Lessons from a mindful lawyer

Yesterday I went to a luncheon with Tony Recio, a mindful Miami lawyer.  I learned three things:

  1. Mindfulness allows us to compartmentalize problems,
  2. We choose whether tests are “tests” or “TESTS!”,
  3. Kindness promotes kindness.

Mindfulness Allows us to Compartmentalize Problems1. Compartmentalize.  Open one drawer at a time.

We all have thought trains.  Whether we like it or not, they keep coming.  Our adventurous minds tend to get carried away.  Two hours later, we’re halfway to somewhere.

Stress builds.  More trains beckon us aboard.

Three papers due soon; haven’t even started yet.  Have you finished the memo?  I wonder what’s on reddit.  I haven’t called her in awhile.  

The trick is opening up one drawer at a time, focusing on that single task, then closing the drawer. 

Which task is most important?  Can I work on it right now?  What can I do right now?

Opening up all the drawers creates stress.  Too much to handle.  Humans have the curse (or the gift) of being able to only focus on one thing at a time.  Multitasking is a myth.  We are most efficient and most effective when we open one door at a time.  Single-task.  Focus on completing the one thing we can do right now.  Do it.  Let the other thought trains pass by.  Keep working.  If the mind wanders, bring it back to the task at hand.  When we are finished with our progress for today, close the drawer.

Mountains Molehills and Mindfulness

2. tests or TESTS!  Your choice.

They say the first year of law school they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, the third year they bore you to death.

After Tony’s talk, I realized that saying isn’t what law school does.  It’s what law students do to themselves.

I remember my first year I was so scared I was on the brink of dropping out.

I was making mountains out of molehills.  I spent so much time worrying about climbing the mountain that I barely started climbing.  Law school didn’t scare me.  I scared me.  Really, the subject matter is not difficult.  And if the student chooses to make it difficult, it will seem difficult.  With that mindset comes stress, fear of failure, fear of not being able to handle it.  The truth is anyone can handle it.  The truth is law school is a molehill, but many of us — myself included — choose to turn it into a mountain.

The second year I realized I could handle it.  I spent less time worrying and more time studying.  But I still had the “work myself to death” mentality.  It didn’t help.  My grades improved; my stress stayed the same.

I’m really good at turning tests into TESTS!  When I do that, I procrastinate; I stress myself out; I let fear hold me back.

For example, I’ve got three papers due soon.  Historically, I’ve been great at waiting until the last minute.  I think at least part of this is because I psych myself up.  I let my ego hold me back.  “paper” becomes “PAPER!”.  The solution is to see the first draft, the amount of research I have to do, and the professor’s expectations for what they truly are.  They’re just papers.  I can do it.

Kindness Reciprocity Mindfulness

3. Kindness promotes kindness

Tony said his ass has been saved many times by kindness.

Mindfulness promotes kindness.  It allows us to see people for who they are: human beings, just like us, with thoughts, worries, fears, emotions, struggles, stresses, hopes, dreams, and stories.

Treat people kind and they’ll be kind in return.  Like I said in my post on trust, reciprocity is embedded in all of us.

There Is No Reason To Meditate

Gyms are packed with shiny iPod armbands the first week of January, and unpacked by week 3.

Drive-Thru and Mindfulness

Those that ditched the iron dungeon discovered losing 30 pounds is more like wine-making than like grabbing a sweaty paper sack from a drive-thru window.

Perseverance is passé. It’s the norm now to quit when we’re not instantly-gratified. Now or never.


When we meditate for any reason other than to meditate — or when we go to the gym for any reason other than to go to the gym — we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

Meditation may lead to less stress, more focus, more blissful, less bitterness.  But those are just byproducts, not the destination.  There is no destination in meditation.

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.  – Lao Tzu

Being Present When We’re Feeling Down In The Dumps

It’s OK to be grumpy.

Grumpy and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is noticing all our feelings, even not-so-happy ones.

“I accept where I am in this moment” is step 1 in shifting from Grumpy to Happy.

Chinese Finger Trap and Mindfulness

Struggling and resisting leads to getting more stuck.

When we tend to our grumpy feelings and when we shower ourselves with love — especially during the inevitable slumps — then the shift takes care of itself.  Grumpy becomes Happy.  Automatically. No incantations necessary.

Serenity Now and Mindfulness

Seinfeld taught us: Shouting “Serenity Now!” doesn’t work.

This practice — noticing our feelings and loving ourselves no matter what — works because: (1) We don’t get tangled up in the drama and (2) Love solves most “problems.”

Six Human Needs — Which Two Drive You?

