Mindfulness is a practice and a way of living that involves focusing your attention on the present moment.
Mindfulness exercises are simple ways to turn your attention inward, with meditation being the most common way to focus.
But why practice mindfulness? What are the benefits? Mindfulness has been empirically shown to help manage stress, ease anxiety, and increase focus and mental alertness. Such benefits are particularly relevant for lawyers, who typically face a fast-paced, stressful environment where they juggle many matters often late into the night. What’s more, regular mindfulness practice has been found to improve certain areas of the brain and produce sustainable results.
Here are some of the most important ways in which mindfulness can improve your professional and personal life:
Strengthen Focus and Attention
Given the long, arduous hours and brain-intensive tasks inherent in practicing law, attention and focus are crucial tools. Practicing mindfulness can make you more focused. One of the central tenets of the practice—bringing your focus back to your breath when you find your mind wandering—strengthens the parts of the brain needed for concentration. Mindfulness can also sharpen your attention by teaching you to be fully present and engaged as you go about your day. It’s particularly encouraging that studies show such improvements in focus and attention can last several years after mindfulness training.
Studies also show that people who regularly practice mindfulness are less distractible. When you are less distracted, you will become more efficient and productive in your work. Perhaps your increased efficiency and productivity will even allow you to finish your work and leave the office earlier or give you the extra edge you need to make partner.
Improve Memory and Ability to Think on Your Feet
Lawyers often need to process information quickly and think on their feet, whether they’re a senior lawyer appearing in court or engaging in face-to-face negotiations with an adversary, or a junior associate answering questions about their research or details revealed in a lengthy doc review. Mindfulness has been shown to improve “working memory,” the part of short-term memory required for processing information. Studies have also shown that mindfulness strengthens the part of the brain associated with learning from past experiences. Thus mindfulness can improve your memory, strategic thinking and on-the-spot problem solving, and help you engage in optimal decisionmaking.
Increase Resiliency to Stress and Anxiety
Long-term mindfulness practice can increase your resilience to stress, helping you bounce back sooner after a stressful situation, both physically and psychologically. It also helps make you less reactive to stressors (such as unpleasant interactions with opposing counsel), decreasing the effects of stress in the first place. By curbing your innate reaction to stress, you will be able to think more clearly and respond to a stressor in a thoughtful way.
Mindfulness can also change how your brain functions when it is not occupied by focused activity. If you are often ruminating when you’re not occupied, a regular mindfulness practice can help quiet those swirling thoughts. It can also help you identify recurring, unproductive worries and discount them appropriately.
In general, people tend to give more psychological weight to negative things than positive ones—known as a negativity bias. Lawyers are no exception. Focusing on negativity begets more negativity and becomes a self-fulfilling cycle. But mindfulness can reduce negativity bias. Studies have shown that those who practice mindfulness are less reactive to negative stimuli than those who don’t. Mindfulness practitioners also give more psychological weight to positive things rather than discounting them. Reducing negativity bias will allow you to appreciate the parts of a judge’s decision where she agreed with your arguments, and not focus on the piece where she agreed with your adversary.
In a similar vein, mindfulness has been shown to reduce sunk cost bias—the tendency to stay invested in a losing proposition. This bias is often a factor in keeping unhappy lawyers in a less-than-satisfying career based on the notion that they have already invested so much time and money into it. Reducing such bias through mindfulness can free you from a career (or relationship, investment, etc.) that is not working for you.
Become a Happier Person and a Better Co-Worker
Mindfulness can make you a happier person by keeping you present, allowing you to notice and enjoy the pleasant and happy moments of your day. Mindfulness has also been shown to assist in emotional regulation and lead to a better mood overall. Emotional regulation can also help manage depression, which affects attorneys at higher rates than the general population. Such improvements can make you a better co-worker, less likely to snap at your office-mate or secretary when you’re under stress, and more likely to treat those around you with kindness.
Try mindfulness exercises two times to see how you like it.