Lawyers are known to have two prevalent character traits – - perfectionism and pessimism. Perfectionism helps lawyers succeed in practice as the profession is very detail-oriented, and pessimism is by definition a lawyer’s nature. Lawyers are paid to worry; we are hired to look out for what can go wrong. However, this combination of perfectionism and pessimism is fraught with danger when it expands beyond just legal analysis and becomes a way that we approach everything in our lives.
As noted in a recent article in the ABA Journal, when lawyers use the lenses of pessimism and perfectionism to see everything in our lives, it can result in debilitating mental health disorders including anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression can profoundly affect our daily ability to function, including irritability, obsessive thoughts, feelings of inadequacy, difficulty concentrating, a sense of worry and impending danger, sleep disturbances, heart palpitations, sweating, fatigue, muscle tension, and the list goes on. Even worse, lawyers’ overall unhappiness and sense of malaise is taken as something that is a given, the nature of the profession. But it does not need to be that way.
Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to be a proven, effective means of reducing anxiety and depression. Despite what some may think, it does not take donning any special clothing or seeking wisdom from a guru on some mountaintop. All you have to do is pay attention to, and be in, the present moment.
We all have a tendency to be thinking about other things no matter what we are doing. Despite the notation that we can “multi-task”, the truth is that we cannot, and having your mind wander is in fact not only counterproductive but it also prevents us from enjoying the present moment. It is no wonder we lawyers can become so unhappy. Our minds tend to be anywhere but on the present moment. We are literally thinking our lives away.
It is also not just about feeling better; it is about being a better lawyer. Stressed out lawyers make poor decisions, produce lesser quality work, and therefore leave ourselves open to liability. A mindfulness practice makes us better decision-makers and that translates into overall better lawyering.
One simple way to bring mindfulness into our daily lives is to STOP frequently throughout the day; that is, Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed mindfully.
Incorporating simple practices like this can have huge implications. You can start to realize that certain thoughts are not based on anything real or true. This can be very liberating and help you make better decisions.