Creating a Calmer Self

It is difficult to make sound decisions, nurture relationships, think creatively, control our reactions, manage conflict or be optimistic, happy or effective when we are under stress and perceived expectations. The first and best action we can take regularly to increase our effectiveness in all times, is to be self-aware – know what is going on with us in the given moment and use learned practices to control and deliver the messages or actions we want – this is our emotional intelligence. Being self-aware and accessing and managing our emotional

intelligence is not simply will power. Science has shown we experience physical and chemical changes in our bodies when under stress. These physical reactions can create a lack of self-control and block access to our “thinking” part of the brain. It is our duty to know ourselves and learn and practice techniques that will support our emotional intelligence and our effectiveness.

While studying transcendental meditation in the 1970s, Herbert Benson M.D., discovered that certain changes in our body occur with deep relaxation – reduced heart rate, lowered blood pressure, relaxed muscles, and altered brain-wave patterns. Benson named this state of calmness our “relaxation response,” and viewed it as biology’s answer to the fight-or-flight response – which is the set of changes that occur when we experience danger or acute stress. Here are a few tangible practices to access the relaxation response, thereby increasing your emotional intelligence and your effectiveness in the moment:

1. Deep Breathing

• Take a normal breath and notice how it feels.

• Now take a slow, deep breath so your belly expands. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

• Take one normal breath, then one slow breath. How does that feel?

• Practice deep breathing for several minutes, sighing on the exhale.

• Breathe deeply for 10 minutes and say silently to yourself, “Breathing in peace and calm, breathing out tension and anxiety.”

2. Muscle Relaxation

• Take several deep breaths.

• Concentrate on your forehead. Tighten these muscles, while counting slowly from one to five. Hold them tight as you can, then let go while taking a slow, deep breath. Repeat.

• Repeat this process, moving down your body, tightening a particular set of muscles for a count of one to five, then releasing them as you take a deep breath: jaw, neck, chest, abdomen, right shoulder, right upper arm, right forearm, right fist, left shoulder, left upper arm, left forearm, left fist, pelvis and buttocks, right thigh, right calf, right foot, left thigh, left calf and left foot.

• Do a mental check from head to toe to sense any remaining stress. Repeat the areas that need it.

3. Visualizing

• Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.

• Imagine in your mind, a special place where you know you can relax.

• Spend time in this place and take in what’s around you. Focus on colors and shapes. Focus on smells and sounds. Focus on movement and sensations.

• Allow yourself to become totally absorbed in the sense of peace.

4. Self-Talk

• Identify one negative thought pattern that plays repeatedly in your head and write it down as a sentence or two.

• Ask yourself these four questions: Does this thought contribute to my stress? Where did I learn this thought? Is this a logical thought? Is this thought true?

• Create your own restructured thought and write it down under the original one. Refer to it whenever the negative thought reemerges.

5. Meditate

The practice of meditation involves a turning inward of our attention, a repetitive focus on breathing or a simple word, phrase or prayer. You may choose a word that is secular (Peace) or religious (Hail Mary or Shalom). In this exercise, we suggest using the old Sanskrit mantra, Ham Sah (Ham means I am; Sah means that), because the sounds reflect the sensations of breathing and letting go.

• Find a comfortable place to sit and close your eyes. Starting with the number 10, silently count down to zero, breathing in and out on each count.

• Now as you breathe in, say the word “Ham” (pronounced ham) silently to yourself. As you exhale, concentrate on the word “Sah” (pronounced saah).

• Continue to note your breathing. As you inhale, pause for a few seconds. As you exhale, pause for a few seconds.

• Stay as focused as you can on your breathing and these words.

• When it’s time to close, continue to be aware of your breathing, but start to become aware of your surroundings. Slowly open your eyes and take in what is around you. Get up gradually.

Don’t judge yourself as you meditate. If your mind wanders or your thoughts race around, just calmly resume your breathing and repeat your phrase. Begin by setting aside 10 minutes for each session, then gradually work up to 20.

Career Navigation – Mindful Leadership and Lawyers

Mindfulness has proven to be a powerful tool for leaders. Chief executives at small and large corporations alike have embraced mindful practices for themselves as well as implementing company-wide initiatives, such as meditation and yoga, to guide employees in becoming more mindful. The programs have resulted in happier workplaces, but have also increased profitability and sustainability.

Could this be true for lawyers, too? Yes! What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is simply the practice of being present in the moment you are in. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as waking up and living in harmony with oneself and with the world. It has to do with examining who we are, our place in the world and being in touch.

Tangible Benefits Experienced by Professionals With a Mindfulness Practice

• Stress reduction.

• Ability to think before reacting.

• More clarity and focus.

• Increased access to creativity and innovation.

• More patience and gratitude.

• Better self-awareness.

• Increased problem solving ability.

• Increased neuroplasticity in our brains to assist in the changing of long-held patterns/habits of thinking/behaving that doesn’t work for us anymore.

