So here we are on the threshold of a new year, when everyone gets their panties in a twist about changing their lives for the better. Now, I am a big advocate of change that makes your lives happier and more fulfilling. It’s just that most people go about it bass-ackwards.
The head of the neuroscience lab at NYU, Dr. Elizabeth Phelps, has pointed out, “If you are pessimistic, you are unlikely to even try” to do things that will help you improve or guard your health. Wow. This may, just possibly, sound like a familiar dynamic to lawyers.
The good news is, pessimism is not completely hard-wired. It is, to a significant extent, learned behavior. That means, naturally, that it can be unlearned, and replaced with more useful ways of viewing problems.
Some fears are actually useful. The ones you have when a car is heading straight toward you at 40 mph, or when a gun is brandished. But the truth is, most lawyer fears are nearly always critic-created fears—that’s why they sound so convincing! Confronting those myths we’ve created for ourselves is indeed an integral part of creating a life and career that you love.
There is an undeniable relationship between those who cultivate gratitude, and those who constantly quest for the missing piece of their life that will magically unlock the happiness gates. Those who are grateful for their imperfect lives, even as they seek to improve those lives, are measurably happier.
When I say “use your creativity” to lawyers and non-lawyers alike, I get some highly revealing responses. Sadly, a common reaction is “I’m not creative.” I blame traditional schooling, Martha Stewart and Pinterest, and our consumerist society for this false belief. Every human being is born creative. At its most basic, creativity is solving a problem for which there is no known (to them) solution, or for which the current solution isn’t working.
lawyers quit when the going gets tough at anything they’re not already pretty good at. Things they tend to suck at, like relationships, compromise, and dreams, for starters. Because they’re so used to being smart and good at the smarty-pants stuff, they’ve set themselves up for motivation by external validation, and haven’t worked much at resilience. Resilience is, essentially, the ability to bounce back after a failure or set-back. To have hope in the face of disappointment. Looking back, I can count on my hands the number of lawyers I’ve known who are resilient at anything but work.
How do you distinguish between healthy optimism—the faith that good things will happen for you—and the crazy thinking of intermittent rewards? One way is to look at the payoff you’re pining for: Gamblers are in it for the adrenaline rush, and the money. Neither of these are long-term, sustainable values that fuel healthy personal growth. When you’re optimistic about something, for example focusing on creating a real change in your life connected with something you really value, the dynamic is totally different. Your thoughts circle around that vision, and create a positive energy that attracts things that help that vision become reality.