Mindfulness – what is it and how can it help new lawyers?
Two trainee solicitors, both at Brodies, share their thoughts on mindfulness – the process of incorporating awareness into our daily lives. Laurin, who previously enjoyed a varied career in the performing arts, is practised in the technique. Charlotte, who is interested in raising awareness of mental wellbeing among new lawyers, is a rookie who decided to give it a go.
Ever feel like your mind is very busy? It’s something that I’ve felt a lot throughout my life. There have been times when I’ve found myself becoming lost in my thoughts, distracted by what’s going on in my brain or the emotion that I’m feeling. I’m a typical over-thinker like so many new lawyers. It’s hard not to be, right? Especially when deadlines are approaching or workloads are piling up. It’s normal to feel on edge constantly – stress is just part of the deal in this profession…Or is it?
About ten years ago, I went along to a few meditation classes with my mum. I enjoyed them but, if I’m honest, I didn’t think they had much relevance to my life. It seemed a bit hippy to sit focusing on your breath and attempting to be ‘in the moment’. I was a teenager living in a world of constant stimulation – I didn’t have time for meditation!
Meditation – painkiller for the mind
My mum gently suggested that I give meditation another go when I started law school. I was becoming increasingly anxious around deadlines and exam periods so I started to use meditation almost like a painkiller for the mind. This really helped me to focus and calm down, but I still didn’t see how it could benefit me more generally or be used as a preventative measure. It took me some time to realise that many of my worries were a result of my reaction to my thoughts and feelings rather than the actual situations I found myself in.
With awareness, we can catch ourselves before our thoughts spiral out of control and reinforce our internal (sometimes negative) storylines. We can change the way we experience life: by simply observing our thoughts, rather than overthinking them, the world becomes much less overwhelming. That’s where mindfulness and meditation can help. Mindfulness is the process of incorporating awareness into our daily lives, while meditation is about taking some time out to familiarise ourselves with the present moment: it’s mindfulness training.
Sense of awareness
For me, this means getting up 20 minutes early to meditate each morning – I use an app for this. During this time, I practise allowing thoughts to come and go without becoming involved in them. I then try to maintain this sense of awareness throughout my day. This doesn’t involve me changing what I’d normally do. It simply means that I find a point of focus in what I am doing and, every time I realise that my mind has wandered off, I bring my attention back to what I was focusing on. This might be the sound of my toothbrush as it brushes against my teeth or the feeling of the sun warming my back as I walk somewhere! I find it useful to dedicate a couple of short tasks to this process every day, just to refocus my mind and to regain a sense of calm.
Now, this is a practice and not a magical cure-all. I still have days where my emotions get the better of me or where I encounter situations that prove challenging. What I can say is that my day-to-day life feels generally more balanced and I am better equipped to tackle those tasks or situations that used to make me feel anxious. As I progress through my traineeship, I have no doubt that this approach will continue to improve my experience and, ultimately, make me a better contributor to our firm. I’d urge you to give it a shot.
And now a few words from a mindfulness rookie who decided to give it a go. I went along to one of Martin Stepek’s lunchtime mindfulness sessions, held at Wright Johnston Mackenzie in Glasgow. This was open to anyone in the profession who wanted to come along and find out what mindfulness is all about. When I arrived for the session, I was quite tense and stressed as I had spent several hours that morning reading and working intensively at the computer screen. I felt quite nervous, as I didn’t really know what to expect.
Calmer at work
I decided to try mindfulness because I was intrigued. Could it help me? I had read Martin Stepek’s article in the Journal and thought that practising techniques and ways of thinking to help me to feel calmer at work would be very beneficial. Sometimes when I am sitting at my desk, with lots of tasks on the to-do list and emails coming in thick and fast, I feel a wave of apprehension and alarm rise up and wash over me. Over time, I have learned to focus my thoughts so that I can remain calm, productive and not overwhelmed.
During the session, Martin Stepek explained to the group that mindfulness is about paying attention to your surroundings and focusing on simple things to calm your mind. He asked us to sit down, close our eyes and relax as we focused on the different parts of our body in turn: from our head and face, relaxing our jaw muscles, to our shoulders, spine, legs and down through our hands and feet.
At first I felt quite dizzy, which is perhaps not the usual experience of attending a mindfulness session! I was tired from focusing for so long that morning, but as I began to relax and breathe calmly, I felt more centred. The stress slowly melted away and I left the session with a lighter, clearer head than before. It was like a weight had been lifted from my mind.
Manageable and constructive
One thing which struck a chord with me was when Martin explained that the thought patterns and responses from our brains are so automatic, we act in a certain way without realising it. By understanding you have a choice to acknowledge the chatter in your head, and then focus on something smaller and more manageable, decision making becomes easier and more constructive. You feel at peace, your mind is freed and you can focus on what is important.
I am excited about the potential of mindfulness to help me use my brain power to change my life for the better. An increased awareness of how you think and what you think is beneficial in all areas of your life. I hope to try more mindfulness techniques in the future, and I am optimistic about the potential to develop an enlightened way of thinking.
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