A Letter to Law Students Studying for Finals (and anyone else stressed out)

Law School Finals Stress Cramming Antidote

Dear Friend,

To do extremely well on your finals, you might want to consider the inside — not just the outside.

The outside: cases, case notes, class notes.

The inside: your state of mind; your ability to focus, to persevere, to guide your thoughts, to remain calm and collected in the face of a challenging question.

Could you invest just 5 minutes today to meditate?  (such a practice, I argue, is better than 5 hours of studying).

Cramming and stressing out will severely inhibit your ability to THINK when faced with a challenging, open-ended question on the final.

Antidote: meditating and laughing.

Birds regurgitate; lawyers think.  To think, clear your mind.  To clear you mind, meditate; follow your breath, observe your thoughts (let them fly by like clouds).

 

You will do great and you already know too much,

Max

Meditating During Law School Finals

P.S. – try this 2 minute guided meditation with Rumi poetry for beginners (I love this entire YouTube series — “The Meditator” by Deepak Chopra).  If you go to snipmp3.com you can get the mp3 file and put it on your iPod!

Grades Don’t Matter. Just Do Your Best

Excellence

“Just do your best.” – Buddha’s last lesson 

Grades don’t matter.

“Get A’s” should never be your goal.

Instead, your goal should be: “do my best.”

The 1L Curve is mean — only a handful of the hundreds of bright, talented students in your section will get an A in any given class.  Past your 1L year, many professors are stingy with handing out A’s (this isn’t high school).

The Stoics (such as Marcus Aurelius) advised to set internal rather than external goals.

Thus, your goal in law school should not be to be #1 in the class or get a 4.0 (something external, over which you only have partial control).

Instead, your goal should be to study and perform to the best of your ability in every class (something internal, over which you have complete control).

StopCompetingWithOthers

By choosing the internal goal you will spare yourself the frustration or disappointment should you not achieve your external goal: Since it’s not your goal to be the best, you will not suffer the emotional turmoil as long as you do your best.

If you put in 50% effort and get an A-, you should feel ashamed.

If you put in 100% effort and get a C, you should feel proud.

GradesDontMatter1

Note: doing your best and being the best are actually causally connected; you’ll probably get higher grades if you’re only competing with yourself.

The wise Stoics realized that our internal goals affect our external performance, but they also realized that the goals we consciously set for ourselves can have a dramatic impact on our subsequent emotional state.

In particular, if we consciously set out to be #1 in the class as our goal, we arguably don’t increase our chances of being #1.  In fact, we might even hurt our chances: If it starts looking, early on, as though we are going to get lower grades than we hoped, we might become frustrated or burned out, and this might put us out of the race.

Further, by having our goal linked to an external event that may or may not happen (e.g. get all A’s!), we dramatically increase our chances of being upset on grade distribution day.

But if we set our goal as doing our best, we arguably don’t lessen our chances of getting excellent grades, but we do lessen our chances of being upset on grade distribution day.

Thus, internalizing our goal as doing our best has an upside — reduces emotional anguish in the future — with no downside.

You have complete control over the amount of effort you put into your studies, your essays, your finals.

You have little to no control over the grades you get.

(in fact, it’s well established that professors use the stair toss method to grade exams — luck might not be on your side that day).

Exam-Grade-3a

Summary

  • Your Goal: Do My Best! (you’ll be happier and you’ll perform better)
  • Not Your Goal: Top 10%! (you’ll go crazy and you’ll open yourself up to burnout)

P.S. – Joe Biden, the guy with the most chill job in the world, graduated in the bottom 10% of his law school class.

Joe Biden Sleeping

 

You can always be VP.

Life of Pi

life-of-pi

Pi and Richard Parker stranded in the middle of nowhere.

If you haven’t already, go watch Life of Pi. It’s my favorite movie of all-time.  Beautiful.  Thought-provoking.  Inspirational.

Without spoiling the movie, I can tell you that it’s about developing a philosophy of life; it’s about deciding how you look at the world.

It’s loosely based on a true story: Regina v. Dudley and Stephens.  In the real story, four men are shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean.  No rescue in sight.  They’re dying.  Three weeks go by.  No food, no water.  Richard Parker, an inexperienced 16 year old seaman, falls into a coma.  Can they eat him?  Would you blame them?

Back to the movie: Pi tells two stories about what happened; two ways to look at the world.  You get to pick which one you want to believe.

(I believe in Pi’s first story).