How to Overcome Test Anxiety with help from the Russian Special Forces

It’s not what you think.  While the difficulty of Special Forces training around the world is known to be extreme, especially among the few who have actually endured it, what the Russian Spetsnaz goes through is on another level.

The stresses that such rigors impose upon those undergoing it would also likely be unbearable for them were it not for the psychological tools they are provided with to help them cope.

Where do these tools come from?  They are found within the Russian Martial Art simply known as the “System” or Systema in Russian.  While its core skills and training methods are believed to be about eleven hundred years old, it was scientifically refined into its current form in the later half of the twentieth century by Soviet researchers and engineers (think Ivan Drago’s trainers in Rocky IV).

However, the communist government restricted its knowledge and practice to only its most capable forces within the Spetznaz and KGB.  It was not until the fall of Communism that this secretive system was revealed to anyone outside of these elite units.

 

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Six Thinking Errors and How to Avoid Them

Research shows that much of what we experience in life is fundamentally ambiguous and open to a variety of interpretations. (For more about that, see our earlier article, ‘Gratitude as a Way of Seeing.’) One of the ways we make sense of life’s circumstances is by the meanings we ascribe to those circumstances. The problem arises when we impose negative meanings onto our experiences that are based on a distorted view of reality.

Psychologists who have studied human thought and communication have identified some common distortions or “thinking errors” that cause many people negatively to frame their experiences. There are many lists of these thinking errors on the internet, but below are ones I have identified as being the most common and relevant to everyday life.

 

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10 Steps to Learning Anything Twice as Quick

We often assume that the ability to quickly learn material and master different fields of study comes down to how smart a person is, or how good of a memory they have. But research increasingly suggests that raw talent has very little to do with overall success in life, including success in learning. Instead, success has a lot to do with the strategies and techniques you choose to follow.

Over the years I’ve been blessed to work with TSM in researching the techniques used by various experts who have become leaders. Many of these strategies have been woven into our learning platform.

Whether you’re a high school student studying for a final exam, a college student struggling to keep up in class, or a psychology student preparing to take the EPPP, these learning techniques can make the difference between success and failure. These ten strategies can also spell the difference between a study process that is full of stress and frustration vs. one that is fulfilling and fun.

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Find Your Learning Style to Prepare for the EPPP

How can you discover your own particular learning style? What is the difference between being a visual learner, auditory learner or tactile learner? As you’re studying for the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP), how can you leverage the strength of your personal learning style to better learn, consolidate and recall content?

These were just some of the questions that Dr. Graham Taylor addressed in last Thursday’s Facebook Live event. In the video, which can be watched below, Dr. Taylor shared research-based approaches of learning and memory to help you make your learning a dynamic and active process.


Further Reading

3 Mistakes that Sabotage EPPP Success  

Prioritizing EPPP studying over vital health habits such as sleep can be too easy. How many nights have you stayed awake studying and, furthermore, went to bed immediately after an EPPP study session?

You might relate to the following scenario.

Joe is preparing for the EPPP. He works long hours at his internship and is often exhausted by the time he gets home. He is committed to passing the EPPP and studies when he can. Joe sometimes attempts to wake up a few hours early to sneak in a study session before going to his internship. Last night Joe studied in bed late into the night and went to sleep right after putting his study materials on the floor next to him. He snoozed his alarm and woke up just in time to be on schedule for his internship.

In this scenario, Joe’s retention of the EPPP material he studied, as well as his quality of sleep, will be negatively affected. He made three common mistakes.   Continue reading

How Procrastinators Function   

Tim Urban, author of the blog Wait But Why and self-proclaimed procrastinator, shares his insight on the brain function of procrastinators. Urban tells the tale of his 90-page senior thesis which he had a year to complete. Urban instead completed the thesis in 2 days by pulling two all-nighters.

How is it that he had the stamina and motivation to pull two all-nighters but did not have the motivation to use the year he was given? Writing a 90-page thesis over the course of one year seems much more pleasant than writing it in two days at the cost of sleep.

With gregarious disposition and insightful wit, Urban depicts the brain of a procrastinator.

See his full talk below.

 

The Dangers of Digital Addiction and Information Overload: How I Discovered that Silence is Good for my Brain

I still remember the night that convinced me I finally needed to join the twenty-first century.

I had just finished a long day helping as a judge for a debate tournament. By the time I finally headed home it was dark. Or at least, I thought I was headed home. However, the further I drove, the less I recognized of my surroundings. As the road progressed further and further up into the mountains, I remembered my young children waiting at a friends’ house for me to collect them. Finally, the road abruptly ended. Literally, it just ended. I had no choice but to turn around and start over.

At about midnight I finally pulled into the drive-way of my friends’ house to collect my tired children. I determined never to let myself get lost again: I would finally invest in a GPS.

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Use Gratitude to Detox Your Brain

Imagine you have a friend whose boyfriend is always tearing her down and continually telling her that she’s stupid, unable to cope, that nobody likes her and that she isn’t pretty enough. What would you say to your friend? Obviously you would tell her she should break up with her negative boyfriend, or at least that she should stop paying attention to his continual criticisms.

Even though that is the advice you would give someone else, we often choose to pay attention to an incessant negative monologue about ourselves. The monologue of negativity isn’t coming from another person but from our own brain. Instead of “breaking up” with our negative brain, we pay attention to it.

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Gratitude and Brain Fitness: What the Research Says

Every year neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists make more exciting discoveries about the health benefits of gratitude. The research is now clear that if you want to achieve high levels of physical and mental fitness, practicing gratitude is a good place to start.

Before sharing some of this research, it may be helpful to recap the ground we’ve already covered in our ongoing series about gratitude. 

Our earlier post How Peace of Mind is a Skill That Can Be Developed With Practice looked at six things anyone can do to achieve peace of mind. Step number 6 was to practice gratitude. I referred to research showing that when we choose to focus on all we have to be grateful for, this actually affects material changes in the brain, leading to a happier life and greater levels of mental peace. I built on this in my follow-up post, Gratitude and Your EPPP Prep (Peace of Mind Part 2), by considering the important role gratitude can play in managing stress, including the type of stress that is common among those preparing to take their psychology licensure exam (EPPP). Our post Gratitude as a Way of Seeing added to this understanding by considering why human beings have trouble being grateful for ordinary things. We explored ways to retrain your brain to “see” life in a way permeated with constant thankfulness. 

It’s time to build on these previous posts by going deeper into the research on the neurological, psychological and physiological benefits of gratitude. Continue reading

Develop a High-Performance Mindset

How can a person perform at peak capacity during times of stress? What is the foundation for self-confidence? Why do we often perform better when we’re practicing a skill vs. performing it under pressure? How can we get into a flow-state whereby we become completely engaged in present-moment tasks? What are the principles behind a high-performance mindset?

These are the types of questions we ask here at TSM as we help prepare psychology students for the high-stress licensure exam known as the EPPP. These are also the types of questions that musicians, athletes, public speakers and sports psychologists wrestle with every day.

Michael Gervais of the Seattle Seahawks talks about the way great performers use their minds to realize their full potential. Gervais, who has worked as a sports psychologist with some of the world’s best athletes, explains how the principles that help champions perform at peak capacity can actually assist all of us to perform better in the situations we face every day. This fascinating conversation shows that developing skills like mindfulness, positive self-talk and focused attention can make the difference between success and failure.  Because so much of what Gervais says is relevant to exam-anxiety, we encourage all psychology students to watch this video at least six months before sitting the EPPP.