Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mindfulness Meditation Is Too Hard for Lawyers

When I explain mindfulness meditation to legal colleagues, friends, family or strangers, inevitably the first reaction is something along the lines of - "I could never do that! Sit still for five minutes [Note: The proposed number of minutes doesn't actually change this reaction] - I'd go nuts!"

No one expects to run a 5K, do fifty push-ups, read Proust or cook a fabulous meal without some practice, some training, some effort. The same applies to meditation. Meditation is not the goal, it's the means. It's a process. 

Of course the very first time you sit is likely to be somewhat difficult - just like your first effort at running was.

Mindfulness meditation is training the mind in the same way that running sprints or reading cook books is training.  The goal is to use our mindfulness training so as to engage life in a light way with fewer judgements, fewer "stories", and fewer efforts at controlling the uncontrollable.

And how does mindfulness do this? As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Mindfulness for Beginners"...mindfulness is to be present for your experience as it is rather than immediately jumping in to change it or try to force it to be different."

It is said there are two perfect times to plant a tree - thirty years ago and today. In the same way, there is no time like now to start mindfulness. 

How long did you stand in line at Starbucks today? Surely you have five minutes to spare today to start something that will make your other 1,435 minutes more productive, more engaged and less stressful?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mindfulness For All You Skeptical Lawyers

 Apparently, there are a lot of you. You mindfulness skeptics.

Probably not surprising that there would be skeptics about a technique called mindfulness meditation that pretty much involves doing "nothing" for 20 or so minutes each and every day. America as a culture is an overachiever's dream. Doing nothing is really not widely accepted as...well...acceptable. According to the International Labor Organization (part of the UN): “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”

You might not be surprised to discover that working longer hours means more stress. And no one works longer hours than lawyers, am I right? As the chart shows, 80% of stress is work related in the average person's life. Employers worth their salt are pretty much always trying to find ways to reduce stress, understanding the stress contributes to a host of physical ailments from cardiovascular disease to depression.

Currently, mindfulness meditation is gaining a lot of attention at present as the "flavor" of the month in business circles and as such it's garnering its share of skeptics as well.

But mindfulness meditation is more than a flavor of the month! Since 1978 it has been on a slow but steady growth rate of acceptance and understanding of its benefits as a result of the hard work of Jon Kabat- Zinn, who, in 1978, founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program. 

Kabat-Zinn stripped the religious trappings from the meditation process and kept what he needed to assist people in dealing with stress. Mindfulness is not a pursuit of some esoteric enlightenment; rather, mindfulness seeks to help find a meaningful life right here and right now. Mindfulness meditation reduces stress and helps us have a more meaningful life by slowing our thoughts down, seeing the stories we tell ourselves over and over as just that - stories and finding a way to be present in our lives right now rather than living in the past or ruminating about the future. 

The benefits of mindfulness are being recognized by leading universities and research facilities. Even the Harvard Business Review is publishing articles explaining the benefits to individuals and organizations: "...by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on auto-pilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance." 

What business or professional wouldn't want those benefits from something as simple as practicing a technique that takes all of ten to twenty minutes a day?

To learn more about mindfulness meditation or MBSR these resources are a useful start:

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Tao of Law: Seriously, Who Are You, Really?

This is a series of short posts (they have to be short given the very few words Lao Tzu needed in the first place) about how the Tao te Ching can help improve your practice of law – and life.

Nothing wrong with working hard, making some money, enjoying our achievements and the recognition of our peers and clients.  But how often do we confuse our self-worth and our "selfness" with our work identities? Unanticipated failure happens. Honest mistakes are made. Clients blame us even when we did everything right. Clients praise us even when we know it wasn't us. Seriously, who am I, really? Am I defined by the label of my profession? My professional successes? Is that me? Perhaps if we learn to step back and see ourselves as more than a label - that step back could actually be a step forward. 

"Do your work and step back, the only way to serenity.” says the Tao.

