Special Guest: Jeena Cho
Preorder a copy of Jeena’s new book, The Anxious Lawyer, today! (Affiliate link)
Download this Episode:
I was told it was inevitable. “Wait until you have you own clients,” they said. “That’s when it’ll happen.” What were they talking about? Success? no. Money? No. Recognition? Nope.
Crippling insomnia due to the inability to get your brain to shut the hell up. That’s what I was promised was in my future as a litigator. Followed by needing an unhealthy amount of caffeine just to function (although, one could probably argue…)
Exciting, huh? Fortunately for me, it hasn’t hit me yet – although I do think the little ADD problem I have due to playing too much Rock Band certainly helps.
The Chaos of a Lawyer’s Mind
However, even though I didn’t have it as bad as the partner at my first firm did, I could certainly feel it creeping up. Those moments that used to be silent are now filled with noise. Sometimes it’s helpful analysis related to my cases, most of the times it’s not. But it’s getting louder.
You know the feeling, particularly in those busy times. And you need a break. How can you possibly keep your mind focused and fresh enough to do a job that you have an ethical duty to do well?
Jeena Cho has been talking to lawyers all over the country (including an impressive road trip this past summer) about how to practice law and remain mentally sane, by practicing mindfulness.
What Does Practicing Mindfulness mean?
Essentially, all practicing mindfulness really means is allowing yourself to be in the present moment, without thinking about the future or the past. As lawyers, we too frequently occupy all of our mental “quiet time” with rumination about events in the past or fretting about things we need to do in the future. You know that feeling – you’re sitting at home, but your mind is at the office… unable to leave.
Being mentally preoccupied is one thing when you’re actually working out an important issue or being productive. But when your preoccupation invades your sleep, your family time, and even basic personal moments, you need to ask if there’s any way those thoughts are productive. Jeena discussed how she knew it was becoming too much:
So the idea of practicing mindfulness is really about making sure that you’re able to live in the present, focus on what is actually going on around you, and giving your mind a break!
The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
Lawyers are stressed-out people. We really are. Generally, we’re afraid of being displaced, and we’re hyper competitive. Even this blog is based on giving lawyers and legal professionals the tools to be more efficient, more productive, do more with less, etc. The biggest reason that I wanted to interview Jeena about this subject is that too often, the mental wear-and-tear of the process gets ignored.
And it can be bad. Really bad. So we need to do something. How do we both discuss living in collaboration and cooperation with technology without allowing it to become a disease?
Use technology as a tool, not a crutch.
However, there are numerous tangible benefits from practicing mindfulness as part of your daily routine. First, you can improve your awareness of how you use new technology. For example, you’ll see how valuable your smartphone is, but you’ll also see how we’ve begun to use our phones habitually.
How many times have you checked your phone simply because you had a minute? No other reason, just using it to fill up the free time? Have we actually become afraid of boredom?
Practicing mindfulness helps you to pull yourself away from some of these material obsessions, keeping them in perspective.
Increase your compassion, while reducing your stress.
How often do you have a knee-jerk reaction to someone cutting you off in traffic. Do you yell? I do. I even tell myself that it’s therapeutic – I get to blow off some steam. But imagine what the day would be like if you were able to take a deep breath before having that reaction. Wouldn’t need to blow off the steam.
Beyond reducing your road rage, you’ll also likely find yourself being a more compassionate person. One of Jeena’s major points of emphasis is that, as humans, we have a biological predisposition for negativity. We had to assume the worst in something, otherwise, as she described, that stick you stepped on might actually be a snake.
But evolution has taken us beyond that stage. Unfortunately, our training as lawyers only serves to heighten our negativity. Think back to law school, what’s the first thing you were supposed to do on every test? “Issue spotting.” Otherwise known as looking for every bad thing you could find in the fact pattern.
It takes a conscious effort to maintain a positive mindset in the face of all of this. Practicing mindfulness can certainly help.
It can help grant you serenity.
God grant me the
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; and the
Wisdom to know the difference.
A powerful mantra, but one that will make a difference in your life if you can apply it, I promise you.
An added benefit to finding a little serenity – you’d be amazed at how much your ability to follow those three basic steps can impact those around you. Not only will practicing mindfulness make you a happier person – it’s contagious!
Ok, so how do I go about “practicing mindfulness”?
Jeena Cho discusses two primary ways that she advises people to practice mindfulness: actual meditation and taking time to be in the moment. They’ll seem a lot alike, but each have some distinct benefits.
First, meditation. You’re probably thinking about a monk, on a mountaintop, meditating peacefully.
Turns out, this isn’t the only way you can meditate. While I could probably give you some hints, there’s no way I can possibly explain it as well as Jeena does in the podcast. Even if you don’t have time for the whole thing, skip to about the 30 minute mark in the podcast and follow along as Jeena guides you through a meditation. You won’t regret it.
The second way you can practice mindfulness is taking the time to simply be in the moment. Stop and take a few moments to concentrate on your breathing (to get an idea what that means, I’d check out that guided meditation in the podcast). It doesn’t have to be just your breathing either. Jeena discusses how she sometimes focuses on washing her hands.
Simply performing whatever task your doing at the moment, not thinking about anything else, just focusing on that task, can be enough. Essentially, think of it as the opposite of doing anything “on autopilot.”
But seriously, can this whole “practicing mindfulness” help me in my practice?
Yes. Practicing mindfulness can help you improve your physical and emotional health, improve your focus, combat burnout, increase your self-awareness, and even help improve your diet.
Unfortunately, the practice of law is a little late to the game on this whole mindfulness thing. Not all that surprising, though, considering the nature of our profession. We need to put on a professional, confident face no matter what, meaning we’re less likely to display outwardly signs that we may need help.
We also have a ridiculous level of alcoholism and drug abuse. The stress of our profession drives so many of us there that the only real mental health treatment we get is in rehab.
Beyond that, though, is a more basic resistance to changing established behaviors. I asked Jeena about her experience with lawyers resisting the concept of practicing mindfulness, and she said there were several common excuses:
“I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work.”
How many times did you try and for how long? Once? So… did you also quit your gym after one workout didn’t turn you into Thor?
“I’m not good at it.”
How are you not good at something that is based on “non-striving”? Part of the problem, Jeena says, is that as lawyers, we’re trained to measure results in absolute terms – success vs. failure – such that it doesn’t occur to us that we might be doing just fine.
So, beyond that, is it that you feel a little silly meditating? Does it make you feel weak? Well, the U.S. Army uses meditation and mindfulness to improve focus and mental energy. That should help. Oh, and the Seattle Seahawks use it too. That’ll help provided it didn’t lead them to decide to pass instead of run. You know what I’m talking about.
The Anxious Lawyer
If you need or want more, you should contact Jeena Cho, and if you’re interested in mindfulness, you can pre-order her new book, published by the ABA, The Anxious Lawyer (affiliate link) today, or check out her free webinar. BTW, apparently pre-orders are much more valuable to authors than purchases once it’s on sale, so do her a favor and pick up a copy!
In the end…
You absolutely need to take the time to do the guided meditation in the podcast. I swear that you will not regret it. Practicing mindfulness can help you put a whole new spin on life, and inject new energy and spirit into your law practice.
Photo credit: Photo by marcolm.