Coloring Really Can Calm Down Unhappy Lawyers

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (yes, some of you have), I’m confident many of you stressed-out, unhappy lawyers see those coloring books in the grocery store checkout, and sniff. “As if I have time for something silly like coloring!” Ah, grasshopper, the real question is “Why don’t you make 5 minutes for coloring? Would you rather take an extra Xanax, really?”

mandala 1

I love coloring mandalas like this one. Their symmetry creates a great level of mediation. (c) 2016 Jennifer Alvey

 

 

I get it. I often sniff at big, over-hyped trends, because I’m often disappointed. There’s actual science behind the coloring one, though, so I thought I’d share a little of that with you. Maybe then you can talk yourself into trying it. Trust me, once you do give coloring a chance, you’ll have to restrain yourself from going bananas and ordering $50 worth of amazing, intensely pigmented pencils.

Your Brain on Coloring

I’ve been coloring, and Zentangling (its close cousin), for quite a while now. I can tell you, this stuff works. My intellectual side fights mightily, but when I just side-step the intellect and do some coloring anyway, I become calmer in short order.

Coloring taps into a couple brain activities that are highly soothing, so it’s just the thing for anxious attorneys. One of these things is repetitious movement. Like knitting, which has proven calming benefits, coloring requires many tiny hand movements. Though you might think that is tedious and want to fight coloring, that resistance may be the strongest signal you have that you need the settling benefits of coloring.

Another brain activity that makes coloring magical is that it engages your hands. I know, duh, right? But there is a power to hand activities that is much different than moving with your feet, or singing, for example. Humans interact with the world primarily through their hands. It’s how most babies and toddlers prefer to explore.

While most of us move on to other learning preferences (visual and auditory, for example) tactile learning is a way to add a sensory experience that cements learning and just makes stuff more fun. Even museums now recognize this.

Finally, by focusing on just the act of coloring, you can achieve a meditative state, in which you let go of all your daily concerns and just focus on one thing. In this case, coloring.

How Not To Screw It Up

Now, I have to caution you that there are, indeed, ways to screw up the benefits of coloring. The one I imagine most attorneys will fall into is trying to make these little things great and grand WORKS OF ART. In other words, that lawyer tendency for perfectionism rears its nasty head.

Don’t fall prey to perfectionism! It will rob you of the beauty, and the chief benefit of these calming activities: the process, rather than the product. When you get focused on how good it does or doesn’t look, you can instantly rub out the benefit.

owl from secret garden

I’m still working on the owl. The background color choice is already starting to give me fits! Some lessons we get to learn many times over.

I’m not saying you can’t recover from that misstep. I had to, in fact, walk myself off that precipice just this morning. I bought a darling set of postcards from Target the other day to color, and I love the first one, a big owl. I started sidling up to the high-stakes, perfection line when I thought, “Cool! Owl, symbol of Athena. I so identify with Athena and the wisdom thing!”

When I got to the belly of the owl, with a thousand little scallops and edges, I about shut down. For a few minutes, I was so overwhelmed with the idea that the color choices for that area would determine EVERYTHING about how this would look! And that I didn’t want to RUIN IT!! So I felt I needed a grand and amazing color plan (for which I have minimal talent), instead of my usual approach, which is, hmmm, what would look kind of cool here?

Fortunately, I’ve been at this game long enough to know when I’m setting myself up. Plus, my cat anxiously alerted me that her food bowl was only 7/8 full, and could I not see she was starving? When I sat back down, I adopted my usual, “this might look neat,” approach, and it was. It was just fine. And I calmed down.

The Logistics

So now you’re all ready to rush out and start coloring, right? I hope so.

You can do this for $5 or less, so don’t let money be a barrier. Plus, you can spend a mere 5 minutes daily on this, so don’t say you don’t have time. What you don’t have time for is anxiety, which robs the mind of its peak functioning. I’m pretty sure most of us need more peak functioning.

You don’t have to buy a coloring book at all. The interwebz is full of free pages. I rather like the free pages, and not just because they’re free. They also give freedom. If you really, really loathe a color decision you make, you can just print the same thing again and start over—risk free!

These are some sites that have nice pages, but they are the tip of the iceberg. (In case you don’t do this already for images, the secret to most of these is to right click the image you want to download, and select “download image” or something similar. Then print the download.)

You will want a nice pencil sharpener. An electric or battery one will do fine, but so will a new, handheld one. I find that easier to keep nearby, and it’s much less noisy.

As for pencils, you can get the basic Crayola pencils that most any grocery or drugstore will carry. They are just fine for getting started. But if you want a step or two up in color intensity, try Prang or Prismacolor pencils. Staples carries those, if you have one close by. (Office Depot might, also; I just haven’t checked.) Or, visit DickBlick.com, for a vast amount of reasonably priced pencils. Start small. The idea here is not to numb out through the thrill of buying something, OK?

Before you start, assess your stress level. Then try coloring daily for 2 weeks—yes, even for 5 minutes daily. Assess again. Did it make any difference? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who is trying hard to resist ordering some Derwent Inktense pencils at the moment. She coaches lawyers on finding a career, and life, that is filled with authentic joy regularly. If you’d like help with that, email her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to set up a discounted sample session.

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