We often hear the phrase “think like a lawyer” but what does it really mean? Most would say it means attention to detail, skill in making arguments, drive for perfection, obsession with detail, analyzing risks and all possible outcomes, and preparing for the worst. All of these skills make you an excellent lawyer but they can be harmful to your mental health.
Certain types of characters thrive in a legal role, particularly insecure transgressors. Those who are competitive, perfect and motivated to prove themselves and be the best in order to feel worthy and appreciated. They may feel a constant sense of impatience and urgency, and despite all their accomplishments are self-critical. If things go wrong in their personal or professional life, they find it very difficult to navigate.
In addition, the regulatory environment in which lawyers work is also very difficult – there is no room for mistakes and a culture of fear and blame has been normalized. This can lead to a feeling of psychological insecurity and imposter syndrome, feeling that you are just waiting to find out or things go wrong. The human brain is also susceptible to negative bias, giving more importance to things that went wrong rather than things that went right. We tend to ruminate and focus on negative thoughts. Lawyers can also be overthinking and find it difficult to let go of certain ideas. When you combine all of this with the usual heavy workload of a legal professional, long hours and little time off from work, and there’s a perfect storm of stress, anxiety, and burnout.
Lawyers tend to live in their brain, and humans tend to spend their time thinking rather than just being. Sometimes, understanding how your mind works and identifying some unhealthy thought patterns can help you walk away from some of your thoughts and see that your thoughts aren’t always a good representation of what’s really going on at that moment. Our feelings, emotions, and behaviors are usually a direct reaction to our thoughts, so if your thoughts have fallen into a certain rabbit hole, your reactions will likely be out of proportion.
Here are some of the common unhealthy thought patterns we hear about regularly on LawCare.
exaggeration / underestimation Exaggerating things disproportionately and believing that the worst possible thing will happen eg “I’m going to get fired for this”. The other side of the coin is minimizing something to make it seem less important and easier to work with. This can also be known as sticking your hand in the sand instead of handling something head-on.
emotional thinking Assuming because you feel a certain way it should be true, eg just because you think “I’m terrible at my job” doesn’t mean you are. This can also lead you to jump to conclusions And suppose you know what the outcome of the situation will be, or what someone is thinking.
All or Nothing / Black and White Thinking Believing that something or someone can be good or bad, or that everything should be perfect, and if not, you have failed. For example, a small mistake you made, or a negative interaction with someone spoils the entire relationship or situation.
mental filter – common in all or nothing Thinkers you only care about for certain things, eg filter out all the times you were praised in favor of the times you were criticized.
must and must Thinking or saying “I should” and “I should” – this just adds more stress and often goes hand in hand PersonalizationOr take responsibility or take blame for an outcome that was not your fault. We hear this a lot with lawyers who think they should have won a particular case and spend months or even years thinking about what they could have done differently.
hashtag Giving unhelpful labels to yourself or others such as “too emotional” or “not good with people” can set you up for failure. This is common with junior lawyers who may have had negative feedback before and found it hard to let go.
Tips for dealing with unhelpful thinking
- Focus on what is happening here and now – what is actually happening in this present moment.
- Talk to people about how you feel and ask colleagues/friends for reassurance and their perspective
- Keep a list or folder of your accomplishments and look at them when you need to.
- If you notice that your inner voice is very negative and self-critical, ask yourself, would you talk to a friend this way?
- Distract yourself from your thoughts – read a book, do some exercise, see a friend, go outside and do something you enjoy.
- Take some annual leave from work and use it as an opportunity to reset.
- Assess your work environment – If you work in a place where you feel it contributes negatively to your health, you may want to consider some other options.
Join our Tell Ten campaign for World Mental Health Day and tag 10 colleagues or friends on social media, email or text them and tell them about LawCare’s free and confidential service for everyone working in the law. You never know when someone might need us.
#Thinking #Lawyer #Affect #Mental #Health #Lawyer