As exam time rolls around there’s a huge chunk of the student population revising (or maybe procrastinating). How things go on the day depends on how well you’ve learned your content and how well you can relay that in a coherent and meaningful way. But another factor that affects your performance is your mood – a mixture of how you are feeling and what things you are thinking to yourself.

Many people go into exams in a state of tension, worry, stress or insecurity. None of which are helping you to do your very best.

Now, here at the SLI the word ‘hack’ is usually avoided. It has connotations of quick fixes that don’t really last. But today you are invited to ‘hack into’ your own way of thinking and feeling in order to put yourself in the best possible mood to perform well when revising or sitting exams.

[and if you aren’t a student studying for an exam, you can still use this process to hack your mood for your ‘thing’ – presentation, report, meeting with the in-laws!]


Our brains are incredibly sophisticated and give us the power of imagination – creating images, sounds and feelings that aren’t really there. This can work against us at times…

If we imagine failing our exam it can bring on a raised heartbeat, tension in our muscles, a sense of stress and self-talk that we are useless. Even though we only imagined it! What we create in our mind has real effects on our body.

But that means the same is true of positive imaginings – and this is where the hack comes in. When we know that the brain can simulate particular moods based on what we visualise, that means we can reverse engineer this phenomenon to put ourselves into a mood that will help us to perform well. This is well used in high performance coaching and neuro-linguistic programming.


This model is based on the work of Dr John Grinder, co-founder of NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming). A basic summary of the model is that there are four layers:

  1. Performance – how well you do at a task.
  2. State – the emotional and physical experience we are having.
  3. Physiology – our posture, tension, oxygen levels, hormones and physical processes.
  4. Breathing – where we breathe from (belly / chest / throat) speed of breathing, depth of breathing etc

Though here at the SLI we also like to add in a fifth layer of:

  1. Thinking – what we are saying to ourselves, our beliefs and visualisations.

These are arranged in a chain as follow:

  1. Thinking in an intentional way can begin to create the desired emotional state
  2. Breathing in a particular way affects how oxygen moves around our bodies and how hormones are released
  3. The physiology of our body might be associated with certain feelings – loosening our shoulders for calmness or clenching our fists for determination.
  4. The combination of thinking, breathing and physiology puts us into the desired state
  5. Performance on the activity is hugely supported by an effective emotional state


Before jumping into the process, you first choose the mood or state that you would like to create. A few useful tips and rules here:


Give yourself a quiet 5-10 minutes where you can work through these reflective questions and fully engage in the visualisation process. It is sometimes easier to close your eyes and listen to the prompts so feel free to use the guided video in this blog.

  1. Tell yourself the emotional state that you want to create. Use positive language such as ‘I want to feel…’ ‘I would like to feel…’ ‘I would love to feel…’
  2. You might like to remind yourself of the positive things that will come from feeling this way. ‘It will help me to…’
  3. When you think about this emotional state, does it have a colour? If so then imagine that colour surrounding you. On your next breath imagine breathing in that colour and feeling the emotion even more strongly.
  4. When you think about this emotional state, is there a piece of music that helps you to feel this way? If so, then hear that music playing in your mind. Notice the speed, volume and texture of the music and how that helps you to feel the emotion you want to create.
  5. Is there a memory of a time where you felt this emotion strongly? If so, imagine that you are rewatching a video of that memory. What can you see, hear, smell? Who are you with? What are you doing? Notice what is is about that memory that helps you to feel this emotion strongly. And if you are ready you can imagine yourself stepping into that memory and re-living those feelings.
  6. Now take a moment to notice your breath. How might someone who is feeling this emotion breathe? Think about the depth and speed of the breath. Gradually adjust your own breathing in order to breathe in this way. You may also like to imagine breathing in the colour of this emotion.
  7. Imagine how someone who was feeling this emotion would position their body. You might like to adjust your posture. Are there any parts of the body you would like to relax, tense or move in order to really embody this emotion. You might like to notice where in your body you are feeling this emotion at its strongest.
  8. Now that you are positioned in a way that embodies this emotion, come back to your breath for a few more moments.
  9. When you are ready open your eyes.


This process is an excellent hack for an immediate change in mood – it helps you to unlock an emotional state that helps you to perform well. But you may find that it takes 5-10 minutes to do and that it feels a bit weird for you.

You may also notice that certain parts of the visualisation have more impact than others – for some it’s the colour, others the breathing. You can also adapt it to add in your own elements such as smelling a perfume to feel calm or visualising a memory of when you were confident. By practicing this process, you will learn to tailor it to suit your needs even better.

AND you might find that it becomes easier and easier to access the emotional state because you are more used to calling upon it. This can be really powerful when you find yourself in short notice situations where managing your mood would be of benefit.

So keep practicing and all the best for your exam performance.

If you want further support in the run up to exams (procrastination, motivation, time management or addressing negative thinking) then why not book in a coaching consultation to see how The SLI could help you.