Beth Padgett 2014-08-29 08:14:06
Prudence, Perfectionism, Procrastination: Where Can a Lawyer Find Some Peace of Mind? The New Mexico Bar Bulletin, July 16, 2014, included an article on positive psychology for lawyers by Hallie N. Love. In the article Ms. Love pondered why so many lawyers are unhappy. Her discussion included the idea that the world view that makes lawyers successful in their careers can wreak havoc in other parts of their lives. She quoted Dr. Martin Seligman, a leading positive psychology researcher, as saying that a prudent lawyer strives to uncover “every conceivable trap or disaster that might occur in a legal situation.” While this prudence is good and necessary to the practice of law, Seligman’s research suggested that same trait to be maladaptive elsewhere. Love, who is a lawyer, stated that in the non-legal world, that same degree of prudence would be called pessimism. Love suggested that perfectionism is another trait that causes many lawyers distress. She stated that “when rigidly applied, the propensity to be a perfectionist can impede happiness.” Dr. Tal Ben- Sharar, another positive psychologist, advanced the idea of “optimalism” and suggested it as a reasonable replacement for perfectionism.Ben-Sharar defined optimalism as the capacity to know when “good enough” is appropriate and the capacity to embrace it when in those times. Colleen Williams wrote an essay that was included in a recent Archetypes e-newsletter.The Archetypes website was founded within the past year, seeking to help its users live with more authenticity and joy.Williams made a compelling point. She stated that people often say they are a perfectionist and mean it as a boast; a humblebrag, Maybe. She pointed out that it is so often the go-to answer to “what’s your weakness” in job interviews. Think about this. How often have you told others that you are a perfectionist? What are some of your other less than admirable traits? Would you offer that description of yourself in a business or social setting? What are the problems with being a perfectionist? • Anxiety often accompanies perfectionism. • Self doubt is a hallmark of perfectionism. • Procrastination often accompanies it and exponentially increases the anxiety and self-doubt. Williams states that when you strive for perfection, you demoralize yourself and often set yourself up for failure. She identifies that low self-worth and low self-love are the ground for perfectionism to grow. So when the dark side of these qualities that support success begin to erode your well-being, what can you do? Thanks to the extra challenging nature of life in the 21st century that has brought about a surge in research and writing on easing stress and finding joy, support is just a Google search away. The website of the Greater Good Science Center is an excellent resource. Two recent newsletters included remedies to the perfectionism- procrastination conundrum.One was an interview with Rhonda Magee, a professor at University of San Francisco School of Law. Magee is a proponent of mindful lawyering and recommended that lawyers add a mindfulness reset to their day. She described this reset as the act of simply sitting and following your breath for a few moments. Another Recent article was written by Linda Graham, a therapist and author of a 2013 book on resilience, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being.The support Graham offers in the newsletter is so simple and so sweet that you might feel a little silly doing it at first: • Stop several times a day and see if you are holding on to (or actively fueling) negative self-talk. • When you discover that you are, stop and place your hand on your heart or on your cheek. • Offer yourself these simple phrases of encouragement: May I feel safe in this moment. May I be free of fear, stress and anxiety. May I accept myself just as I am, right here, right now. May I know I can be skillful here. • Sit and breathe for a few moments before returning to your work. So it seems that you can find some peace of mind right where you are by pausing, changing your relationship to perfectionism and offering yourself some compassion.The next time you start to tell someone you are a perfectionist, stop and consider what is really going on inside you.Consider where “good enough” might be absolutely perfect. And, check out the Greater Good Science Center website for some more tips on improving your wellbeing and getting more of the good out of life. If you need more support for your mental or emotional well-being, remember that all SC lawyers in good standing with the SC Bar can access up to five free counseling sessions each year. Call CorpCare at (855) 321- 4384 to schedule an appointment with a counselor.
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