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Achieving Balance As A Lawyer Through Decision-Making

Lawyers are increasingly aware of the need to find balance in their lives.  Balance between home life and work-life.  Balance between the need for physical exercise and sitting long hours in an office chair.  Balance between the mental activities of long factual analyses and hours of library research, and one’s emotional needs for fun and interaction with others.  And finally, the kind of over-arching balance that goes with the connection to all aspects of one’s self and connection to what is greater than one’s self – spiritual balance.

Despite awareness of the need for balance, somehow for many of us, this balance thing does not seem to be working.  Lawyers are signing up for health clubs, taking yoga classes and reading self-help books, but many complain that their lives are too busy, and that despite their best efforts, nothing is changing.  In this article, let’s take a look at some of the reasons that the change that you desire in your life may not be occurring.

In order to do this, we need to understand the sources of input for the decisions that we make.  We make decisions from our mind, body, and heart.  Ideally, any decision we would make would come from an integration of these three different processes for determining the suitability of behavior we might undertake.

By knowing the source of most of our decision-making, we can get a better idea of whether our process for making decisions about our well-being are themselves balanced.  Let me illustrate the way decisions are made from each of these centers.  Assume that you get into an argument with a friend.  (1) The lawyer who makes decisions from the mind would respond by seeking to sit down with the friend and rationally work out the problem.  (2) The lawyer who makes decisions from the heart would have behavior based on an emotional reaction to the argument. He might give his friend a hug and say let’s start over.  (3) The lawyer who makes decisions from the body would have a physical reaction.  For example, this lawyer might just get up and leave or in a worst case scenario, hit his friend.

We, as lawyers, are used to giving our clients advice and decision recommendations by using the analytical resources of our minds. And, although we often feel that we are very reasonable and rational in making decisions, many of us, despite our good cognitive abilities, make decisions based upon our emotional reactions to events and ideas.  If our decisions just come from the emotional center and are not balanced by physical needs and cognitive insight, they are apt to result in decisions which do not really work for us.  A lot of us are tenacious lawyers because of our motivation to do justice for our clients.  If we are zealous, but only in a rational, cognitive manner, our decisions may be out of balance, because we do not adequately take into account the emotional feelings and values of our decisions.

The key then, to making realistic decisions that balance our lives, lies in balancing and involving all three of the decision-making resources that we bring to bear, along with our spiritual understanding of what would suit us best.

Then, the next step in achieving balance is to define what a balanced life means.  This definition is going to vary for each of us.  No one can define balance for another person.  In defining balance, we will need to consciously determine what that is for each of the three aspects of our decision-making.  Our bodily or instinctual aspects will want to be sure that the decision we make is going to allow us to survive and thrive.    The emotional feeling aspect will want to make sure that our decision is going to provide sufficient value and meaning.  And, our mental aspect will want to make sure that our decision is logical, practical, and something that can actually be done.

Try to think of a time when life seemed to be in balance, when each of these different internal aspects seemed to feel comfortable with the decisions being made in your external life.  What did that balance look like then? What would a balance look like to you now?

Just as each of the sources of our decision-making need to be brought to bear in defining what a balanced life is for ourselves, so do we also need to take into account the needs for each of these parts.  I have read numerous articles about the problems that college and law students have in school.  The common denominator through all these studies is that the students do not get enough sleep.  I don’t think that necessarily gets better after you graduate from law school.  If you are going to have a balanced life, you must, at a minimum, get sufficient sleep.

We know now how the stress of practicing law can trigger the hormonal stress response system in such a way to severely stress the body.  Sleep, and particularly that sleep gained in the fourth and last cycle of sleep, is critical to replenishing the neurotransmitters that make us enjoy life, and that get depleted by the stress response reaction.  Almost as important as good sleep habits are good eating habits.  We must, at a minimum, eat well or over time we are going to create health problems or stress-related issues for ourselves from bad eating habits.  The goal is not simply to eat the right diet, but to enjoy the process of eating.  To eat good food with people we enjoy being with.  This three times a day ritual is very important to us for reasons beyond just getting the basic nutrients that the body needs.  It is directly related to the third thing the body needs for its well-being, and that is relaxation and engaging in enjoyable activities.  The body’s needs for sufficient sleep, good food, and relaxation and fun must all be a part of our work-life balance equation.

The heart, or the feeling aspect of our being, is most often what gets left out in the work-life balance, and what is often most important.  It is from the feeling aspect in our lives that we feel joy and appreciation for what we do.  It is our feeling aspect which connects us to those we care about.  It is also our feeling aspect which applies the motivation to actually engage in trying to achieve a work-life balance.  If our emotional belief system is that we must work 80 hours a week to be a successful lawyer, then chances are slim that we are going to be able to obtain changes in achieving a positive work-life balance.  Less obvious, but often just as harmful as a work-only life, is the failure to appreciate the need for engaging in activities which are going to make us feel valued as a person and connected to other people and to the ideas we believe in.

Of course, we need to do what is necessary to see that the mind gets the exercise it needs.  We have been doing that by the thought processes in reading this article and assessing our own work-life balance needs.  And, we will use this resource in the writing down of our work-life balance plan, and figuring out how we will execute that plan.  For almost all of us, the mind is our strong suit, but it can still get neglected in being involved in the decision-making process.  The danger, on the one hand, is that the mind will not be involved, and on the other, that it may dominate in some cold and rational way, which will exclude the needs of the body and heart.

If we find ourselves stuck in trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance and not being able to get there, we may want to seek help from a therapist or coach. It is often impossible alone to get a handle on the negative belief structure that may be undermining our achieving what we want. This can readily be done with the help of a good therapist or coach.

All of our internal sources of decision-making are strengthened and illuminated by help and insight from outside of ourselves.  The more one is spiritually connected to others and to beliefs beyond one’s self, the more one has an overall resource to be sure that the work-life balance is the one that fits.  Surveys show that people who have a religious or spiritual life, live longer and enjoy life more.  Those who bring their spiritual needs and aspects into their decision-making process for work-life balance are more likely to get a balance that leads to a healthier, more enjoyable life.  So after you have gotten input from the body, mind, and heart on your work-life balance plan, get spiritual input.  For those of a religious tradition, this input will come from what your faith would suggest; for those outside any religious tradition, ask yourself what guidance would something outside yourself, that loved you and cared for your well-being, say about your plan.  When our decision-making process accesses the needs and resources of all four sources of input, we should be able to come up with a plan that will work and that we will actually follow through and implement.  Implementation may not be easy until a new pattern has been established, but once we have followed our plan several weeks, it should begin to feel natural as it reflects all of whom we are.  Of course, a good plan will also be flexible and resilient as we change and grow.

Okay, we have a framework.  For all of us who have, within the past six months, complained to other people that our work-life is out of balance, here’s our task – schedule a time to sit down and begin to use the ideas in this article to figure out what our own work-life balance should be and use all four aspects of your decision making in deciding how to achieve this balance.  If we use all of our decision making aspects, we are much more likely to do what we would like to do.   If you find yourself resistant to taking any time for this sort of self-care, then perhaps you’ll want to call a counselor and get some help in uncovering what your resistance is about, so that you can get back on track to achieving the kind of work-life balance you would like and the kind of life you would like to have.  It’s your choice.

– by Don Carroll

The North Carolina Lawyer Assistance Program is a confidential program of assistance for all North Carolina lawyers.  The Lawyer Assistance Program has two outreaches: PALS and FRIENDS.  PALS addresses alcoholism and other addiction; FRIENDS depression and other mental health problems. 


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