Want to be a Happier Lawyer? It’s Time to Think Better Thoughts

happier lawyer
2024 Feature Nominations

It’s human nature to be more negative than positive, and that’s even more true for lawyers. According to Dr. Larry Richard, lawyers score particularly low on the personality trait “resilience” which is the ability to bounce back from challenges, criticism, or rejection. The public average for resilience is about the 50th percentile, but among lawyers, the average is the 30th percentile with over 90% of lawyers scoring below the 50th percentile.

When people are resilient, they can move gracefully through negative events. When they are impacted, they recover quickly. What has research shown to improve resilience in someone who scores low in that trait? You teach them to make their “self-talk” more positive. Here’s how:

No.1: Don’t Stop Negative Thoughts

Don’t try to stop yourself from thinking negative thoughts. Instead of beating yourself up for a thought, allow it by saying something like “I’m feeling stressed about this project” or “I’m frustrated the client call didn’t go well.”

No. 2: Address Yourself as a Friend

Talk to yourself like you would a friend or colleague. You wouldn’t berate them or tell them to just “buck up and be better.” Give yourself the same advice you would give to someone you mentor and care about.

No. 3: Challenge Your Own Thoughts.

Lawyers are trained in the Socratic method, so use it here. Instead of being stuck in a negative mindset and telling yourself you are a failure, ask yourself what successes you’ve had. One setback is never representative of your skills and abilities.

No. 4: Evaluate Your Negative Thought

Take time to objectively consider your negative thought. Is it true, or is it your interpretation? (Be careful: many thoughts feel true, but they are still thoughts, not facts.) What does the evidence show? Ask yourself what other ways there are to interpret your situation or how others might view the situation.

No. 5: Choose a New Thought

What do you want to think and feel about the situation? Choose to think that thought, even if it is reminding yourself that you are learning every day how to do things better. Keep practicing until you feel more positive and optimistic.

We all think negative thoughts sometimes. The key to building resilience and greater happiness is challenging our negative thoughts, purposefully choosing more positive thoughts about our circumstances, and speaking more kindly to ourselves when we face the inevitable setback.

Kendra Brodin

Kendra Brodin is the 2017-2018 MWL president and the director of lawyer talent at Briggs and Morgan P.A.

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