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Law Practice Today

May 2024

Improve Your Professional and Personal Life in One Year

Darcel Lobo


  • Making changes to your personal or professional life is difficult, but having a concrete plan for how to succeed can help.
  • A good place to start to make changes is to stop overcomplicating things that aren’t as complicated as we make them out to be.
  • Everything that happens in our life can be broken down into five categories: facts, thinking, feelings, actions, and outcomes. 
Improve Your Professional and Personal Life in One Year

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We can get so caught up in the day-to-day of things that we don’t stop to assess where we are or how we got there. For some of us (myself included), you find yourself at a place and you’re not sure how you got there, but you know that it’s not where you want to be. You know you want to make some changes, but maybe you aren’t sure exactly what those changes are and/or how to get to where you want to be. Or the thought of making a change just seems too overwhelming.

In your work, maybe you want to move toward becoming partner, making a career change, or opening your own law firm (that was me!), among plenty of other career shifts. Or maybe it’s something personal—you want to work on reducing stress or burnout or try to carve out more time for yourself and your family. Some of my clients find that they’ve turned to unhealthy habits to try to numb the feelings they’ve been avoiding with activities such as overspending, overeating (this was also me), overdrinking, any type of overindulgence to stall (or avoid altogether) some negative feelings they’ve had.

So let’s talk about how to turn things around, take action, and place yourself in the driver’s seat of your own life, personally and professionally, and make the changes you want to see for yourself in the next 12 months.

This has been something I’ve dealt with on a number of issues, both personally and professionally. Back in 2016 I finally opened my own law firm after doubting myself for more than two years. Not believing in myself or having my own back. Being unhappy in my career but not doing anything about it. Now, after having my own law firm for eight years, I can say that not only did I open my own firm, but I knocked going solo out of the park (if I do say so myself)!

Sometimes I look back and think “Jeez, why didn’t I believe in myself? Think of how much further along I could be if I didn’t waste those two years doubting myself!” But I know that isn’t helpful thinking and that actually I’m right where I’m supposed to be. The timing worked out as it should have. And the same is true for you. You may not be where you want to be, but you are where you’re supposed to be in this moment. But you have the ability to make changes in order to achieve the goals you desire.

If you’ve already identified some areas that can use some improvement and that you’d like to make positive changes to in the next 12 months, you’ve already overcome half of the battle. So let’s look at how to get you to the finish line.

To start off, we need to stop overcomplicating things that aren’t as complicated as we make them out to be. Everything that happens in our life can be broken down into five categories, and it’s important that we break things down into these five categories in order to get to the crux of why we haven’t yet made the changes that we want to see in ourselves.

  1. Facts. These are things that just are what they are. They’re not disputable—not good or bad—they just exist. For me, examples would be: I live in Washington State; I’m a lawyer; I’m a law firm owner; I have two children, etc. Now, I may have opinions about these facts, but that’s something different. Right now, we’re just identifying the who/what/where/when. For you, this could be your career; maybe you want to make some changes but haven’t taken the necessary steps to do so. Or maybe it’s your health, your financial status, your relationships with certain people in your life. There are all types of facts that you may want to improve. We need to start out by identifying what they are. This is step one: Identify the facts that you want to work on.
  2. Thinking. The facts you’ve identified are going to cause you to think different things about those facts. What are your thoughts when you’ve identified the facts? Maybe you’re dissatisfied with the career choices you’ve made. Maybe you know that you’re not living up to your full potential and you want to work on that. Maybe you need to stop procrastinating, or maybe you think that you can’t do something. “I can’t do this, that, or the other,” is a common one that people think, and it isn’t something that serves us well. This is step two: Looking inward, identify what you think about these facts.
  3. Feelings. Once you think something about a fact, you will immediately have a feeling about it, whether it’s a good or bad feeling. For many lawyers whom I work with, one of the big feelings is that they feel stressed or burned out. But there are also many other feelings that we can have about things, such as anger, frustration, uncertain, pessimism . . . the list goes on and on. This is step three: Identify how you feel about your thoughts. This can be tough, because many of us never learned how to sit with our feelings and we spend a lot of time trying to avoid them. But we can’t address them, and can’t change them, until we can identify them.
  4. Actions. This is what we do (or, many times, what we don’t do) in reaction to the feelings we have. A lot of times, we find ourselves taking actions in order to delay or avoid doing something. The biggest one I see right now is social media (no surprise there), but I also see overeating, overspending, watching too much television, and playing games on phones. Anything to avoid or bury the feelings that we don’t want to deal with. We’re just stalling. This is step four: Identify actions (and inactions) you are taking to avoid feelings and actions you can take to face them.
  5. Outcomes. The actions that you do or don’t take will directly impact the outcome. What is the current outcome you have and what is the outcome you desire? If you’re currently in a place of dissatisfaction, unhappy with work, unhealthy relationships (with people or things), poor habits that you want to break, or maybe other undesirable outcomes, just know that while a lot of this may be caused by your own doing, this also means that you have the ability to make the changes that you desire by addressing each of the five categories we just covered. Step five: Identify the outcomes you want to trade for the outcomes you currently have.

