I’ve talked about how we choose our behaviours, but this doesn’t happen automatically.
Session 8 of The Ivy House Award shows us how we can be more conscious of the thoughts we focus on, so that we ultimately feel different and we can make different choices about our behaviours. This all happens through our thinking. As much as we often either won’t admit it or don’t realise it, we also have a degree of control over our thinking. We have countless thoughts come into our minds every day, every second, which, ultimately, we can’t control. What we can control are the thoughts we choose to focus on.
Knowing the impact of our thoughts is the key to understanding why it’s so important that we choose to focus on the positive thoughts. Sixth form has the potential to be a very overwhelming time for students. There are loads of exams and some pretty big life choices to be made. These events can result in lots of negative thinking, so having the skills to understand and address these thoughts will make life a lot easier.
We all have to do exams, and the chances are most of us find them a bit stressful. I’m sure we all know one or two people who are alarmingly calm around exams, floating around as if they don’t have a care in the world. Some of us envy them, some of us despise them. Now, I’m not saying that is necessarily the best way to be, because it’s always good to have some drive behind you. But it’s important to behave in the most effective, productive way for you, especially when it comes to exams. The Ivy House Award sets things out very clearly: we have thousands of thoughts every day, but the ones we choose to focus on impact how we feel, and how we feel will dictate the behaviours we choose. So, what’s the answer? Focus on the thoughts that are benefiting you, not bringing you down.
For a long time, I struggled with stress around exam time. I’d work painfully hard and run myself into the ground pretty fast. My results were at the expense of my mental, emotional and sometimes physical health. The thoughts I chose to focus on were like this:
‘I’m never going to be able to remember all of this’
‘Have I even figured out the best way I learn?’
‘What if the exam takes a completely different approach?’
‘Why does everyone else do better than me but not work as hard?’
‘If I want to get the grades, I need to work all hours under the sun and more’
Sound healthy? No, not really. This thinking made me feel, as you can imagine, pretty rough. The feelings I felt were:
- Worry/ perpetual anxiety
- Stress and a whole host of other (negative) feelings
The thoughts I chose to focus on, and the feelings I felt as a result, meant that I chose behaviours that were not serving me as well as they could have. I would be exhausted all the time but still somehow force myself to work until 1am most evenings. I didn’t allow myself any rest time because I considered this a ‘waste’. I did well in my A Levels, but I genuinely think I would have done even better had I been kinder to myself, by choosing to focus on healthier thoughts.
My attitude to exams has changed completely since The Ivy House Award, and I have seen a great improvement not only in my work standard, but in my mental, emotional and physical health in general but in particular around exam time. I work hard but within reason. I start early because that’s when I know I’m most productive, and I never work in the evenings.
This change has stemmed from a change in my thinking. I still have those negative thoughts I used to, I focus on them much less. Instead, I choose to focus on thoughts like:
‘I’m working as hard as I am able, and that is more than enough’
‘I am doing my best and that’s all that matters’
‘Whatever the result, I’ll be proud of myself’
‘The world will not end if I don’t get top marks’
‘My health and sanity are far more important than any exam’
Focusing on these thoughts mean I feel much more content around exams. I’d be lying if I said I never got stressed, but I feel more balanced now. I couldn’t have continued the way I did in the past because it wasn’t sustainable.
The Ivy House Award helps us deal with our thousands of thoughts, walking us through how to focus on the positive ones, and how it will serve us better. It’s hard to realise that we are not our thoughts. We are the observer, which means we can choose whether or not to dwell on certain thoughts. With each day that we get better at focusing on positive thoughts, we’ll feel better. What happens when we feel good? We behave more positively. The sooner sixth formers have this awareness, the sooner they will be able to see a positive change in their lives.