Find Flow After a Fail

“Not Yet” Joan Palmeri, NCLEX Whisperer

Just experienced an unsuccessful attempt at NCLEX?

How are you feeling right now? Devastated? Frustrated? Angry? Are you an emotional wreak because you’re experiencing this as a traumatic event? You’re most likely physically and emotionally tired, worn out, overwhelmed and generally useless after a fail.

Recognize your need to recover. Be the nurse right now for yourself. Let yourself feel what you feel without letting your mind judge the feeling or define you. Every feeling is temporary.


Today you are the nurse and the patient. Nurture yourself. Heal yourself.

Here’s research-based advice for getting yourself back in the game and across the finish line with a PASS.

EXERCISE: You need 20-30 minutes of exercise a day. Not to be “bikini ready” but simply to be healthy. Not only is it bad for your heart to carry too much extra weight for your body type and frame but what’s important for you right now is that exercise increases stress-reducing hormones and is the best mood balancer available. You have been bombarded with stress hormones. You need to counter that. Go for a morning walk. Put on music and dance. Go to YouTube and search for free exercise videos. Try something new: Yoga, Pilates, Zumba. Do something different for exercise every day. Do it first thing in the morning so you don’t procrastinate. Get up earlier than everyone else in your house if necessary.

NATURE: Get a touch of nature every day. This is easy on a morning walk. Every inner city has a park. Grow some houseplants. Wrestle with the dog. Pet the cat. A connection with nature is a connection to your true self. Shakespeare said, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” This is your way back home. A way back to your true self.

EMOTIONAL WELLBEING: Stay in the moment as much as possible. Don’t go too far into the past or the future. Both past thinking and future thinking create anxiety. Train your mind to quiet down and focus by practicing daily meditation. Make time to meditate and you will see how much more free time you’ll have. Your thoughts will stop racing and you’ll be able to see a thought and ask yourself, “What purpose does this idea serve? What is this idea in my head that is trying to sabotage me? This is anxiety talking. I’m letting this go.” Avoid contributing your energy to these illusions.

Practice gratitude which is proven to change brain chemistry. Wake up every morning and say it out loud: “I’m thankful to be alive. I’m thankful for this delicious cup of coffee. For my family. For my eyesight. I’m thankful to be part of a prep program that is helping me clear my head to be able to think clearly!” Writing down something you’re thankful for everyday is even more effective.

FOCUS ON THE NEW EXPERIENCE: When you become a licensed nurse, you will help your patients adapt to dealing with many changes in their lives. Some will have to learn to walk again after a trauma, learn to speak again after a stroke, learn to adapt to lifestyle changes after a heart attack, learn to live with sobriety after detoxing from drug and alcohol abuse, and many other life-changing situations. How will you help your patients cope? By embracing what is new. You need to let go of the way you “studied” in the past and start to prepare like a pro. You are in training. Commit to it cheerfully. Smile and remind yourself that growth is a process, sometimes painful, but the outcome is sweet.

Begin today by focusing on your whole self. Know this is possible. Know that all it takes to pass the NCLEX is for you to be in good physical and emotional shape so you can think clearly.  Once you feel you’re strong and happy again, you can go on to the WORK PHASE.




The work phase begins with cleaning up the past. Pack up your nursing school books and old prep materials. Store them away, all the while being thankful for the learning they gave you.

Clean up your prep environment at home. Create a clean, uncluttered, quiet space where you can do your Home Practice with no distractions. Try to create an area that is as dull as the test center will be. Just you and your computer. This is where you will rehearse for a strong NCLEX performance.

Once your prep area is set, take yourself out on a date. A date with yourself (not with your lover, your BFF, or your kids.) Take yourself out to a movie, to window shop, browse a book store. Go ice skating at a local rink, to a museum, take a ride on a Ferris wheel, go out for ice cream- anything that will make you happy. The idea is to show yourself some love and appreciation. This activity will also open up your creative mind- a part of your brain that doesn’t get much exercise in nursing school (which is mostly memorization.) I date myself every week. It keeps me sane. You’ll be more in touch with yourself and more refreshed to begin working again.

Recognize the need to increase reading comprehension skills and speed for NCLEX and improve these area by reading for pleasure every day. Research shows reading detective novels is highly effective in building reading skills as well as enhancing critical-thinking skills for standardized tests. Sue Grafton has a great series that starts with A is for Alibi and goes through the alphabet. Available in libraries. Get on it.

Once you’ve organized your prep environment and had some “me” time, you’ll be ready to move on to the FLOW PHASE.


Flow is a high-energy experience with something you can pour your heart and soul into. Is it nursing? If so, your approach to NCLEX prep needs to be relaxed and full of curiosity and passion.

Every question is a patient. It’s not some horrible thing that’s testing your knowledge. It’s a living, breathing human being who needs you. See a patient in the questions. Even if it’s a straight knowledge question testing lab normals, see that data and imagine who the patient is. Male or female? How old is s/he? Infant, toddler, teenager? Is it a young single man? A 35-year-old married woman? A 75-year-old widower? Once you have a person in mind, SEE their health/wellness. What do they need? How can I help? Is there a life-threatening situation here? Do I need a physician? Using your imagination this way opens up your intuition. Soon you’ll just know what someone needs.

Flow is the state where we have no thoughts about the past or future because we are totally committed to the present moment. Athletes know this when they’re practicing their sport. Musicians know this when they’re playing their instruments.

Remember when you first learned to drive and had to think about everything? Seat belt. Adjust mirrors. Look four ways. Hyper-alert. Then once you know how to drive, you just get in the car, put on the sunglasses, turn on the music and go. This is the process of learning any new skill. First you are aware of how to do it. Then with practice, you find your flow. 


Contact Joan Palmeri directly at