The fact that the demands and complexities of a lawyer’s daily life continue to grow cannot be contradicted, whether it’s driven by the client or the firm. This all adds up to an increase in stress on the individual. We hear more often that stress is a good thing (eustress), it motivates us to start/complete tasks, give us excitement and fulfilment; we do have to be aware of the negative stresses (or distress) which can quickly change our state of being to developing a range of problems for one’s health and wellbeing and also effecting their performance.
Busy lawyers tend to push many tasks down to less expensive and therefore less experienced people, such as paralegals or junior lawyers, which builds further pressure on all parties. Where there’s a lot of pressure, there will be increased stress.
There is sufficient research to tell us that when someone is in a stressful situation for a prolonged period of time, it’s likely that they will become ill or suffer with a longer-term condition.
In the short and medium term, it just means that you are not going to be able to perform to your best even though you may think you are. Recognised evidence from neuroscience shows that when you’re when you are in a stressful situation, you can’t access your prefrontal cortex where all your best thinking and problem solving is done.
Many professionals, including lawyers, think to some degree that they’re superhuman, and that they can just “suck it all up” and get on with it. But there is a definite need, looking at a sporting analogy, to look after and train yourself so that you can be physically, emotionally, and intellectually fit for purpose. This means that there’s a requirement for you to be resilient, and a requirement for you to get your body, mind and emotions in a place of strength and high performance.
Good news: There’s a lot you can do in a short period of time.
With the increased understanding of how the brain works through neuroscience research and greater awareness of the positive impact of mindfulness on our professional lives, there are a number of things that we can do on a day-to-day basis that aren’t necessarily onerous but help us to be our best selves. In fact, doing them means we should make more effective use our time. We will be better at delegating, we’ll be better at thinking more clearly, we’ll be better at managing the relationships around us, as well as managing our own energy levels.
To understand what these day-to-day activities are, we have spoken to our colleague Angie Hermann, previously a brain surgeon & neuroscientist, before gaining years of experience in neuroscience and psychology in the workplace.
Angie has shared with us her top 5 resilience tips – they are so invaluable, take little time to read them through, but also try keep them somewhere close to remind yourself from time to time.
I personally believe that the lens you view the world and yourself through has an impact on your personal resilience. What this means, is that the fundamental belief and value systems one holds, result in one’s emotional (dis)equilibrium and hence in what one acts out. And we know that how I am to others, is often what I get back. So I could make my life easier if I behaved one way, or harder if I behaved another. Eg if I take a long-term perspective on my life, separate big issues from the small stuff, then I pick the moments in which engaging in conflict is important to me. I also believe in my own capability as a resourceful person and that we grow through our challenges, and therefore I engage positively with challenges, as opposed to believing that ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘it’s not fair’.
2. Learning and curiosity
This links into #1. I think of life as a learning journey, and that the experiences I encounter are a combination of fate and freewill. Basically, events happen, how I respond to them will to a large degree determine how I cope with them. Standing with me is an observer, prompting me to notice the emotional/mental/physical impact of an event on me, and prompting me to find the learning in it and work out a resolution, in order to resource me for the future. Practiced over a longer period, this leads to a conscious stocking up on life experience and self-efficacy, and with that increasing one’s resilience.
3. Bamboo in the Wind
This is one of the images I hold in relation to resilience. I think of it as bamboo that is intrinsically strong but also very flexible in the wind. It also has a great ability to regenerate itself, when damaged. I am a yoga practitioner, and this underpins the asanas in yoga. They are designed to develop physical and mental strength, always coupled with flexibility. They with, meditation and prayer, feed my spirit. Yoga also benefits our nervous system, removing the ‘chronic distress’ we all often live under in our past-moving world, and creates an inner calm that is again important for keeping me feeling resourced. It helps with the perspective that winds blow, but I can bend and adapt as needed.
4. Consistent self-care
A word much used in recent times. But I have been doing this for quite a long time, and again, it’s what keeps my resilience batteries charged in the first place. I’m pretty consistent on good diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, yoga (mindfulness) practice, spending time in nature and having fun with friends and family. I believe work has an important part in my life, but it does not define me, and any form of workaholism is unhealthy, and ends up leaving one under-resourced in the long run. Odd pushes in work are fine, just like the odd bottle of wine. When the bottle becomes cases or a truckload or the point of my day, it’s detrimental and the work equivalent is the same.
This applies in a crisis and in the long-run. I have survived very stressful jobs and life experiences. The key thing I learnt from them: know that nothing lasts forever – ‘the wheel turns’ (Shakespeare). In a crisis conserving one’s energy is important, just like in an athletic race. Pacing so you know when to just keep going vs when to have a real push/sprint. Doing the thing in front of you that you can in the moment, and letting go the rest. Knowing that maybe you can have it all (or a lot of it), but not all at the same time – there are seasons for things, and you have to work with them, not against them, or you waste a lot of energy and exhaust yourself.
If you are looking for more guidance on how to be resilient when leading your team, or for further leadership development, get in touch with us to find out how we can help.