Peace of Mind: A Model Day for Mindful USMLE Prep

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • In my last post, Mindfulness and USMLE Prep, I talked about how important mindfulness is when preparing for the USMLE. As someone who has been in your shoes, I know that staying zen while tackling the most important exam of your life is a lot easier said than done. So what does a typical day of mindful USMLE preparation actually look like? What follows is just an example, but it’s a good guide if you’re new to the concept of mindful living.  


    You wake up to the sound of your alarm clock. You brush your teeth. Pay attention to the taste and sensation of the toothpaste and toothbrush bristles in your mouth. Thoughts of how you will accomplish the day’s tasks don’t concern you. You’re definitely not picturing yourself on test day and worrying about how it will go.

    You shower. Appreciate the warm water falling over your body. Smell the scent of the shampoo as you apply it and feel the texture of your hair as you lather.

    You get dressed. Notice the sensation and pressure of each article of clothing on your skin. Take a moment to absorb the colors and patterns of your clothes.

    7:30 am

    You make your cup of coffee. Breathe in the aroma as it brews. Feel the heat of the cup warm your hands. Focus on the taste of the coffee and how it feels in your mouth as you sip it.

    You eat breakfast. Take note of the taste, temperature and consistency of what you’re eating. Is it crunchy? Mushy? Sweet? Salty?

    7:50 am

    You look at your plan for the day, noting that you’re scheduled for 12 hours of study. You begin to panic as you realize that you have 2 hours of reading followed by 2 hours of questions followed 

    You stop yourself and look at your first assignment. “Read First Aid pages 440-474.” You begin to panic again. That’s a lot of pages. I’m a slow reader. What if I don’t finish in 2 hours? What if I fall behind? What if

    You stop yourself again. I will start by reading page 440. No, I will just read this first paragraph. Then I will read the next paragraph, etc.

    8:00 am

    You begin reading page 440. Read one page at a time, paragraph by paragraph. Pay attention to every word. You don’t think about the next page, the next assignment, what you’re going to do tomorrow or how the test will go. Stay focused on the task at hand.

    When it comes time to read questions, don’t panic if you don’t know the answer right away. Concentrate on each individual question stem, analyze them word-for-word and do the best you can. When you don’t know the answer, use the tools you have to eliminate wrong choices and guess among those remaining. When it comes time to review the question block, home in on each correct and incorrect choice.

    1:00 pm

    You break for lunch. You don’t think about your studies. Instead, eat with intention and enjoy each bite. Appreciate the taste and texture. You eat until you are satisfied and no more.

    1:45 pm

    You return to your studies in the same manner as your morning session. Again, pay attention to what you’re doing and to nothing else. Don’t beat yourself up for your previous imperfections and don’t anticipate what you’ll do later.

    5:30 pm

    You break for an evening run. Concentrate on the sights, sounds and sensations around you. Feel the impact of your heel hitting the ground and the contraction of your quadriceps muscles to absorb the impact. Feel the sweat bead up on your forehead and drip down the front of your neck.

    6:15 pm

    You return to your studies with intention, just like the morning and afternoon sessions.

    9:00 pm

    You sit down to have dinner with your family. You pay attention to your spouse and daughter as they tell you about their days. You enjoy the food that you are eating.

    10:00 pm

    Watch your favorite show with your phone off and without any flashcards in front of you. You’ve had a productive day, so there’s no need to focus anything else besides the show.

    11:00 pm

    You begin your bedtime ritual. By 11:30, turn out the lights and go to bed while turning off your mind.

    What I have just given you is an idealized example of a mindful day of USMLE prep. None of us will actually be successful 100% of the time at living in the moment. That’s okay. Nobody ever is or has been, including the most successful people who ever lived. The important thing is trying to cultivate the habit. I guarantee that you’ll accomplish more by doing one thing at a time and focusing on it than you would by trying to multitask or think about everything all at once. This applies to studying for the USMLE as well as just about everything in life.