Bar News - January 18, 2017
Seven Steps for Surviving the New Year
By: Dan Wise
It’s a new year, and attorneys, like everyone else, are adapting to change.
No doubt, many attorneys are also experiencing disruption or change in the ways they interact with clients, conduct research, and, ultimately, provide advice and legal services. It’s a situation tailor-made for burnout.
Unfortunately, lawyers are especially prone to burnout and high stress levels, according to Paula Davis-Laack, a former lawyer who now consults and speaks on resilience and burnout prevention. Although lawyers and other professionals tend to be high-achievers who can overcome problems that may develop due to high stress and other pressures, some of the skills that make them successful in their field can act against them in developing emotionally healthy habits. “Lawyers tend to score on the low end when it comes to resilience,” she says. “Most lawyers do not take criticism well, and they don’t often form high-quality connections. Lawyers prefer to connect in a head-oriented way than in an emotional way.”
Lawyers, being highly motivated problem-solvers, do have the capability to change if they want to change. The following tips and observations are based on Davis-Laack’s presentation at the NH Bar Association Annual Meeting, which was held in October in Portsmouth. They are designed to provide lawyers with ways to reorient themselves in the face of daunting situations or when anxiety threatens to overtake their composure.
1. STOP. Mindfulness training counsels a simple form of stress relief by promoting awareness of “the moment” with STOP: Stop, Take a Breath, Observe your environment, and Proceed. Davis-Laack says this can enable a simple, middle-of-the-day mental and physical reset.
2. Focusing on a goal. Use everyday actions to help keep your goal in the foreground of your awareness. Use something as prosaic (and ubiquitous) as setting up a frequently used computer or website password based on your goal: “Lose15lbs” for example.
3. Strengthen your emotional safety net. Implement what psychologists call the “10/5 Rule.”: At any gathering, If you’re within 10 feet of another person, look at them and acknowledge that you see them and if you’re within five feet, say hello. “Many of us wander around work and life either distracted or tethered to some type of electronic device, so I suspect you’ll find this harder to put into practice than you might think,” Davis-Laack says.
4. Don’t deny unpleasant realities. Using military lingo, Davis-Laack urges that professionals who by the nature of their jobs are facing challenging situations and no-win choices, “embrace the suck.” It is better to face up to what is unpleasant, or unresolvable, about the situation than to engage in denial or unrealistic rationalization. See things for what they are, and then do what needs to be done.
5. Engage in FAT thinking. FAT thinking means being Flexible, Accurate and Thorough in how you size up a problem or situation, to find new ways of looking at a problem.
6. Reframe. When confronting a dilemma, ask: “Where do I have a measure of control, influence or leverage in this situation? What can I actually control?”
7. Focus on the big picture. Coming up with motivation that is greater than you can help with decision-making. A defense attorney facing the task of cross-examining a delicate crime victim needs to remind themselves: Am I just doing this for a paycheck? There’s a significant purpose served by performing this unpleasant task.
Lastly, Davis-Laack urges lawyers and others in stressful situations to cultivate realistic optimism and a sense of gratitude. “While negative emotions are important and have a purpose,” people are more effective and more resilient when they can concentrate on finding positive signs. End the day with a mental or written list of “what went right,” she counsels.
For more on these topics, visit her website at www.pauladavislaack.com.