Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Customs Broker Examination, CH 2, Part 2: Combating the Effects of Anxiety

The following is an excerpt of The Customs Broker Examination, by Scott Warren Taylor and Andrew Moxon. This book is a part of the Customs Broker Exam Preparation Course from Boskage Commerce Publications. We'll be posting a large excerpt here, with new posts every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Click here if you want to read the whole book right away.


Part 2: Combating the Effects of Anxiety

How to Begin to Combat the Effects of Anxiety
The most effective method for avoiding the mental debilitation of anxiety is: concentrate on the specific steps available to achieve your goal, and avoid dwelling on how you feel.

It is always troubling to discover how frequently those who are most plagued by anxiety are also imaginative people. In the hands of anxiety, an imaginative mind becomes a high-powered tool of torture. By itself, anxiety constructs a room of terror, but it is our imagination that animates the room. Our anxiety begins by positing the question: What if I fail? Then the imagination takes charge and begins to create scenarios of failure: What will my boss look like when I tell him? What will my spouse say? My friends? How do I feel about failing? And so on. We actually visualize ourselves talking about our failure with our co-workers. This visualization sparks the physical feeling of anxiety, and, following the physical response, we visualize even more terrible scenarios of our failure. In the clutches of anxiety, these visions become more and more powerful and harmful. These more acute visions, fueled by an active imagination and replete with heavy doses of anxiety, show us ever more increasingly horrible implications of our inability to succeed. This, of course, creates more anxiety. We are swept by our own efforts into a whirlwind cycle of doubt, visualization of our doubts played out, conception of failure, our conceptions visualized, intensified anxiety, re-visualization, and so on. We are Dorothy from Kansas, swept up in a cyclone of our own imaginings while the visions become progressively more and more frightening.

Concentrate on the Methods of Action Toward Success
Most of us are accustomed to considering and reacting to our feelings as they occur. Usually our feelings are appropriate, constructive, important, and human responses to life. If they are powerful enough, they inspire us to some form of action, and most of the time this action is for the good. The common expression “my feelings got me into trouble” is not particularly accurate, nor particularly true. In and of themselves, our feelings rarely get us into trouble. What does get us into trouble are the actions we choose in response to those feelings. True feelings are little more than spontaneous reports about the world around us and how we fit in that world.

So if it is true that feelings generally help us determine our place in the world, why is it that anxiety is so destructive? It is, after all, little more than a feeling. The answer can be uncovered by considering that anxiety, not having a direct object, tends to be an inert emotion; that is, the feeling of anxiety tends to lead us to destructive inaction rather than constructive action. Dwell long enough on the vision of failure in your attempt to pass the CBE and you will no doubt contrive a plan to avoid taking the test in the first place. Anxiety could be nothing more than a defensive mechanism against the possibility of confronting a major failure in our career. It is for this reason that the logical response to feelings of anxiety associated with the CBE is to concentrate all your thoughts on methods of action toward success. Consequently, this book is designed to provide a specific strategy toward success, and by concentrating on the details of this strategy and visualizing over and over again the steps toward success in specific, you will supplant those destructive visions that fuel anxiety. The result will be success.

Create a Habit
In this instance, what you are choosing consciously to do is to create a habit of responding to anxiety, not with visions of horror, but with visions of action – positive, directed action. You will so bombard your imagination with the details of success that these details will take on the character of an automatic response, and just like the soldier in the field in the face of combat, you will respond automatically with what you have been repeatedly trained to do. It is very difficult and usually unsuccessful to attempt to quell feelings of anxiety by conscious, generalized arguments about the invalid nature of the emotion, or the silliness or immature nature of it. Anxiety is best conquered by specifics.

How many of us have clicked off the lamp by our beds and found ourselves hurled into a world of anxious torture. “This is silly,” we say to ourselves, “I’ve got to get to sleep and stop this nonsense.” We slam the door on these nasty visions and squeeze our eyes shut in stout determination to stop this nonsense. After all, we are doing all we can to try and pass the CBE, and if we fail, we just fail, that’s all, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always another chance to take the test, it’s not the end of the world – but then . . . maybe it is the end of the world. It is the end of the world! Whereupon a new anxious vision enters by a side door.

The best way to combat these feelings is simple. When you feel the beginnings of anxiety – and this assumes that you have reached the point where you can recognize the early warning signs of anxiety – begin visualizing some solid method, perhaps a method you have learned in this book, that will further your chances of success. For example, there is a section in this book that discusses what you should bring with you to the examination room. Try for a moment to imagine what the room will look like. Imagine yourself poised outside of it, ready to go in. What are you wearing? What are you carrying? Imagine your copy of the CBP Regulations (19 CFR), the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), imagine your calculator. Zoom in on one of the keys, say, the “memory save” key, if it has one, even the number “two” key. You may actually have to struggle a bit here. The tugging of the anxiety habit is strong. You may have to force yourself to continue to imagine positive methods toward success. Imagine yourself entering the room. Imagine that it is very cold in the room. Imagine yourself, before finding a chair, pointing this out to the CBP official supervising the examination. And so on.

If you have properly prepared your fact sheets and chapter part headings with summaries, you can take them out and review them at the onset of an anxiety attack. You can imagine yourself in the act of determining a test strategy after seeing the test for the first time. The point is that you must envision the specifics of your successful method in the same fashion that your anxiety inspires you to envision the specifics of the consequences of failure.

Great golfers know the secret of visualizing their shots before they take them. If they need a long drive with a little fading slice at the end, they actually see the ball doing just that. See yourself in complete command in the examination room. See yourself executing some of the advice in this book. See your broker’s license as it will look when you first open the mail. Make the examination appear to you in the way your desire to pass would have it appear. This kind of mental preparation must be part of your foundation for success.

It is important to note the role a pre-planned schedule has in combating anxiety. If you schedule your time carefully – planning when you will have group sessions, when you will have a session with your tutor, when you will review, etc. – and become committed to that plan, you break time down to manageable sections. You introduce duty to your method of handling anxiety. There are things you must do. You must meet your tutor at 7:00, you must study at 9:00, and so on.

Take an aggressive approach to anxiety. Plan your study time and stick to it. You may even want to consider rewarding yourself when you do. If you become anxious and cannot sleep, get up and take one of the sample examinations or review 20 fact cards. Once again, you are replacing feelings with action. In short: act, don’t feel.

1. Accept the possibility of anxiety and begin managing it now.
2. Concentrate on the specific steps available to achieve your goal. Avoid dwelling on how you feel.
3. Replace visions of failure with visions of specific actions.
4. Review texts or fact sheets to help avoid feeling anxious, and to help build positive habits.
5. Design a schedule for all your preparation efforts. Write the schedule down and stick to it.

This concludes today's excerpt from The Customs Broker Examination.

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