Back in school, I wasn’t the best test taker. I usually didn’t prepare very well and my technique when I got stuck, which was often, amounted to little more than closing my eyes and selecting whichever answer my pencil landed on. Fortunately, my studying and test taking habits have gotten much better.
Earlier this week I was taking an exam for work. I had prepared well and was ready to take the test. However, about half way into the exam I got stuck on a couple of questions and also noticed that I might be a little behind, based on time and questions remaining. For a moment, I could sense the beginnings of feeling frazzled. (I’m very familiar with what this feels like, as it was a regular occurrence in school.)
Suddenly all these non-productive thoughts started to flood my mind:
- “You’re not going to get the score you need to pass.”
- “You’re going to have to retake this test.”
- “Think of all the time you’re going to have to spend re-studying!”
- “You’re half-way through your allotted time and you still have half the questions left AND several you have to go back and review. You’ll never make it!”
- “You don’t know this material as well as you thought. Perhaps you weren’t ready to take this exam.”
I felt like I had approached a very real fork in the road. The path to the left is where I would decide that these thoughts had merit and as a result, I’d allow myself to get sloppy and lazy in how I approached the rest of the exam, knowing that failure was likely where I was heading. The path to the right is where I would recognize my thoughts for what they were (a distraction and not a prophecy), push them to the side, and double down on doing my very best.
I chose the path to the right. I also scored a 93%. Well beyond what was needed to pass.
It’s amazing to me how my own negative thoughts felt like a physical force pushing against me, much like a headwind against a runner or cyclist. The best way we can combat the negative force of our own thoughts is by replacing them with thoughts of determination and commitment to successfully complete what we’ve set out to do. (If that feels challenging in the moment, starting with a prayer would be a good way to begin.)
When you face the headwind of your own negative thinking, realize that these thoughts are not prophetic, and you’re not required to agree with them. Then, immediately challenge them with positive thoughts and actions that support those positive thoughts.
We can control our thoughts and ultimately use them to take us down the path we want to travel.