Practically, mindfulness is a way to strike a balance between emotion and logic. Some might say, it’s another way to increase your emotional intelligence agility. Imagine your brain as a continuum with emotion on one end and logic on the other, the goal being to center yourself between the two. The mindfulness practice will help you become centered. The practice enables

you strike a balance between emotion and logic so you can increase your effectiveness in your role. No matter where you are on the continuum of logic and emotion, it is never too late to begin practicing mindfulness and experience the rewards. The goal is starting and then integrating a consistent practice into your daily routine. One form of mindfulness practice is meditation.

Suggested Daily Meditation Practice

• Upon waking – sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair.

• Sit upright, spine straight.

• Soften your gaze.

• Find your breath.

• Close your mouth and breathe

through your nose.

• Notice your breath flowing in and out over your top lip.

• Put your attention on that spot above your upper lip – notice, feel and observe your breath moving in and out.

• If your mind wanders and you begin thinking about something else – notice that you are thinking and invite yourself back to your breath. Do this as many times as needed. Gradually, you might notice your mind wanderings lessen.

Start by doing this practice for 10 minutes a day. Gradually increase the time in small increments to 30 minutes. The key is to do this practice every day at the same time, sit in the same spot and recognize that this is a discipline similar to exercise routines. There are times when you might need to force yourself to sit for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter how you come to your sitting, it just matters that you do it. Typically, it takes at least six weeks of daily, consistent practice to reap real and lasting rewards. Yet, many claim positive results after only a week of regular practice.

Additional examples of mindfulness tools and practices include:

Stay Awake – Mind Body Connection

Most of us have experienced emotions so strong that it seemed as if our body was being possessed by outside forces. Acknowledging the connection between your mind and body can help. Intentional breathing is effective, as is simply paying attention to the location of sensations and studying that sensation for a few minutes, noting the intensity, color, shape, weight, etc. Yoga can fit here. Even something as simple as wiggling your toes can connect your mind to your body.

Mindful Eating

Equally as important as the food we eat is the way in which we nourish ourselves. Rather than wolfing down lunch at your desk, give yourself a break and take 5-10 minutes to just eat. Set your fork down between bites. Chew your food before you swallow. Pay attention to how your food feels in your mouth and what your body is physically doing to have you be able to “eat.” Eating in this manner, you are giving your mind something tangible to focus on and thereby giving it a break. You will likely be more productive than eating at your desk.

Daily Gratitude

At the start or end of your day, spend a few minutes thinking or writing, about what you are grateful for in the moment. Name three things off the top of your head – coffee, bagel, shower. You don’t need to delve deeper (unless you want to), but work on switching it up every day.

Be in Nature

Nature can be magical if you pay attention. Find a place where you can escape to, and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. Even a 15-minute sit on a park bench or a walk down the block can bring you the appreciation of being free of whatever you are typically tethered to. The end goal of mindfulness is to have you be present in the moment you are in, to be aware of your thoughts and feelings as they happen and to accept them without judgment. Doing so better equips you to be intentional about your actions and reactions.

Career Navigation: In-House Counsel and Law Firm Reentry

In the past, once a lawyer went in-house, there was virtually no going back. That is no longer the case. Law firm employers realize that in-house attorneys often have credentials, sophistication, leadership, practice experience and demanding work schedules that are desirable to the law firm practice. Corporate counsels also often bring valuable connections and business insight supporting the law firm client development initiatives. Although there might be an attraction by law firms to hire in-house lawyers, you still need to prepare so you land in the right spot for your next career step. Here are a few strategies to assist your preparation in law firm re-entry. 

No. 1 – Identify prospective employer’s current needs in the marketplace.

Which firms have or are seeking to grow a practice area in the industry in which you have been working? 

No. 2 – Working your network.

Connect with former law firm colleagues, mentors and classmates. Some of these people may be in positions or have connections at the firms you identified as potentials.

Note: One more reason why you want to avoid burning bridges as you make career transitions and progressions. 

No. 3 – Commitment to traditional practice.

Be prepared to explain why you have an interest in a law firm environment again. This might include discussing how you have seen both sides and know that your next career step is in a law firm to use the industry expertise and the transferable skills you have honed. You may also discuss a more mature attitude and appreciation for the law firm practice in regard to relative security, daily interactions with other lawyers, interesting and sophisticated work with a variety of clients, training opportunities, support and use of established business connections. 

No. 4 – Explain transitions.

It is often useful to know for yourself and be able to explain why you went in-house in the first place with details such as, what you were hoping to gain, that you achieved it and you are ready for this next step.

Note: Frequently a myth yet, hidden question with a prospective employer is wondering whether you left private practice for an in-house role because you couldn’t “cut it” in the law firm environment. For example, you wanted less hours, didn’t want to work so hard, couldn’t establish client relationships or were not technically sound in your legal skill.

No.5 – Transferable skills.

