May 01, 2018 Practice Management

Mindfulness 101: The Power of Attention

By Melanie Bragg

How to Tame Your Wandering Mind

Have you noticed when you look around that everyone is on their cell phone? Do people seem to be enjoying the “here and now”? Do you see people out with each other and on their phones? We are supposedly so much more connected, but are we really connected? And what effect can this lack of present attention have on our lives and our profession?

 

I spent two of the last several weeks on ABA trips. One was to the GPSolo Division’s Joint Spring Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, with GLSA, and the other was at the Section of Litigation Annual Conference in San Diego, California. On both of these trips I observed attendees, specifically thinking about how we pay attention. One big thing I noticed is that when people were at the CLEs, they were often on their phones and computers working on other things. What would it take to get them really engaged in what was being said? I overheard people talking to one another about how much “work” they had to do while there and how long they were in their rooms working, rather than being at the conference. It was almost like a status symbol of who was important—the more work you had to do, the more important you were.

 

They Were There, But They Were Not There

I realized that, when we are not paying attention to what is before us, we are missing out on the “NOW.” The NOW is all we have. So, if we are not here NOW, where are we then? It all relates to our power of focus and our wandering minds. I began to wonder how that affects our ability to practice law and to actually serve our clients and our communities in an effective way. There are several professions where attention is crucial. If a judge misses a few minutes of a final argument because of his wandering mind, if a police officer doesn’t hear the last part of a witness report, if a doctor doesn’t hear a patient’s symptoms, critical mistakes can be made.

Amishi Jha created a powerful TED Talk called How to Tame Your Wandering Mind, presented to a local audience at TEDxCoconutGrove, an independent event. Amishi Jha is a neuroscientist who studies how we pay attention: the process by which our brain decides what’s important out of the constant stream of information it receives. She researches mindfulness techniques to optimize focus, even under high stress.

“Both external distractions (like stress) and internal ones (like mind-wandering) diminish our attention’s power, but some simple techniques can boost it. Pay attention to your attention,” Jha says.

Jha did mindfulness training on military forces and came up with profound research on the subject, concluding that mindfulness does help the brain focus and reduce the wandering mind epidemic. It actually helped the troops in many surprising ways.

For us lawyers, really keeping our attention where it needs to be in the moment helps us do our best and then frees us up to enjoy our lives later. If we are at work when work is going on, then we can be at play when it’s time to play. This is preferable to being in multiple places at once and not really getting the best benefit of our lives in the moment.

Check out the TED Talk and let me know your thoughts. I found it to be a very powerful message. And begin to notice where you are when you are doing things. Are you 100 percent focused on the task at hand, or is your mind wandering? The daily practice of mindfulness will tame that wandering mind and produce benefits that others might not see, but you will be able to notice them and feel them inside.

One very important thing that Jha points out in her research is that mindfulness is like exercise—if you do it, you get the benefits. If you don’t do it, you don’t get the benefits. Simple as that. Mindfulness practice, to be effective, must be done on a regular basis. It’s not something you do once or twice and then you are there. It only works if you are working it. And five minutes a day can easily turn into ten and then fifteen. When you begin to see how much more energy and time you have as a result of that small effort, you will want to invest more into it because the results are so great. Check out more on this at the UMindfulness Resources page on the Miami College of Arts & Sciences website.

 

Celebrating My One-Year Anniversary of Doing Mindfulness Workshops

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my first mindfulness presentation in Scottsdale, Arizona, at GPSolo’s 2017 Joint Spring Meeting. I was pleasantly surprised when everyone stayed an extra 45 minutes without complaint. Since then, I have continued to do presentations to a variety of groups and to go deeper into the practice of mindfulness daily. The process has changed my life dramatically. In fact, the results astound me. The simple practice of a daily meditation and other techniques has enabled me to respond in new ways to stresses that, in the past, I did not handle so well. And I have been able to do more with less effort.

When people ask how I am doing, I report that I am having a “renaissance” in my law practice. My renewed sense of well-being can only be attributed to this mindfulness work. The results keep coming every day, in both little and big ways, and it is such an honor to be able to share what I learn with you. In today’s world and with our increasingly stressful profession, anything we can do to reduce that stress and to handle it better is a worthwhile endeavor.

Until next time…namaste. Please let me know if you have any tips, sources, or experiences with mindfulness you want to share at melanie@legalinsightinc.com.

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”—Zen proverb

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Melanie Bragg has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Houston’s fiercest attorneys in her representation of children, the elderly, and mentally disadvantaged people. Her firm, Bragg Law PC, is a general civil firm in Houston, Texas. She also writes and produces legal education programs through Legal Insight, Inc. (founded by Bragg in 1993). Her writing credits include Crosstown Park, an Alex Stockton legal thriller, HIPAA for the General Practitioner, chapters in How to Capture and Keep Clients, 2nd Edition; Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work, 2nd Edition; and The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line, as well as the upcoming book, Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul, to be published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Flagship Division. When she is not writing, Melanie devotes her time to her work as Chair-Elect of the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice (GPSolo) Division and to sharing ideas with fellow authors. She is interested in your feedback and ideas about how solos, small firms, military, and government lawyers can lead richer, happier lives and thereby improve the delivery of legal services to the public. Melanie can be reached at melanie@legalinsightinc.com.