“Mindfulness,” or paying attention in the present moment with an open mind, reduces our inclination to dwell on the past, and worry about the future. Mindfulness also increases focus and concentration, and, because it is investigative, it’s a good fit for attorneys.
While people sometimes confuse mindfulness and relaxation, the practice of mindfulness increases concentration and creativity, and reduces stress. Being mindful brings focus: whether it’s to a client’s story, a deposition, a negotiation, or legal research.
Mindfulness helps us let go of fruitless efforts to be in complete control, and helps us obtain more satisfaction from the law. Being “present in the moment” can help lawyers deal with unanticipated developments. It enhances analytical, yet intuitive, decision-making. This can lead to stronger interpersonal relationships. Learning to “respond,” rather than “react”, opens the door to an array of new options.
Every day new discoveries are made about the benefits of mindfulness in managing stress. There is also growing understanding of the increased effectiveness of mediators. Furthermore, it has been shown that an afternoon “meditation” is more restorative than a nap. And managing stress through mindfulness requires no equipment — no tennis racket, no golf clubs. It can be done at the office and in small or large chunks of time.
Ten million American adults meditate, and mindfulness is increasingly taught in law firms and law schools for continuing legal education or law school credits.
Tips on Using Mindfulness to Reduce Stress During the Work Day
- Take time periodically to sit for a few minutes and focus on the breath, or look out the window, and listen to sounds
- Take a slow walk around the block
- Become aware of body tension: where it is, what’s causing it, particularly during a meeting or on the phone
- While commuting, turn off the radio or I-pod and just be present
- Stop for a minute every hour, and focus on the breath
- Pause and take a breath before you see a client, or enter a meeting or courtroom
- Use events in the workday to remember to be present: an email, a phone call, etc.
- At the end of the day, focus on accomplishments, and make a list for the next day; then let go of that day’s work
- Try not to rush to or from the office. Be mindful of what’s going on around you
- At the end of the workday, in the subway or your car, become present and make the transition to the evening
- At stop lights, use the time to breathe and be in the moment, rather than getting impatient
- Notice positive experiences during the day as well as challenges; try to find satisfaction in the mundane activities of your work.
Mindfulness Reminders in day-to-day life
- Remember to breathe before reacting in stressful situations
- “Respond” rather than “react”
- Remember that our thoughts are not necessarily facts
- Coming back to an awareness of breath can be helpful: with a difficult client, talking to an adversary, in front of a challenging judge
- Doing one’s daily chores mindfully: walking the dog, brushing teeth, taking a shower, etc. (Try to be fully present for that activity. If your mind wanders, acknowledge this without self-criticism and then try to bring it back)
- Daily meditation: This is a practice that helps promote mindfulness. Even five minutes of awareness of the breath can be helpful.
(I’m grateful to Jon Kabat-Zin and Saki Santorelli. Some of the ideas in this article were inspired by them or based on their work.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Elizabeth J. Coleman, an attorney with over thirty years’ experience in litigation and legal management, teaches courses on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and has done numerous workshops and lectures for judges and attorneys and other professionals. Check out her website for more information.