Humans are a superstitious lot. It’s not uncommon for even the most rational of us to engage in some magical thinking now and then. Consider the whole schtick surrounding black cats. Or walking under ladders. Or that silliness involving the number ’13.’ Or the breaking of mirrors.
Luckily for the credulous, there are talismans and rituals on the good side too. If one is spiritual, holy medals provide supernatural protections and strengths. For those of us pagan, consider horseshoes, lucky pennies, rabbits’ feet, knockings on wood, and four-leaf clovers. In the Far East of antiquity, one might carry a netsuke. And a sprig of garlic around the neck was certainly held to be an auspicious possession if the medieval wearer succeeded in avoiding vampires!
Some others have taken this in a slightly different direction. Wade Boggs, the third-base Hall of Famer, would only eat fried chicken immediately before a big game. Basketball player Lamar Odom, late of both the New York Knicks and the Kardashians, chows down on handfuls of candy. Both believe that these particular pre-game consumptions bolster the likelihood of winning.
[sidebar: speaking of eating, most cannibal tribes hold that consuming one’s enemy not only yields the strength of that vanquished person, but renders the consumer invincible to later attacks from the same source, which would prove lucky indeed… if only accurate]
There are athletes who avoid sex for days before a competition – a number of Olympians have subscribed to the belief that abstinence channels energy that is otherwise lost to flagrante delicto, and thereby guarantees victory.
One B-26 Martin Marauder in my father’s USAAF squadron had a good luck message inscribed on the inside of the nose, left there by an anonymous worker who had helped construct the bomber before it headed for the European Theatre. That plane, the Coughin’ Coffin, returned from 50 missions over Nazi Germany having never lost a crew member.
In school, I had friends who would only take tests using their ‘special’ pencils, the ones that somehow produced a ‘B+’ on the quizzes that they should, by all logic, have failed. Such a pencil was believed to counter the fact that the bearer didn’t study as much as recommended. Sometimes it ‘worked,’ other times not, but it was always held to be ‘special.’
In all of the above, while the action or possession, from a rational perspective, might not have exerted any measurable impact, if the person in question enjoyed greater confidence because of it, then perhaps there was a benefit regarding the eventual outcome?
With these observations in mind, I offer you my experience with the bar exam.
I took the bar exam in 2008, not in North Carolina, but rather in New Mexico. It was in February of that year, and despite the image that many East Coast people hold of New Mexico being hot and arid (that’s the southern part of the state), the further north one travels in the Land of Enchantment, the more mountainous and Colorado-ish becomes the terrain. Even Albuquerque, decidedly mid-state, has a huge mountain, Sandia, just to the northeast of downtown, and in the winter, it is usually snow-capped.
I decided to fly to ABQ several days prior to the exam. I wanted to be alone with my prep books. I planned on checking into a nearby hotel, studying without interruption, and then walking to the convention center to take the test on the appointed day. Arriving at my hotel, I could see snow-capped Sandia in the distance. The weather was chilly – night-time lows dip below freezing not uncommonly, and day-time highs are usually in the low 50s at that time of year – and the wind was blowing more than I had remembered from previous visits.
The hotel was comfortably furnished, but I began to have trouble with the thermostat. The room was just a couple of degrees warmer than ideal for me. I tried to adjust the temperature, to no avail. The front desk was of no assistance. I then experimented with various combinations of shirts, pants, and shorts to find my comfort-zone, all to no avail.
I’m not much of a Starbucks caffeine addict. And if you mix slight warmth with the study of (not always exciting) contracts, evidence, and civil procedure, plus a few inevitable study-snacks, well, you can easily start to nod off. Which is exactly what was happening to me before long. And the test was only 72 hours away!
After several hours of alternating between futile poking of the thermostat, standing up every five minutes to avoid sleep, pinching myself, and swearing, I decided I had to do something drastic. I had to make myself just a bit uncomfortable. Not so uncomfortable as to produce actual pain or be a distraction, but uncomfortable enough that I wouldn’t be zombified reading about property owners’ riparian rights in Guadalupe County.
There was only one option. I had to get naked.
Yes, you read correctly. Naked. Being in the buff, I thought, would render me just a tad chilly, since being dressed rendered me just a tad warm. Frequent stretches and reading while walking back and forth in the room weren’t working (plus I was bumping into things). There was no time to waste.
Off came the clothes. I mean, I was alone, so it’s not as if it were a prurient act, but rather merely one of desperation in the final countdown to the big test.
It worked like a charm. I wasn’t drifting off in my birthday suit, even while reviewing commercial paper for the umpteenth time. Over the course of three full days, I dressed only to go downstairs to eat one meal a day. I became a hermit-in-the-raw, and this unorthodox ‘technique’ kept me alert and focused.
The day of the test came. I passed with flying colors.
But now, do I want to spoil a good thing? I am batting 1.000 – granted, that average is based on a single event – and with my psychiatry board recertification and the patent bar both looming, must I head to yet another hotel for tried-and-true lucky prep time?
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