How Can Mindfulness Benefit Me as an Attorney?
We live in an age in which the concept of "mindfulness" is ubiquitous. Psychology Today explains "mindfulness" as: "[A] a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future." https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness
From the numerous conversations I've had with associates (as well as my own years in legal practice), I've learned that mindfulness is very pertinent to the law firm experience. To be sure, meditation and yoga aren't for everyone. Still, there are ways in which "mindfulness" principles can benefit attorneys in practical ways, without the need for "om" or deep breathing exercises. Specifically, prioritizing the present – and not lingering in the past or obsessing over the future – can help associates to focus their energy on what's important and what is within their control today.
Let It Go
A cornerstone of mindfulness is: don't dwell on the past. Many of the most successful attorneys I've met have a brilliant ability to be resilient. Whether it's bouncing back from a stressful deal or case, a critical review, a tense conversation with a colleague or client, or from not getting an offer from their top choice firm, associates can benefit from learning from the past but then moving on without bitterness. Why is this ability so important and helpful? Because it liberates attorneys from anger and fear that can affect decisions and limit potential.
Let's say you received critical feedback regarding your recent performance on a deal. If take it as a personal affront rather than viewing it as constructive and beneficial, the inevitable result will be resentment and potentially a lost opportunity for professional and personal growth. On the other hand, it's possible that you're increasingly unhappy with the overall culture or experience and training at your firm. Rather than letting cumulative frustrations overshadow your waking hours, take a moment to ask yourself what you could do today to start shifting the course. It could be as simple as confiding in a trusted colleague, talking with a partner about getting the experience and feedback you desire, or reaching out to a reliable recruiter who could offer some perspective on your situation.
The idea is that taking a mindful, resilient approach to setbacks and scars can help you to recognize what isn't serving your success and happiness today. And by recognizing what's holding you back, you'll be in a much better position to do what it takes to be more fulfilled and content.
Another important theme in mindfulness: don't live in the future. Of course, planning for the future and having a sense of how the present could impact the future are both practical necessities for most people. However, obsessing over the future can detract from your ability to enjoy and make the most of today.
A good example is the associate who is unhappy practicing law. This associate might yearn for the day when he can leave the law, or at least the law firm space. Sometimes this urge can be so strong that he doesn't take the time to think through what it might take to get there – starting with today. Whether it's making an effort to learn what experience and background you need for certain exit opportunities, or figuring out whether a different firm just might be the solution, what you choose to do today has the power not only to improve your outlook on career but also your overall trajectory for the future.
Today is Golden
A "mindful" associate is in a better position to be a happy and successful associate. Being resilient and focused on what is possible today, rather than taking a resigned, passive, or desperate approach to circumstances, will give associates a greater sense of peace and stability – without a yoga mat or meditation.