Befriend Yourself

When things don’t go as planned, we may criticize ourselves for being in our current situation. This is particularly true for attorneys and judges, many of us are perfectionists and expect things to go as planned if we pay attention to every detail. When our best-laid plans go awry, we may blame ourselves and self-criticize, hoping it will get us out of the situation faster and make us do better next time. Research, however, indicates that self-criticism often has the opposite effect. Criticizing ourselves when faced with adversity can actually put us into a “freeze” state which thwarts creative problem solving, preventing us from mobilizing quickly toward solutions.

Befriending ourselves is the antidote to self-criticism. Befriending is the practice of treating ourselves with kindness, care, and compassion—as if we are our own best friend. Instead of telling ourselves that we’ve done something wrong—or that there’s something wrong with us for being in our current situation—we instead offer kindness and understanding toward ourselves. Befriending ourselves relaxes our nervous system and ratchets down stress, allowing us to think more clearly. A relaxed and clear mind allows us to maneuver through the situation and better navigate similar situations in the future.

Being our own best friend has long-term benefits as well. Where self-criticism erodes self-esteem, befriending builds self-confidence. Befriending also builds self-trust which allows us to feel good about ourselves, even in moments when we feel unsupported by others. Being there for ourselves allows us to go through life feeling more connected and cared for instead of isolated and alone.

If you’d like to be a better friend to yourself, try this:

  1. The next time something doesn’t go as planned, pause.
  2. Ask yourself: “What am I saying to myself about this situation?" (e.g. “I should be done by now” or “What’s wrong with me?”).
  3. If you’re mentally being unkind to yourself, think of something genuine and helpful to say instead. Come up with a phrase you would say to encourage a friend (e.g., “I am doing the best I can” or “Some things are out of my control”).
  4. Say this phrase to yourself five times.
  5. Notice what, if anything, changes after you’ve befriended yourself (e.g., sigh, shoulders drop, jaw loosens, deep breath, get an idea for how to solve the problem).
  6. Ask yourself, what could I do differently next time that would give me a better result?

Laura Mahr is a North Carolina and Oregon lawyer and the founder of Conscious Legal Minds LLC, providing mindfulness-based well-being coaching, training, and consulting for attorneys and law offices nationwide. Her work is informed by 13 years of practice as a civil sexual assault attorney, 25 years as a student and teacher of mindfulness and yoga, a love of neuroscience, and a passion for resilience. If you’d like to learn more about building resilience in the practice of law, contact Laura:; info@consciouslegalminds; tel: 828-484-2004.

As an additional resource for building resilience to workplace-related stress, check out: “Mindfulness for Lawyers: Building Resilience to Stress Using Mindfulness, Meditation, and Neuroscience” (online and on demand mental health CLE approved by the NC State Bar):

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