Two things I have learned about the practice of mindfulness since my last column in February is that small, incremental changes produce big results over time, and when you find yourself in tough situations and you are not mindful, you are conscious of it and learn how to do it better next time.
It came as no surprise to me that once I began writing about mindfulness and thinking about it more deeply for this column, I would be “tested” as to where I am with the practice and learn some valuable lessons to share in the process.
Whether you are in the beginning of your journey or have a deeply ingrained practice of mindfulness, life is going to throw you curveballs and you will have times when your commitment to mindfulness is challenged.
In the time since the last column, I had a profound experience you might empathize with in some way. (That is, of course, if your empathy skills are fully developed.) After five years in a wonderful office-sharing situation, the firm downsized, and the subtenants did not go with them to their new home. April 1 was our move-out date, and I had to decide which direction to take my practice. The first thing I wanted to do was go back to my old office building where I had been located for 12 years. I still love the people, the location, and the facilities, plus the building has been totally renovated. In December I connected with the leasing agent. My need for a small space did not seem to light a fire under his feet, and I looked at all the options available to me, such as virtual office space, working out of a mediation center, and other locations. The leasing agent was about as fast as a glacier.
The main point here is that deep down I had a sense that I was going to be back in my old office building, but things were not working out the way I thought they should. When I could not get the leasing agent to confirm the lease in a timely manner and the move date approached, two things were going on simultaneously: One was the intuitive feeling that it was going to work out (the result of my mindfulness practice), and the other was sheer panic and stress. The keep-you-up-at-night stress. Why? Because things were out of my control. I was not getting the answers I wanted and needed. It was a truly uncomfortable time.
My lesson was that I realized how much deeper I need to go in my mindfulness practice. Despite how far I have come, there is still more work to do to get through the uncomfortable times we all experience with less stress and more joy.
During the process I honestly wanted to listen to the deeper voice and just let things take their course, but it was scary and uncertain. We lawyers really do like to have certainty. I realized that I needed to keep going with my practices and get to the point where I listen more to that deep inner voice that knew the situation was handled. With more mindful discipline, I could have saved myself all that “head space” of worry and fear—fear that I would not make it in time, fear that the lease would not go through, etc.
As time to move approached and I had a vacation planned, things really got stressful. When I had planned the vacation, I thought that I would already be moved and settled. Right before I left, I learned that the beautiful office I wanted was under option to the space next door. Ouch!
The good news was that the leasing agent told me he had a space upstairs on the other side of the building that he had not previously mentioned. Bright and early the next day I went to look at the space and was blown away. I was getting a freshly built-out space that was perfect for me. I had a big kitchen/work space that the other space did not have. The mediation room I use is two doors down on the same floor, and the view from this side of the building is much better than the other space. Last, the classroom where I will hold my Legal Insight seminars is right down the hall.
When the deal finally came together, it was far better than the initial plan, and it all worked out with perfect timing. I moved out a week early and have the most comfortable and peaceful work space. During those months, my mindfulness practice was operating and I was in the flow all along. I had that deeper sense that it was going to be all right, but I did not trust it deeply enough to let go of that stressful energy that comes with not trusting the “now.”
This recognition told me that I need to go deeper with my meditation and my practice. It gives me more confidence in moving forward next time with less worry and more detachment and faith.
The journey was difficult, but I learned how to make it easier on myself next time. I learned that when things don’t work out exactly as you think they should or the way that you want, it might just mean that there is something better around the corner, and that trusting your deeper sense of this is the way to go.
When you embark on a new practice, you might encounter challenges in the process that keep you from going deeper. It is very easy to think about giving up when you don’t get instant results and things are still hard and challenging. No matter what we feel we are doing right, we are not in control of how other people respond and react. I had absolutely no ability to make the leasing agent move any faster, no matter what I did. I even got a leasing broker to handle things for me, and that did nothing but make me more frustrated when he could not get the young man to respond. But all along, there was a plan running in the background, the perfect office was waiting for me; it just was not available at the time.
The Power of Small, Incremental Changes
Darren Hardy, the former editor of Success Magazine, wrote a book called The Compound Effect, in which he discusses at length how small, incremental changes can produce big results.
The practice of mindfulness is like that.
You start small, and shortly thereafter you notice small things. You become more aware, and you train your mind to slow down through the practice of meditation. Soon these short meditations become a very important part of your day, like brushing your teeth, and before you know it you recognize the changes in your responses to events and circumstances that previously would have caused friction or stress, and the same events don’t trigger you like they once did.
In the book The Telomere Effect, authors Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel talk about piggybacking a short practice onto another regular practice to establish new and good habits that really get you into a great mind frame to accomplish your goals. For example, I do a 15–20-minute spin class as many days as I possibly can in a week, and I just added a five-minute arm-toning class. The extra five minutes is not long, and it is not too hard, either. It doesn’t feel like much, but I guarantee you if I keep it up month after month, there is going to be a real change in how my arms look in dresses just from incorporating that one little habit into my daily life.
What Easy Mindful Habits Could You Incorporate into Your Daily Schedule?
Could you read an inspirational story? Could you review your goals for the year every evening before bed? Could you add a walk around the block or some small exercise activity to each day? There are many ways to slow yourself down and get in touch with yourself and how you are feeling each day.
As busy lawyers, we often attempt to cram way more in one day than is humanly possible. We try to do it all, but there is always the unplanned emergency or the case that must be handled quickly while other files must be put on the back burner. A calm and cool mind that listens to the deep inner voice that says, “It’s going to be all right,” will carry us much further than the stressed-out situation I went through with my office. I am so happy now and so grateful that I had it as a lesson to show me where I am with my practice and how much more there is to go. It’s not a race. It’s a process. A lifestyle. As lawyers, we are used to having discipline and achieving our goals.
Why Not Make Our Goal to Be Healthier and Happier Lawyers?
Wouldn’t the justice our clients deserve be a little bit easier it we were healthier and happier lawyers? It’s something to think about.
In her Super Soul Sunday segment this week, Oprah Winfrey featured Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, on the show. He shared how he incorporated mindfulness and compassion into his company and said that the thing he is most proud of in his life is that he wakes up wanting to go to work every day, and every evening he wants to go home. That is a goal worth achieving.
My suggestion this month:
- Dig deeper into your daily practices.
- Stick with what feeds you mind, body, and soul.
- Let loose of the things that don’t.
- And remember that you control your thoughts and you control your outcome.
Please contact me with any feedback, questions, or stories you want to share at firstname.lastname@example.org.