videos or books for hours also keeps you at rest.

Understand and memorize one rule. Leave an MBE question open on your desk overnight as a cliffhanger so you can “close the loop” the next morning. There are many ways to coax yourself into DOING it.

2) Have an emotionally compelling reason.

Motivation literally means a reason to act.

A reason to pass the bar exam is a push from behind. You may not want to study in this immediate moment, but at least you have a bigger vision. Your dream could be as shallow or as deep as the personal statement you wrote to get into law school. Your motivation is personal.

If you don’t have a reason… why are you even studying for it?

I don’t believe you don’t have any reason. There is a reason in there. Just a few examples from others like you:

What kept you motivated during this prep process?

Solution: Remind yourself of your reason to pass the bar exam. Or uncover it. It’s in there somewhere.

3) Develop patience.

Snipers can stay awake for 72 hours at a time.

The bar exam happens twice a year. You prepare for months.

It’s the long game. You’re a sniper in training, getting into position and waiting for the moment that happens once every 6 months.

So when there’s a setback, bar takers get impatient. They feel they’re going to miss their one chance!

Our desire to get one good result after another causes us to start looking for shortcuts. We lose passion and lose sight of our motive. We become impatient.

Solution: Play the long game. Don’t try to be ready before you’re ready. You may feel set back by one bad result (or even many bad results), but each defeat is fodder for your next victory. Look at the horizon ahead, not the rough waters you’re on now.

Some bar takers get frustrated at hitting 50-60% MBE questions correctly. I get it. They’re not as on track as they thought. The anxiety!

You know what? It’s also anxiety-inducing to be hitting 70-80% weeks away from the bar exam because now they feel like they have to keep that up until the exam. Any slippage becomes a reason to worry.

Be patient. Things tend to converge to certainty over time.

The point isn’t to win while training. It’s to win while in the ring. Remember what I said about warming up and creating momentum? Performing isn’t the point of warmup either. Use the first few attempts to get in the mode. As I say in my Mental Engines course, go slow to go fast.

4) Procrastination isn’t entirely a problem with motivation. You also need to get clear on what to do.

You may have a clarity problem, not a motivation problem.

If you’re juggling a bunch of tasks in your head, you don’t know which one to tackle, so you don’t do anything.

Solution: Get clear on your tasks. 

This is just one example: Plan ahead by writing down everything you need to do + prioritizing what you need to do each week or day. 

At work, I do this on a Word document with statuses and notes for all my cases + a handwritten post-it note for the week that I can cross off or annotate as I go. 

Make it simple. Complicated apps and systems can reduce clarity.

You can do this with a calendar schedule or a table. Make your own, or get inspired by the several examples and samples in Passer’s Playbook 2.0. Here’s a sample three-week “scramble” schedule that assumes you’ve been studying and putting in the time already and want to consolidate:

Bar exam study schedule sample for 3 weeks
Essay Cooking is a technique for doubling your essay practice.

Bottom line, organize your tasks so you’re not overwhelmed and lost.

5) Accountability

I hate this one because it works so well. Sometimes we need good-old peer pressure because we’re not gonna listen to ourselves!

Solution: To create accountability, set stakes. Typically this is social or financial.

For example, your friend will post an embarrassing picture of you, or you have to pay your friend $50, for each week you don’t practice a PT (remember those?). Better yet, make it escrow so you don’t back out. Post this commitment publicly so you have some social pressure.

(Nothing more embarrassing than being seen as someone who doesn’t follow through, like the client who ghosted me when payment was due after stretching out his payment plan for OVER A YEAR after passing the bar, reassuring me about how it was 100 PERCENT going to be done, telling me not to WORRY since he was getting a large windfall, and saying how he was a man of INTEGRITY, how he used to be in debt collection and KNOWS how it FEELS to be on the other side, how this was ALWAYS on his mind, how he wanted to stay FRIENDS, and—

Whew, I’m ok… I’m sure he got in a meteor accident or something. But seriously, I’d be so embarrassed to be that kind of person.)

I cover this strategy in more detail, including how to set the stake and how NOT to set the stake, in the advanced Module 7 of Mental Engines.

To cure being unmotivated to study for the bar exam…

First, make sure you’re not just tired or doing too many draining activities like merely consuming.

Then try looking for a combination of these things to get you to do what needs to be done:

  1. Momentum
  2. Emotionally compelling reason
  3. Patience
  4. Clarity
  5. Accountability

I’ve given you 5 proven ways to get your bar studies going when you don’t feel motivated. I’d love to know which of these strategies you’ll try out to boost your motivation!

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