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09 Apr 2017 / by admin


Thought Stopping

Doctors!!  Get rid of those Distractions in Oral Examinations and Presentations


During oral examinations, presentations, or practice vivas, have you ever caught yourself thinking about things that you are not supposed to be focusing on? For instance, whether you are going to fail, whether you’re speaking intelligently, are other trainees listening if it’s a practice viva, even the examiner’s expression (does he or she look approving or otherwise?). If you are attending to distractions during oral examinations, presentations, and/or practice vivas then you are not focused on the most important cues within your environment and this can harm your performance. Do not be too concerned, as this happens to everybody. You have the power to stop attending to these distractions and to refocus on the elements where it’s necessary to pay attention, so that your chances for success will be enhanced.  Here are some ideas that can help you focus better during presentations, practice vivas and the actual exams.


First, it is important to identify and write down what you are supposed to be focused on. This can be done with other study buddies, or with one of your consultants. This focus list could include, among other things, a big breath to settle yourself before entering the room, having appropriate body language and a relaxed face, pausing before responding so that you can organize your thoughts, having a good introduction and conclusion for each response.


Second, jot down the things that you know are likely to distract you. This can be very individual and takes in factors such as your experience and personality. Call this your distraction list. It is important to know what distracts you, because then, if a distracting thought enters your mind, you will be aware that you’ve lost focus, and need to use this thought-stopping strategy to get your performance back on track.


Third, write down a short phrase, or a visual memory, or a musical sound, which inspires you and makes you feel confident or happy. This could be dredged up from memories of years long ago. For instance, if I think of George Michael singing “Jesus to a Child” my body tension dissipates and I feel good. Or I can be inspired by the Nike saying, “Just Do It”.


Now that you are aware of what you should and should not be focused on you can use Thought Stopping to interrupt distracting thoughts as soon as they arise. Thought stopping is a quick and simple technique that can help you immediately refocus. It involves using a trigger of your choosing so that it will interrupt the distracting thought. If you were just studying at home and you had distracting thoughts, you could say out loud the word “STOP” as an interruption. However, if you are in front of an examiner, a consultant, or an audience, then it needs to be something which is not observable. Giving yourself a sharp pinch under the table, or behind the lecturn, or perhaps biting your tongue (not too hard), will certainly interrupt the distracting thought. Immediately after you do this, it is important to replace the distracting thought with your inspirational phrase, image, or memory. This will relax you enough to then go to your focus list and select whatever is appropriate at the time.   The steps for the Thought Stopping Technique would be:


  1. You become aware of distraction (e.g. focusing attention on examiner’s facial expressions)
  2. You use your trigger (e.g. hard pinch on leg under table)
  3. You immediately switch to your selected inspirational thought (e.g. Just Do It)
  4. You focus on the elements for success appropriate at that time


Now all this isn’t just going to happen unless you practice. I would practice this thought-stopping technique in familiar surroundings and during as many practice vivas as possible, before actually using it in examination scenarios. Try and make those practice environments as much like the examination or presentation environment as possible. You will then find that the things that originally distracted you will become less distracting over time. You could even create the worst possible scenario and practise overcoming the distractions. For instance, you might normally be really put off by a grumpy or non-responsive examiner. In that case, request that a friendly consultant who is giving you a practice viva, be grumpy or non-responsive. This technique allows you to practise thought-stopping and prevents you from becoming overwhelmed with distractions during the actual examination.


With practice you are likely to minimize the distractions and focus more on the elements of success.


Be mindful, it’s worth it!

Dr. Patsy Tremayne


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