As a clinical psychologist, author, and guest speaker, I am constantly meeting with intelligent and motivated professionals from all over the world who have a passion for what they do and a deep-seated drive for excellence. From what I have observed, I have to say that lawyers are among the most tenacious, meticulous, and hardworking of these professionals!
However, I have also noticed that a couple of the same qualities which can make lawyers so successful in the workplace can also make them particularly susceptible to high stress and burnout. For example:
Catastrophic Thinking. My experience has taught me that lawyers often have a capacity for catastrophic thinking, which is a term we psychologists use to describe the tendency to think ahead and plan for the worst. This is actually a real asset for lawyers in their careers, but it can also become a liability if the tendency is so automatic that they have trouble turning it off even when they are no longer at work.
Perfectionism, and go-go-go! Lawyers additionally tend to exhibit a perfectionistic streak, often paired with a very busy schedule. Again, both of these things are fantastic in the right context, but they can also be a slippery slope to mental overload, procrastination, and burnout!
Tips to Beat High Stress & Burnout
The good news: there is hope! With a couple of easy-to-use techniques, lawyers can harness their natural skill set to help them manage stress, stave off burnout, and ultimately be even more successful in their professional and personal lives!
1. Mental Shortlist
The mental shortlist is a fun and simple technique that can be very useful for those lawyers who need a little help when it is time to disengage from catastrophic thinking. To use this technique, all you need to do is write down 5 positive things in advance (always be prepared!) that make you feel good when you think about them. This could be an uplifting memory, a much-anticipated vacation, or a cherished relationship. Once you have your 5 positive things, you can cycle through your mental shortlist at the end of each work day to train your brain to deliberately shift out of catastrophic thinking. Intentionally shifting into a more positive mindset is a great way to refuel & recharge and protect against burnout!
Another good use of the mental shortlist is for moments when lawyers are struggling to stop focusing on a case even though they recognize that it is no longer helpful to keep thinking about it. In this example, we would have our lawyer come up with 5 better uses of their business time – such as identifying new cases they need to turn their attention to, ways to drum up new business, or networking ideas – so that the next time they find themselves ruminating their way to a dead-end, they have a ready-made list of more fruitful places to channel that very useful mental energy!
2. Mind-Mapping Another technique that can come in handy for lawyers is mind-mapping. With this technique, we are guided to make a map of topical cognitive concepts, the connections between those concepts, and the important connections to those connections! This technique is highly adaptable, so users have the freedom to use it in whatever way works best for them. A couple of examples:
Many lawyers go into their careers for personally significant reasons (like an interest in social justice, a desire to provide for their families, or a chance to play to their verbal strengths), but can lose sight of them over time as they encounter the industry’s many obstacles and challenges. A good mind map can help lawyers reconnect with why they became lawyers in the first place, reawakening their sense of connection to the career they’ve chosen. What’s more, the mind map allows them to take a clear look at the typical challenges they face as lawyers, and then think strategically about how to troubleshoot those challenges. All together, the mind map can help lawyers regain a sense of self-efficacy and empowerment over their careers and their lives!
Because their minds tend to move a mile a minute, 24/7, lawyers may also appreciate the use of the mind map as a “daily debrief.” The mind map then becomes an opportunity at the end of each day to review the important events of the day, reflect on key points from meaningful conversations that occurred, identify pressing items on the to-do list, etc., and connect with the thoughts and feelings that these things stir up. By using the mind map for a daily debrief, lawyers can create a clear overview of the day – and maybe even pin down a few action steps!
3. Understand Anxiety's Healthy Function Remember that anxiety can actually be normal and healthy, if we know how to use it properly. When we understand how to use anxiety constructively, we can stop wasting time and energy with "anxiety about anxiety". Instead, we can harness the energy that anxiety brings as a tool to help us the way Mother Nature intended.
Dr. Chloe's Tips for Lawyers