When you remove all the identities, labels, definitions, and social norms that you, your family, colleagues and other people around you impose upon/expect from you, who are you really? Probably a pretty insecure feeling arises when you think about giving up all those labels. Who are we if we are not our descriptions? Labels give us security. I'm a lawyer! I'm a Dad! We know what to do with those labels...the norms are clear, the rules well followed - but those labels are not you. When you take away lawyer, advisor, businessperson, father, salesman, husband, wife, mother, son, daughter, who are you really? Perhaps your authentic self. Think of a stream. You can name it whatever you want but it exists independently of all labels. It's no more or less wet, faster or slower, colder or warmer based on the label we give it. Don't confuse your labels with who you really are. Don't let those labels define who you are. I don't define myself as a lawyer; I practices law but that is not who I am. Success or failure as a lawyer does not make me a success or failure as a person. That is an important and helpful distinction for me.

What's this got to do with mindfulness?

Over time, the real, authentic you starts to show up when you practice mindfulness meditation. It's that step back that I talked about at the beginning of this post. It's a process, not a destination, and the changes it makes are incremental but over time, profound.

It is often said that the best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago and today. So take ten minutes today and get mindful. Start. Plant that tree. In time it will bloom, and you'll start to see a few of those labels for what they really are - and I hope start peeling those constraints off one by one. I find its more fun to be a "me" who practices law then the other way around. You likely will too.

Plus, I like to believe that authenticity is a trait every client is looking for in a lawyer. 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Disruptive Technology

If I told you there was a disruptive technology that didn't cost anything, that you could use anywhere without having to carry it, log on, or find wi-fi, that was easy to learn and simple to do, and using this technology for just ten minutes a day would literally change your work life (and your company) for the better, you'd probably ask:"what's the catch," "what's the hidden fee," "Is the beta free but I'm going to get hammered for the upgrade?"

Luckily this piece of disruptive technology has already been beta tested for a couple of thousand years. It's called mindfulness. Meditation. MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). And some very influential companies are already using it to gain an edge in terms of employee focus, happiness, stress reduction and productivity. Best of all, science is all over this in terms of proving its efficacy as a tool to improve lives and organizations.

I'm not talking about meditation as a religious activity. Adapted from the contemplative traditions found in many of the world's great religious traditions to be sure, but MSBR embraces and uses the tools to enhance secular ends and well-being. No diss of the religious traditions, but MSBR is about as secular a program as you can get. No incense, no tea, no need to give up bacon, no cushions, no chanting. Just stillness (more on that in other posts).

Companies from Google (of course) to General Mills (wut?) are using mindfulness or MBSR training to make a difference in their companies cultures and people - right now.

Read more about how companies are embracing mindfulness here: Future Of Work: Mindfulness As A Leadership Practice

I'm currently reading a good book on mindfulness and work called "Mindful Work" by David Gelles that is a tad dry but spot on with its facts, anecdotes and instruction. This book review will give you a flavor for it.

This is truly a disruptive technology that is worth a look and, as an added bonus, you won't even need to talk to your IT department.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Defragging Your Hard Drive

You know how to defrag your computer right? It's that little program that reorganizes your hard drive so that everything runs just a little smoother. Most of us have our computers set up to take care of this task automatically once a week in the middle of the night. It's why our computers usually run smoothly first thing in the morning when we check our emails as we roll out of bed (and therein lies another post, but I digress).

I just read a marvelous little book called "Sit Like a Buddha" by Lodro Rinzler. Someone once told him that they wanted to meditate so that they could "defrag their hard drive."  I love that image. Meditation is a little like that. Not exactly defragging but it does work day to day to help keep your mind working smoothly, minimizing those bugs like the blues and general worries.  Unfortunately you can't set it to run in the middle of the night on automatic like you do on your PC.  Meditation is a manual defrag. You have to do the work - daily defragging is recommended.

Defragging is not a perfect analogy by any means. We, life and our brains are more mysterious and complex than a processor or hard drive (so far anyway). But when I don't meditate I feel a little buggie, a little cloudy, a little, well, fragged.  I miss the clarity that meditation can bestow on my days. 

Meditation doesn't make the world look better, just clearer - and what you can see clearly you can handle better.  And if you can handle it better, well, you're going to feel better no matter what the issue.

That's good for you and your clients. And family. And friends.

It's a win-win that costs about ten minutes a day. Pretty cheap I'd say.

Thanks for reading.