Mindful Moment

Everyone has what neuroscientists call a “negativity bias.” In order to survive physically, our brains evolved such that we remember negative experiences more intensely than positive ones. Every moment, our brains scan for threats. Anything that causes us to feel fear, anxiety, or discomfort, the brain easily records. Conversely, anything the brain registers as positive is quickly discarded. Practicing law fortifies our negativity bias more than most professions: lawyering requires us to pay continuous attention to copious details that may threaten our client’s case. Our lawyer brains are trained and paid to stay alert to what could go wrong. However, constantly focusing on what might go wrong has consequences. We miss opportunities and underestimate resources, and over time, may feel pessimistic, jaded, and/or depressed, inside or outside of our practice.  Fortunately, mindfulness—paying attention to what is happening in the present moment without judgement—can help shift our attention away from what is bad or wrong and toward what is good and right. This shift in focus will train our brains to remember positive experiences, thereby promoting creative problem solving, clearer thinking, and more ease in our professions and lives.

Here’s how:

  1. In any moment during your day, pause.
  2. Ask yourself, “What am I thinking right now?”
  3. If it’s a negative thought, notice what it feels like in your body (ex: stomach is tight, breathing is shallow).
  4. Ask yourself, “What’s good here?” or “What’s right here” or “What do I like about this?” (ex: I enjoy working with this client, I have had positive experiences appearing before this judge, I like legal writing...I’m good at it.)
  5. Notice what it feels like to think that thought (ex: stomach is relaxed, breathing is deeper, feel more calm).
  6. Stay with the positive thought and feelings as long as you can, at least 15 seconds.

Try this mindfulness practice as many times a day as you can. The more you practice, the easier it is and the more lasting impact it will have.

Laura Mahr is a NC lawyer and the owner of Conscious Legal Minds LLC. She conducts CLEs and coaches individual lawyers on using mindfulness and neuroscience to build resilience to stress, address secondary trauma, foster work-life balance, and prevent professional burnout. Contact Laura at laura@consciouslegalminds.com; find out more about her practice at consciouslegalminds.com.

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