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.

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