According to  Tony Robbins, we are all driven by six human needs:

1. Certainty/Comfort  

2. Uncertainty/Variety 

3. Significance 

4. Love/Connection 

5. Growth 

6. Contribution 

Every action, every reaction, every emotion, every thought we ever have can be traced back to one or more of these human needs.

The first four are the basic, primary needs.  The last two are the secondary, higher needs.

When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Which two drive you?

Six Human Needs Tony Robbins Emotional Intelligence


Are you ready to evolve?

Albert Pine Quote on Contribution

Be Here Now

The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness. – Benjamin Maslow

Man Walking in Field Zen Koan Tiger Mice Strawberries Mindfulness Savoring

A man traveling from town to town comes to a field, where he encounters a tiger.  He turns and runs as fast he can; the tiger chases after him.

Zen Tiger Koan Strawberry Delicious Mindfulness Law School

As he reaches a cliff, he grabs hold of a vine and swings himself over the edge.

Looking down, he sees another hungry tiger looking up at him.  The only thing the man can do is hold onto the vine.

At that moment, he notices two mice chewing away at the vine that holds him between life and death.

The man looks to his right and sees a plump wild strawberry.  He reaches over and picks it.

Strawberry Vine Zen Koan Tigers Mice Delicious

It tasted so good…


Rumi Mindfulness Damaged Place Light Quote

Marcus Aurelius put it succinctly: “Do every act as if it were your last.”

When you walk, walk.  When you study, study.  When you eat strawberries, eat strawberries.

Then die.

This is the Zen way, the mindfulness way, the living way.

The purpose is in doing what you are doing, not in some possible future outcome.  Study for the sake of studying, not for the hope of learning or understanding (those will come on their own).

Be here now.

Not in the future.

Not in the past.

The “future” — which doesn’t really exist —  brings worry.

The “past” — which doesn’t really exist — brings regret.

The present brings peace and infinite possibilities.

Be here now.

Kill your illusions of “past” or “future.”

(those do not exist)

It is, always has been, and always will be now.

There exists only the present moment…a Now which always and without end is itself new.  There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence. – Meister Eckhart

Mindfulness Law Students

Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.  – Deepak Chopra

Trust: the #1 Aspect of Every Single Relationship


“Many people are blind to trust, not so much to its benefits as to its nature and the practices that make it possible.” – Robert C. Solomon

The #1 aspect of all relationships is trust.  Without trust, there is no foundation for the relationship to be built upon.  As trusted advisors, all attorneys and aspiring attorneys owe a solemn duty to inspire the trust of clients and of the public.

Unfortunately, trust can take years to build but only seconds to break.

Abraham Lincoln quote on trust

Why is forgiving so easy but re-building trust so difficult?  What is trust, anyways?

Trust involves a trusting party and a trusted party.  The result is trust, which has three essential elements:

  1. Vulnerability to the trusted;
  2. Confidence that the trusted will not exploit this vulnerability;
  3. Optimism that the trusted is competent in certain respects.

Thus, a trusted advisor makes a client feel confident that her best interests are in mind and provides valuable, relevant advice for her needs.

A. The Uncertainty of Lending Pens and Hiring Lawyers

Trust can be tangible or intangible.

When I let you borrow my pen, I trust you will return it.  When I hire you as my attorney, I trust you will competently perform legal services.  Trust means I don’t have to put a GPS device on my pen or a surveillance camera in your office.  In other words, the act of trusting occurs when the trusted party is not being watched.

I (the trusting party) am vulnerable in both of these scenarios.  I’m abandoning control.  With control abandoned and vulnerability opened, I’m uncertain.  

This is a problem because the need for certainty is the most fundamental of all human needs across all human beings — no one is exempt from the need for (at least some) certainty.

Trust fills in the gap between uncertainty and certainty.  Without trust, there is zero certainty.  With trust, there’s at least a degree of certainty.

B. Trust and Game Theory

Prisoner's Dilemma

The prisoner’s dilemma proves  trust may be “illogical”

In the prisoner’s dilemma, two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned.  Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to the other.  The police don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge.  They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge.  Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain — if he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge.  Oh, yes, there’s a catch…If both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail.

The possible outcomes are:

Prisoner B stays silent (cooperates) Prisoner B betrays (defects)
Prisoner A stays silent (cooperates) Each serves 1 year Prisoner A: 3 years
Prisoner B: goes free
Prisoner A betrays (defects) Prisoner A: goes free
Prisoner B: 3 years
Each serves 2 years

Interestingly, game theorists conclude that the optimal strategy is betrayal. 

