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Chetna Bhatt explains how lawyers can achieve high performance without the risk of burnout.
The key to sustaining high levels of performance does not lie in a to do list full of tips and strategies. It comes from an understanding of how our minds work. Once we understand the way something works, it is much easier to navigate.
As lawyers, we experience heavy workloads, tight deadlines and long, unpredictable hours, all of which can increase stress levels and negatively impact performance. And so we believe that it is only when we have more control over these external factors that we can operate to the best of our ability.
But what if that wasn’t true?
What if, instead of trying to change factors that are out of our control, we could tap into our top levels of performance at will, regardless of the external pressures we face?
Accessing our full potential requires us to uncover a vastly under appreciated variable to performance: our state of mind.
When our state of mind is at its optimum, we function with acute clarity and focus, remain calm in previously stressful environments and our inbuilt resilience comes alive.
Productivity, performance and peace of mind increase; stress, anxiety and overwhelm dissipate.
So much of what we read and what we are told validates the misunderstanding that our wellbeing and level of performance is affected by external factors out of our control.
Similarly, we believe that stress is caused by external circumstances such as our heavy workloads or difficult managers.
In addition, our mind is deceptive and plays tricks on us, so it really looks like a heavy workload is the source of stress. However, this is an innocent misunderstanding as to how the mind works.
Our circumstances in and of themselves cannot make us feel stressed. It is our state of mind that determines our experience of something. By ’state of mind’, I am referring to the quality of our thinking.
Our experience, and how we feel about something, is created 100% by our thinking in the moment.
Because our thoughts are invisible, we are often hoodwinked by the impact they have on our experience. However, our experience of our external circumstances only ever works in one direction - inside out and not outside in, as we believe it to be.
There is no circumstance that has the inherent power to create a thought or feeling in us. We all have freedom of mind. If we choose not to let someone or something affect us, we are not affected. That includes a high workload or difficult clients. You can choose to let them impact you or not.
One client, Emma, was in a good mood at work until her work was criticised by a colleague. She experienced a downward spiral of agitated thoughts and felt upset and unable to concentrate. As soon as she remembered her freedom of mind and that she was able to choose the thoughts she gave attention to, she chose not to let what was said impact her, focused on what she was doing and got on with the rest of her day in a good mood.
Have you noticed how your state of mind fluctuates throughout the day?
In a higher quality state of mind, we experience more clarity and perspective irrespective of external pressures. We operate more fluidly in a flow-like state and can make decisions easily and perform at our best.
In a lower quality state of mind, the noise of our thinking takes over and we can’t see the wood from the trees. Our communication suffers, and we react in a knee-jerk or defensive way, which negatively impacts our performance. It can be difficult to complete even the most straightforward tasks or find solutions.
This is why the same heavy workload in one moment may not faze us at all but in another moment overwhelms us and we react with more stressful and agitated thinking. This also explains why we can each have a different experience of the same circumstance – eg one person thrives under a tight deadline while another crumbles.
The mind has an in-built design for success, so when we access a higher quality state of mind (or a quiet mind), we access our innate wellbeing, resilience, clarity, high performance and perspective in any situation without our circumstances changing. We operate with clarity of mind, bring our ’A’ game, are in our ’zone’ and produce our best work.
In a high quality state of mind, we can readily access our ever-present intuition to make decisions. Many of us do not use or trust our intuitive mind as much as we could and yet, high performers routinely listen to their intuition (what some people call a gut feeling or a ’hunch’). Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson have all talked about the importance of listening to their intuition for finding creative innovative solutions or when making big decisions.
When I first heard this, I remember saying ’…as a lawyer, my ability to problem solve is my greatest asset. I cannot stop using my intellectual mind!’ What I now know is that our intellectual mind is less powerful than our intuitive mind, which is more expansive than the intellectual mind.
A high quality state of mind is actually our default setting, but for the extent to which we engage with unhelpful thinking.
As lawyers, we can spend hours overanalysing things or worrying. When faced with a problem, we tend to assume that the harder we think about it, the closer we will get to a solution. We are, after all, trained problem solvers.
However, this approach not only limits us from accessing our potential, it actually takes us further away from finding a solution and makes our minds even noisier resulting in higher levels of stress, worry or frustration.
It is an undoing rather than a doing that enables us to perform at our optimum level without the risk of burnout.
John, a partner at a medium sized firm, was performing well at work but paid the price for it with high levels of stress and limited time for his family and friends. He had strained relationships in his team and was no longer enjoying work but did not feel like he had the clarity of mind to know what to do next with his career.
John had important realisations with this understanding, which enabled him to relate to stress differently such that when it arose, it no longer had the same hold on him. He felt able to produce his best work without compromising his wellbeing. John’s realisations, which may be helpful to you, include the following:
John’s realisations gave him the clarity of mind he was seeking and he started to enjoy work again. His stress levels dissipated, and he was able to work with more ease and effortlessness. He led his team more effectively and they were more engaged. His relationships with colleagues and clients improved. Not only did his wellbeing, performance and leadership at work improve, but he made time for, and enjoyed, life outside of work too.
Please note, different names have been used where clients have been referred to in order to protect their confidentiality.
Being Lawyers provide coaching and training to lawyers and other high achieving professionals to achieve clarity of mind so they are able achieve better results in their wellbeing, performance and leadership. With clarity of mind, they are able to perform more effectively at the high standards expected of them without the risk of burnout. Founded by qualified certified executive coaches and qualified solicitors, Chetna and Lauren, Being Lawyers understand the demands in law and meet the need for lawyers to realise their potential with less stress and more resilience. They support law firms and individual lawyers, through workshops, online courses and small group and one to one coaching.
Chetna is both a qualified executive coach and an in-house part time employment lawyer, having qualified into private practice in 2005. Passionate about human potential, Chetna is trained in a new understanding of the mind which enables us to access our full potential and experience less stress and greater resilience. Having herself recovered fully from a chronic illness with this understanding, she is committed to transforming the wellbeing of the legal profession. She has, since 2013, been helping clients based in the UK and abroad into Europe, the USA and Canada, Africa and the Middle East, access elevated levels of wellbeing, performance and leadership.