Applying to medical school taught me many things about myself, but I have realised since that even when you think you have mastered a skill, there is always room for improvement. The main thing I learnt as an applying student, and as a medical student since, is that confidence is incredibly important when it comes to achieving your goals. I believe it is the mindset behind success.
I am in no way an expert on confidence and like everyone, I experience self-doubt. I still have much to work on with regards to self-confidence, but I believe I have been on a journey since I decided to pursue medicine and I wish to share with you what I have learnt so far in the hope you may find it helpful.
I want to start off by saying that success is relative, so when I say “success” in this post, I am referring to achieving your own goals, whatever they may be. The first time I realised the importance of self-confidence to success was when I took my UCAT exam. Like many others, I was incredibly anxious in the lead up and I couldn’t stop thinking about “what if’s”. What if I did terribly? What if I wasn’t prepared enough? What if I just couldn’t do it and would never get into Med School? I went for a walk a few days before my test to clear my head after a particularly tiring mock. At some point I realised, there wasn’t any point in worrying, it wouldn’t help me. I went through my “what if’s” and for the first time, tried to reassure myself instead of continuing in my vicious circle of worry. I reminded myself that I was prepared. I had done many, many practise questions and my scores, on the whole, had been good. I told myself that I was as prepared as I could be and if I held my nerve I would be fine. After that first instance of confronting my worries, whenever I started to stress over the next couple of days, I just reminded myself of these thoughts.
On the day of my UCAT I sat down to start my test, but as I pressed ‘start’ and the instructions came up on screen, I panicked. All the “what if’s” came flooding back and I genuinely thought in that moment that it was all over before it had even begun. But I stopped myself. I stopped the thoughts that were threatening to overwhelm me and tried to remind myself of the positive thoughts I had been repeating over the last few days. I took some deep breaths and as the first question came up, I tried to regain my nerve. After skipping to a few questions that I was comfortable with, I got into the zone and achieved a level of calm confidence. I maintained this mindset throughout, not allowing myself to think about anything other than the task at hand, and I remember, as I reached the final section, I had a feeling that it had gone well so far.
People have asked me since that day how I managed to achieve a high UCAT score and I genuinely believe that the mindset I managed to get into played a major role.
Since this first realisation that confidence has such a major impact on success, I have tried to implement it throughout all aspects of my life. I have found that the times when I have felt most proud of what I have achieved, have been times when I have had confidence in my abilities and been able to reach that feeling of inner calm.
For example, not long after my UCAT experience, I received offers to interview at several medical schools. Again, in the lead up to my interviews, I was incredibly stressed and similar “what if’s” crept into my mind. However, I realised after my UCAT experience that I needed to have confidence in myself, because if I didn’t believe that I would make a good medical student and someday Doctor, then I had no hope of proving that to the admissions staff. I told myself that I had done my research, I had practised interview questions and ultimately, I could see myself as a medical student and a doctor in the future. On the days of my interviews, I put everything else out of my mind and focused purely on my ambition to make it into medical school. Although I didn’t feel completely confident, I pretended I was, and as my interviews got underway, I found that the confidence I was initially putting on transitioned into true self-belief that even if I wasn’t answering the questions perfectly, I was at least doing the best I could. What I learnt from this experience was that the saying “fake it until you make it” really does work with regards to confidence. If you come across as confident to others, they will give you positive feedback which will ultimately lead to an increase in your own self-confidence.
Although the two examples I have given so far have been related to medicine, I believe this mindset can be implemented across all aspects of life. At the time of writing this, I am currently preparing for my driving test. Up until I booked my test date, I was enjoying my lessons and didn’t focus on getting things ‘perfect’ as my priority was purely to improve. However, as soon as I booked my test, I started to panic that I would fail. Subsequently, the quality of my driving dropped drastically. After two consecutive difficult lessons, my instructor asked me what had happened. I realised that the pressure of an upcoming test had caused me to panic and led to that cycle of self-doubt. Before my next lesson, I decided I had to do something. I took a moment before I got in the car, and reminded myself that I could do this, that I had driven well before, and the only thing stopping me was my mindset. When I sat down behind the wheel, I took a deep breath, and decided I wouldn’t panic. After I set off, I got into the mindset, and an hour and a half later, I realised it had been my best lesson yet.
Although I now understand the importance of self-confidence and know from experience that I can succeed when I believe in myself, I am not always confident. There are times when I forget to get into the right mindset and there have been many occasions where my confidence has been knocked. Confidence is fragile and it is very hard to build, but when you get into the habit, the mindset gets easier to achieve.
So, what I wanted to finish on, before I give a few practical tips, is to encourage you to give it a go. Whether you have your medical/dental/vet school interviews coming up, a big presentation, or an end of unit test at school, have a go at getting into a confident mindset before you start. Don’t let others, or your own brain, persuade you that you can’t do it, and fight those negative thoughts. You never know, you might find that confidence, whether genuine or put on, helps you to succeed. I hope it does.
- If something is causing you to stress, stop. Whether that’s at home in your bedroom, on the bus, or out on a walk, take some time to sort out your thoughts.
- Remind yourself of the times you have succeeded before. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, there will be examples of times when you have succeeded doing something very similar to what is causing you to worry, so remind yourself of that.
- Remind yourself of positive feedback you have received from others. There will definitely be some! Believe in yourself like others believe in you!
- Tell yourself that you have done everything you can to prepare, so even if it doesn’t go exactly as you hope on the day, you will have done your best and you can’t ask any more of yourself.
- Act confident even if you don’t feel it. Wear something that makes you feel good, stand up straight and speak confidently and clearly.
- Take a deep breath right before the event starts and tell yourself that you can do it. If any doubt enters your mind, chase it away.
- Focus on what you are doing in that moment, don’t let anything else distract you.
- And finally, enjoy it! Regardless of how it goes in the end, you will learn something from it. I have found that it is often the things I find hardest that I learn the most from, and that I am most proud of myself for doing. Even if I didn’t achieve what I initially wanted to.
Written By Rebecca Glendell
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