I find it interesting when in a normal and ordinary day, something happens and puts the puzzle pieces together
For the last week I’ve been in a very long and boring training, which killed many of my neurons. In a few weeks the pain will reach its peak when I will have to do a 4 hours exam. (For my fellow colleagues from testing, I’m talking about ISTQB – Advanced Test Manager. I’m getting bored only writing this name, but it’s something that IT companies are desperately looking for this in CVs…No further comments on this…).
So, at the end of the training, after doing a batch of sample questions, we were all confused and demoralized. For us, the only thought that passed our minds was: we are going to fail this exam… Our mind is trying to retrieve some information from the 400+ pages that we’ve covered in the 5 days marathon training but the only result returned is: “Error 404! Not found.”
The trainer (a very cynical guy from London, with an acute British humor) is trying to cheer us by giving us some suggestions and tips for the exam:
“When you go to the exam, don’t think that you are going to fail, because if you do so, you may already have failed it. And more, try and force yourself to smile and keep the positive attitude during the exam.
Also, based on my experience as a trainer and student, observing and taking a lot of exams, I noticed that if you are more relaxed you can focus better. So, during the exam, take a few minutes break, take some deep breaths, close your eyes for a moment and then return to your paper calmer and more focused.”
In that moment, my wheels start spinning, putting the puzzle pieces together.. This was the moment when I made the connection with some of the talks that I’ve listen few days ago and I could make a connection with what the experts were saying and the day-to-day life.
So, let’s break it down as we can identify here some key concepts that can help you go through an exam or a stressful situation:
- Affirmation – Self-affirmations are short, positive statements that have the purpose to affect the conscious and subconscious mind to help you to develop a more positive perception of yourself. They become thoughts that create your reality. Affirmations can help you undo the damage caused by negative thoughts which we repeatedly tell ourselves that contribute to a negative self-perception. So when you go to the exam or to a job interview or to whatever is critical for you, say to yourself: “I can do this! I can pass the exam/job interview. It is easy and simple to achieve this.”
- Thoughts vs actions – Our brain is constantly making meaning, assigning value and rationalizing our behaviors. If we are sad and we force a smile and laugh, the brain says “Hmmm I am smiling. I must be happy.” It then creates the feelings of happiness. This is much faster and more predictable than thinking happy thoughts.
- Fight or flight mode – Your body has only 2 ways to function: “fight or flight” controlled by parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and “rest and digest” controlled by sympathetic nervous system (SNS). You can’t be in a partially “fight or flight” mode and “rest and digest mode”. It’s 1 or 0, on and off, there is no middle way. When your brain perceive a danger, it switches your body automatically and immediately on the “fight or flight” mode and a lot of chemical reaction are triggered. Beside all the hormones released into your blood flow, like adrenaline and cortisol, all the processes not critical for survival are shut down, your blood flow is redirected from your brain to your extremities and muscles so you can fight or flee. Your IQ goes down, you make bad decisions and can’t focus. You are now guided by instincts, instincts of survival not of deep, meaningful thinking. Your brain doesn’t know if the threat it is perceiving is a lion that is chasing you or your fear of the exam. By trying to relax, doing few deep belly breaths maybe keeping your eyes closed, you activate back your sympathetic nervous system or the rest and digest system and the blood flow can go back to your brain and stomach.
You may think what I’m saying above is trivial and logical, or completely nonsense but it surprised me when I heard the same thing from 2 different type of sources: one based on purely observation over years of working with people in stressful situation, without any scientific knowledge or background and one based on scientific studies from people which are studying this for a living.
Next time when you are in a stressful situation like an exam, job interview or whatever life brings to you, try and practice the 3 advises that I just mentioned:
- Do positive affirmations before the exam/interview and have a positive thinking towards that event
- Try to smile as much as you can during the exam/interview
- And take deep, long breaths during the exam/interview so you can relax and activate back the SNS, and sharpen your thinking.
And for sure you will see improvements. Of course you will not pass the exam doing all of this but without some study… unless you have some super-powers.
Until next time, think happy thoughts!
P.S: This is my first blog, so be gentle with me. I’m coming from a technical background, so words are not my strongest quality… yet. But I will become better at this, I promise (practicing affirmations here)!