Before work-life balance can truly be achieved, mindfulness and presence must be sought after and practiced. This should be at the forefront of the work-life balance paradigm. A few years ago, blogger Jae Ellard rightly questioned whether mindfulness was the new way to talk about work-life balance and whether “work-life balance” has been a conversation about mindfulness all along. Her blog concludes that although mindfulness and work-life balance have different starting points, they are essentially the same conversation. According to Ellard, what matters most is people willing to make the choice to live more mindfully and balanced and having the resources and environments available to develop mindful living skills.
Mindfulness begins when we pay close attention to how we show up in life, both at work and at home, and by making conscious choices about how our “presence” looks and feels in each moment. Once we become familiar with our own thoughts and emotions, we are able to be more present and self-aware, thus adding more balance and richness to our lives. Dr. Ellen Langer, a renowned mindfulness expert and professor of psychology at Harvard University, tells us that virtually all our suffering—professional, personal, interpersonal, and societal—is the direct or indirect result our mindlessness, and that we are all “mindless” most of the time (yes, this includes lawyers too!). According to Dr. Langer’s research, increasing mindfulness results in increased health, competence, and happiness. And, more specifically, when people become more mindful, they become more innovative, their memory and attention improve, and their relationships expand. In short, mindfulness expands success, health, and vitality.
The research also tells us that mindfulness is directly linked to business success. The Harvard Business Review has published neuroscience evidence discussing the physical changes to brains of those who practice meditation and mindfulness and stated that mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives but a “must have.” The positive effects of mindfulness and meditation have also made waves into the legal profession. In a widely referenced Wall Street Journal article entitled “Lawyers Go Zen, With Few Objections,”(subscription required) Jacob Gershman discussed the “mindfulness movement” and its breakthrough into the field of law not only with dozens of law schools throughout the United States incorporating mindfulness programs into their curriculum but, with lawyers becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of practicing mindfulness.
Achieving mindfulness comes with dedication and the daily practice of mindful meditation. Mindful meditation entails taking time simply to “be.” The point is not to try to achieve a particular state of mind such as happiness or contentment (although they tend to be the byproducts of mindfulness) but to simply be present with whatever arises in your mind. It can be about breathing, sitting, walking, eating, or standing while simultaneously observing mental events as they arise—you are asked to notice your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, sense perceptions and daydreams. The challenge lies in deliberately dismissing the natural urge to evaluate, criticize, contemplate, or change your thought process. You must “be” with your thoughts. Mindfulness allows you to open up the possibility of fully appreciating each moment—achieving true balance and increased success.
It is possible to achieve all the benefits of mindfulness by dedicating only two minutes a day to a mindful meditation practice. Short but regular practice will produce positive and lasting results. What follows are two short, simple and effective mindfulness techniques that any lawyer, at any age, can fit into their daily schedule.
Pause practice. Anytime and anywhere: stop what you’re doing, sit or stand up straight and for two minutes become fully aware. Take a moment to take note of your breath, your senses, what you are seeing, hearing, or feeling. What are your thoughts or emotions? After you finish, you simply shift back to your work.
Mindful eating. Mindful eating is being aware of eating with all your senses. For two minutes, give your eating your fullest attention, and be present in the moment. When you are mindful of what you eat, you are aware of what you are eating, how much, if you are truly hungry, how the food you are eating smells, tastes, looks, and feels. Focus on the meal, put your fork down between bites and for 2 minutes pay attention to your food.
Mindfulness can be another powerful tool to help lawyers achieve balance, take a different and more insightful perspective on what is happening around them and ultimately be more successful in just 2 minutes a day!