Meditation is a powerful tool for training attention and increasing your ability to focus. These are important qualities for succeeding on the bar exam and in any intellectual pursuit, such as being a lawyer.
Although the greatest benefits of meditation will come after practicing for many months and years, any amount of meditation is valuable. In fact, just fifteen minutes per day will drastically increase your ability to concentrate.
Why does training your attention matter for bar exam prep?
It matters because life is a constant series of distractions, with all sorts of people, events, and thoughts pulling us in all directions. If we lack the ability to concentrate on our studies when we need to, we can get overwhelmed very quickly. When we strengthen our ability to concentrate, we can focus on our study tasks and accomplish them more quickly.
Scientific studies have shown that meditation strengthens the areas of the brain involved in memory, learning, and emotional flexibility. Meditation has been shown to decrease the size of the amygdala, which correlated with lowered stress levels. At least one functional MRI study has shown that experienced meditators are much more efficient than non-meditators at dropping extraneous thoughts and focusing on tasks even while bombarded by stimuli.
How Do I Start Meditating?
If you want to try using meditation to increase your concentration, then you can start with the classic breath meditation. You will want to budget at least fifteen minutes for this.
First, sit or recline in a comfortable position and relax. (You can close your eyes or just try gazing at a spot a few feet in front of you.) Now, as you relax, your breathing will settle quickly into a consistent pattern.
When your breath has fallen into a regular pattern, you can proceed in one of two ways. One way is to simply notice a particular sensation in your body related to your breath. For example, can you feel your ribs pressing against your skin? Do you notice your belly moving in and out? Feel the breath moving in and out of your nostrils? The other way to go is to use a verbal reminder and say something to yourself like, "Breathing in. Breathing out." Or, "one" during the in breath and "two" during the out breath.
Of course, many thoughts will arise while you focus on the breath. Thoughts like, "I have so much reading to do, why am I wasting my time just sitting here?" or "Why did that idiot cut me off in traffic today?" or "I really like chocolate."
When these distractions arise, simply notice them and let them go. Do not begrudge yourself for being unable to concentrate perfectly on your breath. Perfection is impossible!
The Purpose of Meditation
The purpose of meditation is not to blank-out your mind but to train the mind to concentrate on what is important at that moment. So, you are training your mind to focus on something elemental and natural: sensation or breath.
The idea is that you are training your mind to acknowledge distractions and then let them go so that you can return to the task at hand.
This is the practical application of meditation to bar exam preparation (and to life): You will get distracted; what matters is how you respond to the distraction.
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