Tim Taylor is an NQ Solicitor working with Hastings Legal in the Scottish Borders. In this article, Tim shares his experience of mindfulness and explains how his daily meditation practise has had a positive impact on his personal and professional development.
It was the Roman philosopher Seneca who observed that “…to rule yourself is the ultimate power”. Some 2,000 years later, Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, echoed the same advice: “We have little power to choose what happens, but we have complete power over how we respond”.
In other words, we have the power to achieve our most ambitious goals, provided we focus on what we can control, i.e. ourselves, rather than wishing those around us would act differently. To help do this, I would suggest starting with meditation as a tool to help improve our wellbeing and, as a result, make us even better lawyers in the process.
Today: Legal practice can be a stressful occupation
Few would dispute that life as a solicitor can often be a bit of a slog, and it’s no secret that mental health is a real problem for the legal profession. In Borders speak, stress in our profession is 'aye been'.
In fact, stress has been identified as a major concern for the younger generation of Scottish lawyers coming through - and who are partners of the future. It’s not just senior practitioners feeling the pressure, it’s clearly a universal feeling.
Never mind Roman Emperors (and their advisors), Cortisol is King of our realm.
Tomorrow: Is there a better way?
The short answer is: Yes!
There are many ways we can work to improve our own wellbeing and combat the stress of legal practice, and here I am focusing on meditation as a simple way to do just that.
Creating a habit
Monday, 29 October 2018 was a milestone for me, as it marked the 365th consecutive day during which I meditated for at least 10 minutes per day. Yes, that’s a whole calendar year without skipping a single day, and I’ve got no intention of ending this positive habit any time soon.
To incorporate any behaviour into my daily routine, I find that having a trigger event is the key to success. For meditation, my trigger event is simple: waking up. It’s the first thing I do before anything else.
I put my headphones on and open up my meditation app of choice (Calm). This particular app provides a 10 minute daily meditation, which changes each day and guides you through the practice. I have also used Headspace, and there are several other good alternatives. Guided meditation works for me, as interesting topics are discussed each day and a simple structure is provided for the activity.
This practice has undoubtedly improved the way I think and act as I go about my day.
Many people struggle to understand meditation because the benefits are difficult to measure and are therefore difficult to demonstrate.
Let’s consider a couple of examples to illustrate the point:
- Increased focus
Let’s face it, it’s unlikely anyone would call their boss over and announce “Look how focused I’ve been today, I certainly would have been more distracted if I hadn’t meditated this morning!” This is because focus itself is an intangible concept.
However, the results of increased focus certainly are noticeable: namely increased productivity and decreased time spent on low value tasks (such as aimlessly scrolling through social media). Often the benefits of meditation are secondary. That’s why a consistent, daily practice works well for me, as it takes time to reap the rewards.
- Decreased stress
I have found that meditation helps me stay calm under pressure, as I have learned to stay present in the moment, rather than dwell on the past or worry about the future. My view is that we can’t control the past or the future, so there’s little point spending mental energy on it (other than to positively plan ahead of course).
Other benefits I have experienced include an increased sense of gratitude across all areas of my life; a greater respect for the views of others which may contradict my own; and a clarity of purpose that comes from contemplating the relationship between short-term improvements and long-term goals.
In terms of ROI, those 10 minutes per day of peace and quiet are certainly paying dividends!
Again, there’s no easy way to measure or demonstrate the feelings of anxiety that we all experience from time-to-time when stress builds up, but I have found that meditation has a direct positive impact on reducing of such negative emotions.
Bringing it all together
As you may have guessed, I think meditation is great: it’s free, no fancy equipment is required, there’s no pass or fail, it can be done just about anywhere (why not try walking meditation, but please keep your eyes open for that one!), and there’s no negative side effects.
Meditation is just one element of a wider wellbeing practice that I have been developing over the last year or so, and I would definitely recommend it to all.
Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or feedback about this topic. I hope to progress the conversation across the legal profession about improving wellbeing, with the goal of creating a healthy, more balanced model of legal practice. A model of legal practice fitting for the modern profession for which we are all a part of.