John Cowan - A Procrastinators Guide To Exams

Publish Date
Friday, 11 November 2016, 11:34AM
By John Cowan

Traitors lurk in the basement of my brain.  My subconscious is supposed to be on my side but honestly, there are bits of me down there in my sub-cortex that work against me all the time. Ancient insecurities and primitive fears that steal my enthusiasm and confidence.  Whenever I had to study for an exam, these self-limiting saboteurs would start spreading lies and propaganda. “You will never pass. It doesn’t matter how hard you try you are not good enough. You hate this subject. You slacked around all year and now it is too late. If you try hard and fail, then everyone will know you are dumb, but if you don’t try and then fail, you can always just say that you didn’t care.” A chorus of self-defeating insults droned on and on. It made study an agony. And sometimes those thoughts won. Sometimes they would paralyse me with deadening inertia until it was literally too late to cram enough to pass.  

When you find your child watching cat videos and Fail Army on YouTube instead of studying, maybe they have the same energy-sapping monologue going on in their brain as well. How do you clear that log-jam of self-doubts? Here’s a few little coaching messages you might be able to get across to your frozen student.

  1. You can do anything for fifteen minutes. Start, set a timer, then have a stretch. Then try another fifteen minutes, and another. It works.
  2. It is very normal to not really enjoy exams – they are hard and studying is not always fun. But success in adult life is about doing the hard thing. Tell yourself – it’s only work, it’s only boredom. I can cope for a while.
  3. Be honest with yourself. Am I studying or am I mucking around? Procrastinators are master self-deceivers. 
  4. You might have five good excuses for why you are not studying – you have a cold, you’re tired, the TV is too loud in the lounge, the budgie needs exercising, and so on. Sympathise with yourself, give yourself a hug and study.
  5. You are more than smart enough. Passing doesn’t need smarts, it needs work.

Failing is not lethal. If you miss, it’ll sting, and it’s a step backwards, but it’s not the end of the world. So do not despair. And since you’re no longer panicking and despairing, you might as well do a bit more study.

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