If the other prisoner chooses to stay silent, then betraying them gives a better reward (no sentence instead of one year) and if the other prisoner chooses to betray then betraying them also gives a better reward (two years instead of three).  Because betrayal always rewards more than cooperation, rational self-interested prisoners would betray their counterparts, and the only possible outcome for two rational self-interested prisoners is for them to betray each other.

The “logical” game plan is to betray.  If both prisoners follow this strategy, they will each serve two years.

But they would get a better reward if they cooperated!  If both prisoners follow this strategy, they will each serve one year.

To follow the cooperate/cooperate strategy, trust is required.  So how is trust created?

C. What’s the Key to Trust Creation? 

“Trust is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage in business.”  – David Maister (author, The Trusted Advisor)

According to Maister, the creation of trust between two parties depends on a reciprocating exchange.  Party A takes a small risk to trust Party B.  A is the trustor (doing the trusting), B is the trustee (the one who is trusted).  If B agrees to the new relationship, the result is a higher level of trust.

The key to trust creation is reciprocity.  The trustor takes a risk, and if the trustee reciprocates, trust is created.  If not, trust isn’t created.

Lao Tzu Trust Enough Quote Trusted

The absence of trust can be caused by:

  • too little trustworthiness on the part of the trustee, or 
  • too much risk aversion on the part of the trustor.

If you want to be trusted, you have two strategies you can pursue:

  • increase your level of perceived trustworthiness, or 
  • kick-start the reciprocity relationship by first playing the role of trustor.

The second strategy capitalizes on the idea that “the best way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”  To make yourself more trusted, according to Maister, you might demonstrate vulnerability by offering to trust first.

The natural human reciprocal response is to return the gesture — tit for tat.

Reciprocity is deeply embedded in our psyches

Reciprocity is deeply embedded in our psyches

So, if you want your client to trust you, find some ways to trust them.

Trusting + Trusted = Trust.

Osho Quote on Trust Powerful

D. The Four Principles that Govern Trustworthy Behavior

According to the Trusted Advisor Associates, four principles govern trustworthy behavior:

  1. A focus on the other for the other’s sake (not just as a means to your own ends);    
  2. A collaborative approach to relationships;
  3. A medium to long-term relationship perspective (not a short-term focus);
  4. A habit of being transparent.

I think lying underneath all of these principles is the art of actively listening.  As Steven Covey puts it in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”  In other words, take out your shovel and dig below the surface.  Why is the client asking you to do certain things or to work in a certain way?  What’s motivating them to do that?  What are their underlying interests?

Listening is the Way to Building Trust

Listen your way to their trust.

Also underneath all of these principles is the fact that trust is an emotion.  Emotions narrow our perception to certain “fields of evidence” that support the emotion.  When we’re in the grip of an emotion, we focus on facts that affirm its existence and are resistant to facts that negate it.  This explains the fact that trust is tough to build but easy to break.  Specifically:

  1. Humans are negatively biased (perception and memory are very limited; as a survival mechanism, we focus much more on the negative than the positive); 
  2. The most fundamental human need is certainty (feeling of security);
  3. The emotional brain is much older than the logical brain (words and promises are irrelevant; only actions mean anything)

In other words, history — for our purposes — is a select collection of predominately negative memories.  Add in the fact that most humans anticipate the worst case scenario and rely on the idea that “history repeats itself.”  We find: trust is tough to build but easy to break.

For survival purposes, our brain focuses on the negative at about a 5:1 ratio over the positive.  This helps explain why trust is so hard to build but so easy to break.

For survival purposes, our brain focuses on the negative at a 5:1 ratio over the positive.  This helps explain why trust is so hard to build but so easy to break.

So use the above principals wisely.  Build trust carefully.  And keep building.  Do not adhere to the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Keep fixing.  Keep trusting.

Nietzsche Quote on Trust Lied to Me



  • Trust, which starts when no one is watching, is the #1 aspect of every relationship 
  • It’s difficult to gain and easy to lose (negativity bias)
  • Trust fills in the gap between certainty (basic human need) and uncertainty (caused by delegating task to trusted party)
  • Reciprocation, which is deeply embedded in our psyche, is a great way to build trust (kick-start the trust-building process by trusting first)
  • Other trust-building components are transparency and actively listening (“seek first to understand”)

A Letter to Law Students Studying for Finals (and anyone else stressed out)

Law School Finals Stress Cramming Antidote

Dear Friend,

To do extremely well on your finals, you might want to consider the inside — not just the outside.

The outside: cases, case notes, class notes.

The inside: your state of mind; your ability to focus, to persevere, to guide your thoughts, to remain calm and collected in the face of a challenging question.

Could you invest just 5 minutes today to meditate?  (such a practice, I argue, is better than 5 hours of studying).

