GPSolo Magazine - Oct/Nov 2003
IN THE SOLUTION
A Winning Verdict Every Day
Through neglect, lawyers miss an obvious truth. Even though attorneys are purported to be problem solvers, we top other disciplines in job dissatisfaction. Lawyers seem to be fundamentally unable to practice daily self-care, instead sitting for long hours and accumulating stresses. Held captive by choice and custom (i.e., billable hours), we implode—our discontent reflected in physical inertia, social distance, mental confusion, and extreme moods. Given lawyers' training to analyze not utilize, confronting our own health problems may result in deliberating strategies instead of taking action.
Fit to Practice?
Regular moderate physical activity can quickly begin to reduce, reverse, and relieve the defeating causes of these symptoms, but physical activity is a low priority on legal "to do" lists. The vicious circle of low energy and high tension manifests as restlessness and irritability.
Credible health practices require daily attention, just like dental hygiene. Who would postpone brushing their teeth until the weekend because they're "too busy" today? Lawyers' traditional problem-solving methods dictate thought followed by a clear plan of action. Reversing this order offers an easier, more direct way to change: acting your way into good thinking. When we move the body, intuition, not the mind, provides the solution.
Irrefutable scientific studies directly connect physical activity to increased energy and elevated moods—it's like owning our own drugstore. Other compelling research delivers more motivational proof that physical activity awakens our capacities for laughter, creativity, and yes, even sexual pleasure.
If lawyers are going to live in harmony with others, our first priority must be to put our own house in order. Although we're often successful negotiating for ourselves, we get poor marks negotiating with ourselves.
Lawyers are four times more likely to suffer depression than the general population.
Lawyers also have almost twice the incidence of chemical dependency as the general population.
Despite the popularity of examining how lawyers can start living "balanced lives," many never implement simple suggestions that are immediately accessible. A brisk half-hour walk, even in ten-minute increments, generally brings a pleasurable mood change. Even a series of gentle stretches can have profound effects: The body loosens and the heartbeat rises then steadies, establishing a rhythmic, gradual deepening of breath. The increased flow of oxygen gradually warms the skin and muscles, helping circulation head to toe. Brain chemistry interacts with these changes, affecting serotonin and other neurotransmitters, hormonal processes—even the production of cholesterol. All this, just from getting up out of your chair, whether your mind told you your schedule could accommodate this or not.
Nevertheless, several myths may still stand as barriers:
1. I have no time. Lawyers waste more than an hour a day in uncertainty, procrastination, and boredom—redrafting, snacking, slurping coffee, and "talking story." Spend half of this—30 minutes—walking instead.
2. I'm too tired already. A sedentary lifestyle erodes 50 percent of our lung oxygen delivery—not to mention its contribution to the skyrocketing incidence of obesity in the United States.
3. Leave me alone-I'm already under too much pressure. Inactivity magnifies anxiety, elevating hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Which creates more pressure. Which elevates . . . you get the idea.
4. I'll get to it later. The restorative and preventive benefits of physical activity are both immediate and lasting. Research shows that people who do some form of exercise in the morning are less likely to keep putting it off until the day is done.
5. So what-I'm already out of shape. Balance isn't about competing or looking good. It's a life-saving protection against premature disease, disability, and quality of life. Our life expectancy is about 30 years longer than a century ago. Studies show that Americans will spend one-third of this added life wasting away-a huge financial and emotional burden to family and to society. Lawyers have worked hard "to get there"—why not go "out" like a soap bubble, colorful and in perfect shape: Pop!
The Ultimate Motivator
Ultimately, the main beneficiaries of an improved lifestyle are ourselves. Relaxation, increased attention spans, improved memory and concentration, and insight instead of anxiety combine to produce better legal solutions. Sleep patterns and food choices improve. We develop deeper compassion and understanding, and listen more attentively to those who need to be heard: our clients.
Isn't that worth 30 minutes a day to you?
David Stevens Hobler is a trial lawyer and founder-director of Fit in Recovery (www.fitinrecovery.com), a health education and environmental fitness consulting group. He is a member of the California State Bar's Lawyer Assistance Program Oversight Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.