People, lawyers especially, are constantly overthinking, reflecting, and planning for outcomes that may never arise. This often manifests itself into worry and doubt. Overthinking can also cause anxiety, analysis paralysis, and procrastination. Mindfulness stops overthinking in its tracks by keeping you grounded in the present moment, leading to greater satisfaction and happiness with your work and life.
Whether it’s writing a memo, arguing a motion, or taking a call with a client, lawyers are constantly thinking about the needs of others. Fundamentally, lawyers assist clients with their problems. While working on complex disputes, lawyers tend to see the worst side of people, which can add negativity to their lives. Given the nature of the legal profession, advising clients on the realities of their issues and sticking to the facts isn’t just a necessity, but is part of “a job well done.” Constantly addressing the risks of issues can cause lawyers to become “realistic” or downright pessimistic. When you spend your day being pessimistic, you don’t often realize the negative effects that this can have on your overall beliefs about positive outcomes and happiness. For these reasons, lawyers are prime candidates to receive the full benefits of a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present. It is being aware of your thoughts (conscious and subconscious) and patterns and taking personal responsibility for situations in life. Mindfulness improves your ability to reduce stress by staying aware of what is happening in the present, and not overthinking about the past or the future. As lawyers often have to relive the past or plan for a client’s future, mindfulness helps eliminate tendencies to worry.
It is important to harness the power of your thoughts. Thoughts control your emotions, and emotions often control your actions. By taking control of your thoughts through mindfulness practice, you can change your responses to challenging situations. By practicing intentionality with your thoughts, specifically by performing mindfulness routines at different points in the day, you will stay present. This will enable you to respond instead of reacting, increase awareness of the choices you make, think positively, and become happier. Here are my suggestions on how to incorporate mindfulness into a daily routine.
Get moving doing something you enjoy
It is easy to get caught up in the cycle of work and not take time for yourself. But mindfulness starts when automatic cyclical behavior ends. When you wake up in the morning, instead of focusing on what you have to do for the day (or even worse, dreading the things that you have to do) try to do something that makes you feel happy. For example, if you enjoy exercising, start your day by moving your body or doing anything that feels good. Exercise has been shown to be good for your mental health because it can assist with the production of endorphins and clears your mind. If you enjoy dancing, turn on the music and dance in the morning before heading to work. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing—if it’s reading for pleasure or talking to loved ones—turn on the joy at the top of the morning to get your day off to a positive start.
Meditation for mindfulness and setting your intentions
A morning meditation is an excellent way to begin the day because it has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation is a time to be still, quiet, and clear your mind. You can start a meditation practice by being still for a few minutes at a time and simply focusing on your breathing. Some people include sounds or focus on a word or phrase to assist in clearing their thoughts.
You can also use your meditation as a time to set your intention for the day. Setting your intention is a practice of choosing a guiding principle to help focus and shape your day. Additionally, the intention that is set at the beginning of the day is a great tool to use for check-ins throughout the day (more on that below). For example, you can set your intention to focus on active listening or collaboration. As a lawyer, it is beneficial to choose collaboration as a guiding thought for the day. Staying true to an intention to collaborate with adversaries can help tense negotiations become easier. As a charged situation starts to happen, you remind yourself of your intention and use it as a checkpoint. You make a choice to respond in a collaborative way instead of reacting, which can de-escalate the situation. By spending time in the morning meditating, setting an intention, and staying present throughout the day, you now harness the ability to choose what you desire to experience. Over time, staying true to your intentions will give your day direction allowing you to fully focus on being your best self, instead of a person that reacts to every situation.
Refocus on the intention that you set in the morning
Although a working lunch is often a reality, try to use your midday lunch break to relax. You can spend five minutes re-focusing on the intention that you set for yourself in the morning. This is a good way to maintain the positive momentum from the morning routine.
Take a few minutes to center yourself, take a short walk to grab a bottle of water, listen to music or a positive message in a podcast. This will help reset your day, especially if it has begun to derail due to negativity. No matter how short, use that midday break as a way to keep your day directed towards your goals.
Journaling and gratitude
After the workday is over and you return home (at a reasonable hour, I hope) it is good to close out the day by journaling. One way to bring the day full circle is to journal about the intention you set for the day. Another beneficial topic is to write about is gratitude. Focusing on what you are grateful for, even small things, helps you stay present and in the moment. So often people compare themselves to others, focus on what they do not have, or generally complain. This makes them unable to feel grateful, or even worse, it makes them completely unhappy. Some common complaints and comparisons in the legal profession are a colleague is billing more hours, a friend gets that job you were hoping for, or you did not get placed on that assignment you really wanted. By focusing on what you don’t have instead of what you do, you lose the opportunity to acknowledge the bountiful amount of things to be happy about despite some things not going as planned. By shifting your thoughts to gratitude, you become mindful of what is going well instead of complaining about what is wrong. Over time, writing about and practicing gratitude will consistently allow you to feel grateful in the moment and will increase your ability to feel happy in situations that may otherwise seem bleak.
Although you may have to work on the weekend, it is important to unplug for a time to be present and in the moment. Weekends are an important time to relax and do things that you enjoy. The profession thrives on being available for clients and working 24/7. When you are unplugged or out of the office, try your best to stay present, in mind and body. You will become more fulfilled with your time off when you stay aware of whatever is happening around you, including by giving attention to family and friends.
The major benefit of mindfulness is increased presence, allowing you to take control of your thoughts and choose to take responsibility for your life. The mindfulness practices outlined above should help reduce your stress, increase your productivity, and help you maintain a positive attitude at work and at home.
About the Author
Elan Nieves is a corporate attorney and senior director of compliance at Kroll Bond Rating Agency.