Cramming and stressing out will severely inhibit your ability to THINK when faced with a challenging, open-ended question on the final.

Antidote: meditating and laughing.

Birds regurgitate; lawyers think.  To think, clear your mind.  To clear you mind, meditate; follow your breath, observe your thoughts (let them fly by like clouds).


You will do great and you already know too much,


Meditating During Law School Finals

P.S. – try this 2 minute guided meditation with Rumi poetry for beginners (I love this entire YouTube series — “The Meditator” by Deepak Chopra).  If you go to snipmp3.com you can get the mp3 file and put it on your iPod!

11 Keys to Effective Human Communication (and the #1 secret to getting anyone to like you)

The Art of Listening for Law Students is the Key to Success in Life

What’s the #1 secret to getting anyone to like you?

One of the fiercest political rivalries of the 19th century was between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.  Both were vying to become the next Prime Minister — at that time in England, the winner would practically control half the world.

A young woman dined with the men on consecutive nights.

A reporter asked her about her impression of the rival statesmen.

“When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England.”

“But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”

Listening is the Greatest Gift you can Give to Anyone

Without further adieu, here are the 11 keys to effective human communication:

1. Look into their eyes (or imagine doing so if you’re not speaking face-to-face).

2. Actually listen (instead of ignoring them, anxiously waiting your turn, or talking over them).

3. Continue listening (what are they REALLY trying to say?)

4. Find comfort in the silent spaces (words and silence are like life and death — there’s no one without the other)

5. Smile (it’s contagious)

6. Nod as you continue actively, actually listening (nodding also happens to be one of the most effective persuasion methods) 

7. Listen to what they aren’t saying (how often do they pause?  are they comfortable with silence?)

8. Listen to how they say what they say (vocal inflections, tone, speed)

9. Be on the lookout for non-verbal clues (e.g. you can tell they’re very happy/excited about what they’re saying if their eyes smile at you as they speak)

10. Give them feedback to show how much you really care about what they’re saying (“Let me  make sure I understand what you’re saying, I think you said [summarize their main points].”)

11. Ask them open-ended questions (be like Sherlock Holmes on the look-out for clues; inquire if necessary)

Covey Listen to Understand

It doesn’t matter whether you speak or stay silent the whole time (so steps 10 and 11 are optional).

Words are a tiny portion of communication — in fact, they often get in the way of communication.

Most people just really, really want someone to Listen.

The Word Listen Contains the Same Letters as the Word Silent Quote How to Listen

P.S. – Benjamin Disraeli won the popular election.

P.P.S – The author wrote this blog post for self-guidance.  Learning to listen is a life-long journey; many people die having never experienced the wonderful feeling of truly listening.

What Are You Waiting For? (happiness is always here and now)

Happiness in Intelligent People is the Rarest Thing I Know Ernest HemingwayBy now you know emotions and logic aren’t best friends

So why are you waiting for a reason to be happy?

Abraham Lincoln on Happiness

Here’s the secret to being happy: choose to be happy now.

(luckily, it’s always now)

Gaze into the world with eyes of wonder and a heart overflowing with gratitude.

Laugh at yourself.

Smile at others.

Accept everything as it is.

Let go of trying to control that which you can’t control

(like your thoughts, your feelings, other people, and 99.9% of the things you worry about — including the past and the future).

Epictus Happiness One Way Stop Worrying Quote

If you insist on basing your happiness on a reason, here’s one: you’re alive!

(the other 300,000,000 sperms who lost the race would gladly trade places with you).

Albert Camus Never Be Happy If You SEARCHStruggling for happiness is one of the best ways to NOT be happy.

Happiness is beyond reason, beyond logic.

Happiness is what’s left when you let go of searching and struggling.

Happiness is Always Here and Now

Shred your illusion that happiness is around the corner.

Happiness = Here + Now.

Lao Tzu The Whole World Belongs to You Quote

P.S.  if you want to be really, really happy, make it your life mission to make others really, really happy.

No One Is Stopping You But You, So Stop Stopping You

Who is Going to Stop Me Ayn Rand

You can do anything you want, be anyone you want.

The only one stopping you is you.

So stop stopping you.

Seth Godin Stop Sabotaging Your Own Work

No one else gets to decide for you!

Follow your heart, not the mob.

Dare to Be Different Progess

Fear may hold others back, but it doesn’t hold you back.

When you fail — and you will fail many times if you’re doing something worthwhile – keep trying until you succeed.

J.K. Rowlings Quote on Failure

Keep moving.


No blaming.

No complaints.

No excuses.

I Don't have Time

Death is fear.

Life is courage.

Life Courage Vincent Van Gogh