Are you struggling with motivation and feeling disconnected from your team, co-workers, and purpose at work? Are you finding it difficult to want to do the work and effort required for excellence? If so, know that you are not alone. Lawyers across the board are continuing to experience high levels of disengagement and a lack of passion for work they used to enjoy.
The speed of change and resulting disconnection experienced during the Covid pandemic continues to impact law firm cultures and a significant number of individuals. These levels of change are not going away, and engaging with practices that increase your resilience and ability to adapt are key to sustaining a thriving practice. Moreover, the higher up you are in an organization, the more important your mindset and overall engagement are for those you lead and influence.
Everyone can benefit from a mindset shift designed to increase their motivation and personal sense of engagement. You can grow a passion for your work by cultivating it with care. A key aspect of engagement and motivation comes from your own mindset, which only you can control. Moving from a fixed, stuck way of thinking into a growth-oriented adaptive orientation is the goal.
Take ownership of your own happiness, peace of mind, and career development. Below are some simple practices to help you support yourself and by extension your team to reconnect with meaning and purpose in your career and life. Everyone’s mindset equation will be different and will evolve over time. Pay attention to your needs, desires, expectations, and assumptions as you learn how to nurture your way back to wanting to develop and excel.
- Create Small Wins and Acknowledge Them – Learn to break larger tasks down into manageable concrete pieces that can be accomplished in a day or two at most. Put them on your list and as you complete them make sure to check them off. This simple act of time management helps you connect to a feeling of accomplishment that is elusive when the ultimate goal is too far in the future. Our brains do not do well with motivating for goals that are too far away. The practice of frequent small wins will help you by increasing production of oxytocin, the feel-good chemical, creating a stronger sense of wellbeing and happiness.
- Reconnect to Your Sense of Purpose – Why do you practice law? Where do you derive meaning in your life? Do not shy away from the depth of the question, because it holds the keys to your happiness and success. A strong sense of purpose is a north star that the vast majority of CEOs acknowledge guides their ability to effectively lead and succeed. While the best organizations and teams will actively communicate their overarching purpose, when it comes down to it as individuals, we all need our own reason for getting up in the morning. And while making a living is important, merely making money will not be sufficient to drive engagement for most lawyers. We need more.
- Find a Mentor or Mentee – Studies routinely demonstrate the importance of a mentor to employee retention and success. Turns out both having a mentor or being one can significantly increase your happiness at work and subsequent engagement. Being a lawyer is stressful and when we are purposeful, we strive to grow and develop. To thrive at these high levels, it helps to have someone we trust to talk to, receive guidance, advice, and understanding. A mentor or mentee will assist you to maintain a mindset that supports your success. Make sure to take the time required to nurture these relationships that inspire and remind you that you matter, are capable, and worthy of reaching your highest aspirations.
- Develop a New Skill Set – What area of development would benefit your future practice? Is there a substantive or technical expertise that would assist you in being a better attorney or serving your current or future clients? Setting a goal to increase our knowledge or work at a new skill level will lift you out of any doldrums and get you back into meaningful engagement with your practice. Talk with your supervising attorney or practice group head about ideas for what they see could be an asset for both you and your firm. Attorneys usually are good at learning and even the best of us can benefit from activating our growth mindset. Create a meaningful, achievable goal and move yourself forward on your career trajectory.
- Cultivate Optimism – As a profession, lawyers are unique in that they can thrive and be very good technical attorneys as pessimists. Pretty much every other profession requires optimism for success according to emotional intelligence research. That said, the pessimism that can permeate a legal mind and help you rise and gain technical proficiency will hamstring an individual’s ability to personally thrive. It can also have a negative impact on your ability to foster healthy, supportive relationships with your team or clients. To bring back your motivation, practice actively finding the positive perspective in your work and life. Simply appreciating small simple aspects of your everyday life will help you engage with increasing optimism.
- Take Up a Hobby – Give your brain and body a break from the billable minutes and the intellectual analytic precision or advocacy that make up a legal career. What do you like to do that takes you “off-line” and gives you a break? There are so many different options to choose from. For example, you could learn knitting, write poetry or novels, hike, ski, ride horses, or cycle. Maybe you love doing puzzles, gardening, training your dog, or making gourmet meals. Whatever it is that gets you out of your legal self for a bit and gives you a break, cultivate that activity. Put it on your calendar and put yourself first for a change. Giving your brain and body a break will help you regain a sense of perspective that in turn provides energy for engaging fully at work.
- Choose to be With Positive People – Research confirms that we are influenced most by our leaders and those we spend time with. You may not be able to choose your leaders at work. However, you can choose to be selective about who you let into your inner circle of friends. Choose people who lift you up and bring energy to the relationship. Positive people who see the best in themselves, you, and the opportunities in the world will help you be your best self. Make sure you choose drama-free, healthy, and fun relationships.
- Get Enough Sleep – Most adults do not come close to sleeping the recommended eight hours a night. While you may not be able to get eight hours every night or even most nights, establish a routine that supports healthy sleeping habits. Try to keep devices out of the bedroom and switch them off at least half an hour before bed to give your brain time to wind down. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and exercise several hours before bedtime will improve your chances of good rest. If you are tired, the chances for your being short-tempered or easily triggered increase. Sleep is one of the most underrated activities in our day.
- Spend Time Outside in Nature – Depending on where you live and the time of year, it may be a challenge to spend time outside in nature. Our brains and nervous systems developed in a much quieter world. Getting out and connecting to nature, enjoying a sunrise or sunset or a simple walk through the park are all excellent ways to get a break and refresh your mindset. If you live in a location with serious winters, get out and ski, or take a vacation to a warmer climate and get a nature reset on a tropical beach. Either way, time outside having fun and relaxing is a great way to energize your outlook on life and work.
In conclusion, remember you control your mindset and how you approach each and every day. Developing a growth mindset and an ability to be resilient, engaged and motivated is doable with a bit of patience and good humor.
About the Author
Michele Powers is a certified coach for lawyers and law firms, and chaired the Attorney Well-being Committee of the ABA Law Practice Division. Contact Michele at email@example.com.