Without understanding these five categories and how they work together, it can sometimes feel as though you don’t have any control over outcomes, and that no matter how hard you try, you can’t make the changes that you seek. But when it’s broken down into five categories, and you understand that each of the categories influences the others, it becomes easier to understand that you do have the power to influence your own surroundings to take the lead and improve your own outcomes.

It’s important that we understand how these five categories affect each other whenever you are trying to make a change in your life. When we try to make a change by only addressing one of these categories, it usually doesn’t work, or it isn’t the long-lasting change we seek. If you just try to change your action, or change the outcome, without addressing the first three categories, you’re not going to see the long-term success you truly want.

What is the current outcome you have and what is the outcome you desire? Sometimes we have to work through these categories backward in order to figure out what we need to do. If you know that your desired outcome is to open your own law firm, what are the first four steps you would need to work through to achieve that? Figuring out the actions isn’t actually that hard. We’re all lawyers, and we know how to figure things out. We may not have all of the answers, but we’re resourceful and know how to get the answers. It’s not like I delayed opening my own law firm because I didn’t know how to get a Tax ID number from the IRS or get a business license, let’s be honest. It was all the garbage thinking and feelings I had about me opening my own law firm.

The hard part is the thinking and feeling categories. Those are tough. We don’t always want to address those areas, but that’s where the real change comes. That’s where you do the internal cleanup work, where you work on your mind and truly identify what’s going on. You can only make the changes you seek once you truly understand your thoughts about what’s going on and how you feel about it.

The overarching point of working through these five categories is to become more aware, to be more conscious in our day-to-day decision making. We can get derailed when we’re not paying attention. When we take a step back and look at these five categories in regard to the changes we want to make in our lives, no matter how big or small the changes may seem, we’re able to look at things from an outside perspective. To see how our thinking and feelings directly affect our actions and outcomes, and then to make changes accordingly. We can see that we do have power over our own outcomes, and that we are able to sit in the driver’s seat of our own lives. We have to get out of autopilot.

Now, I don’t say all of this to imply that it’s easy. Because while some changes can be easier to make than others, depending on what thinking and feelings we have attached to our actions and outcomes, it can be hard to scrutinize these categories. But again, it’s to see the changes we desire. It takes you from a state of acting unconsciously to being conscious in your decision making. You’re deciding what you want your thoughts to be, how you feel about things, what actions you take, and, as a result, you’re deciding your outcomes.

You may ask, “Why one year?” Why isn’t this article about making a change in 30 days? Or three months? Well, I think that one year is about right for the types of changes my clients want to see in their own lives and careers, and usually the outcomes we’re working on changing are big ones. And for a lot of my clients, they’ve been doing the same things, with the same thoughts, same feelings, same actions (or inactions), and same outcomes for a long time. Usually years. But if we decide on giving effort to making a change for one year, where we’re committed to new thinking, shifting the feelings we have attached to that thinking, taking new actions, and giving the desired outcome a real fighting chance at succeeding, I think one year is a reasonable and realistic amount of time.

I ask you, “What is your capacity?” You don’t have to be limited by your current abilities. Where do you want to go? Where would you love to see improvement? You have the power to make these changes by working through these five categories. And to make it a little easier, I have a free worksheet to help you get started. Feel free to email me at [email protected] to get your copy.