Your in-house experience has given you transferable and value-added skills. Describe how you have honed skills, such as multitasking, working with urgency, taking risks to support a business initiative, which demonstrates business acumen. In addition to your legal abilities, you understand organizational dynamics and have deep industry knowledge and connections. Be prepared to discuss how your skill, experience and perspective can benefit the law firm and its clients. 

No. 6 – Better-rounded.

Show how you are a better-rounded lawyer due to meeting the varied legal requirements of a business enterprise in a specific industry. Be prepared to showcase how your acquired knowledge and abilities, such as hands-on running of deals, negotiating and documenting agreements, advising a business on navigating risks to accomplish an initiative in a specific industry can benefit the law firm and its clients.

Note: There is often a concern that a lawyer in a small or start-up company receives little to no training during their tenure in-house, especially if one is a junior lawyer while in-house. 

No. 7 – Show you are prepared to take action.

Craft an effective business development plan. Prospective law firm employers often expect a more seasoned lawyer to grow a client base in relatively short order. This plan would include potential opportunities to bring in work from your current and past in-house organizations where you worked, as well as other like-industry organizations where you can leverage your knowledge, expertise and connections. Your plan would also include your former business colleagues who have moved to other organizations. 

No. 8 – Creative options.

Be willing to demonstrate flexibility in the transitional relationship in regard to title, department, practice area and compensation. A short-term compromise can yield a long-term gain for both parties. 

Although a stint in-house no longer precludes law firm re-entry, it can provide additional challenges. Be prepared by keeping these considerations in mind as you plan your next career move and you will increase your effectiveness in securing the position you want.

Career Navigation: Questions to help you attract your ideal clients

When you know what your ideal client looks like, it is much easier to create business development plans and messages that will truly resonate.  Here are a few questions that will help you determine who your ideal clients really are.

If someone were to ask who your ideal client is, you might jokingly respond, “anyone with a wallet,” but most lawyers know there are real dangers associated with trying to be all things to all people.  No firm or lawyer excels at everything. When you are not clear on what you do best, and thus whom you are best equipped to work for, you actually do yourself a big disservice. Your identity and your marketing message get so diluted that they don’t resonate with anyone.

That is why it is essential for lawyers to have a clear mental picture of their ideal client.

The more you zero in on precisely the type of client you want, the greater the likelihood you will attract precisely that person.  The world is overloaded with marketing messages, and one of the most difficult challenges we face is getting our message heard. The more your prospect sees a reflection of themselves in you, your web presence, your messages, the more they will pay attention to what you have to offer.

Here are actionable strategies and real-world wisdom to help lawyers set up a successful, sustainable niche business development plan.  The way to identify your ideal prospect and to develop your strategy to appeal to them is through a series of questions. Here are a few of the most important questions you can ask and answer:

  1. What fear or anxiety keeps my ideal client awake at night?  

Start by considering the age, gender, income level, and location of your ideal client.  What are the three greatest frustrations of your ideal client? The key to this exercise is specificity.  Try to drill down on what the biggest frustrations are for this individual. We have all had those terrible nights where we wake up at three AM in terror about something that might occur.  A common “fear” for a lawyer at this stage is to feel that if you decide on one group or another, you are eliminating part of your potential market. At this stage, you want to create a mental avatar, a true representation of your client.  If you operate in several niche markets or practice areas, you want to do this exercise with each one. By having a clear focus, you can still choose to accept additional side business that will come your way.

  1. What are their biggest wishes?  

If your ideal client had a magic wand, how would they use it?  What ideal outcomes or benefits are they looking for? When you talk about benefits, you appeal to your prospects’ emotions.  As the old marketing saying goes, people make their buying decisions on emotions and justify them with facts.

  1. What keywords relate to their number one problem?  

When you know what keywords your ideal clients use, you will know what keywords to include in your own marketing messages.  In doing so, you hugely improve your chances of getting in front of the right people, online, in print and in person.

  1. What do they need to believe you can do?

In their eyes, what are the factors that will contribute to their ability to meet their goals, initiatives, enjoyment of work and life?  Are you communicating that you can help them with those factors?  

  1. What do they wrongly believe?

This is a good angle to consider because when you know what myth your ideal clients have bought into, you can present yourself as a credible expert who can set them straight. 

  1. Why would they not invest in a relationship with you?

They might think your prices are too high.  They might be loyal to the firm in which they are currently working.  When you have considered why they wouldn’t go with you, you can figure out how to mitigate those objections.  

  1. What is their biggest obstacle?

If you can show that you can help your ideal client overcome their obstacle, it will be difficult for them to not work with you.

In order to create marketing materials that will motivate your prospects to engage with you and to take action, you need to have a very clear vision of who they are, of their fears, hopes and aspirations.  This is true regardless of what services you are selling to individuals or to businesses.  The best way to get a clear picture of who your ideal clients are is to carefully answer these questions.  It’s an exercise that will greatly impact and improve your business development efforts.