Security Blankets

On my desk I have a drawing that my daughter gave me on the day of my first Zoom session. It helped me to smile as I tried something new for the first time – against a backdrop of change and uncertainty – and it’s kept me smiling, kept me feeling secure when I work ever since.

It keeps me thinking, “It’s going to be alright.” It helps me remember that whatever else is going on, I can be confident.

Children use all sorts of items as security blankets to help themselves cope or feel fine. Adults tend to put those sorts of things to one side when they “grow up”. But do we need to? Is it better to focus on our nerves and anxieties rather than try simple things to lessen them?

I think you can use whatever security blankets you need for your viva. Use a drawing that your child drew, wear good day socks, a lucky trinket or a process that helps you feel good. All of these things, when you really reflect, are reminders. They’re reminding you that you are capable. They’re prompting your behaviour or perception.

Some are more helpful than others, and of course, you perhaps don’t want to show up to your viva wrapped up in a literal blanket! Short of that, what could you to remind yourself that things are going to be OK? What can you do to remind yourself that you can be confident?

What will you do to help you feel secure for your viva?

Whatever Works

Good day socks.

A playlist that helps you feel happy.

A lucky teddy.

Three cups of coffee.

Dancing around.

A Post-it Note of encouragement.

An outfit that just feels right.

There’s practical must-do tasks that help candidates get ready for the viva – reading, checking, making notes, practising – and then there are the rituals, warm-ups, placebos and boosts that you just need. There’s no right or wrong, it’s not silly, it’s not weird: it’s what you need to feel right.

Whatever works, works. Use whatever you need to help you feel ready.

Find Three

Find three things that can help you feel ready on viva day.

Maybe your thesis, a notebook and a bottle of water.

Or a prompt card with keywords, your choice of clothes and a cup of coffee.

Perhaps your good day socks, a picture of your family and the most recent paper by your external.

Or your three things could be a mock viva, a lucky charm and a phone call to a friend.

More generally, find things to help you feel ready by considering work to help you prepare, things that help you feel confident and things that remind you of who are you (and what you can do).

Power Ups For The Viva

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of power ups for the viva!

  • Wearing the right outfit for you.
  • Having a mock viva.
  • Two cups of coffee.
  • Re-reading your methods chapter.
  • The right conversation with the right person.
  • Knowing the regulations.
  • Listening to music that helps you relax.
  • Doing something that helps you feel better.
  • Making notes about examiners.
  • Wearing your good day socks.

Some are common sense. Some make sense. Some seem like nonsense – but they only have to help you feel powered up for your viva, they don’t have to be for everyone.

Some you could do regularly to help. Others are one-offs. Some you have to wait for the viva to come around.

For some you can see the direct helpful link, and for others you can probably see that they’re helpful placebos, things that remind or encourage.

You might not be in total control of how you feel about your viva, but you’re not powerless either. What power ups will you choose to use?

Good Luck Charms

If it helps, why wouldn’t you have something lucky with you in the viva?

My good day socks were a story I told myself for years – “wear these socks and it will be a good day” – my viva, difficult meetings, the first time I ran workshops. There were so many situations where it made me feel better. I know people who wore a particular outfit to the viva because it was like armour to them, or a superhero costume. It added that extra something that helps them to feel better.

If you tell yourself the story that these clothes, this teddy, this piece of jewellery or whatever will help then you make sure to have them.

But it’s only a story – and there’s another one nearly reaching a conclusion.

You showed up. And kept showing up. You did the work and you did it well. You’ve written a thesis, and know your stuff. It’s not make-believe.

A few years ago I stopped telling myself the story of my good day socks, because I didn’t need it any more. If you do, that’s fine: good luck charms can help and help is good.

But don’t forget the other story: you did the work and you did it well. You can do well in the viva too.