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Well-Being

A Mindful Lawyer’s Guide to Mindfulness, Part 2: Making It a Habit

By Zachary Horn

In my previous post, “A Mindful Lawyer’s Introduction to Mindfulness,” we discussed the benefits of mindfulness and engaged in a simple exercise to help you cut through the mental chatter and experience awareness.

I encouraged you to be mindful of your thoughts and move your awareness to your breath whenever you noticed yourself slipping into a mindless, anxious or reactive mode of thinking. If you heeded my advice and consistently engaged in this practice, congratulations! You are well on your way to being a mindful lawyer, and a more peaceful, happier person.

For everyone else: Don’t worry! It is still a new year and a new opportunity to commit to being a more mindful lawyer. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Awareness Takes Practice

Awareness, like a muscle, must be exercised to be increased and maintained.

If you have ever tried a new diet or started a new fitness routine, you know your worst enemy is the inertia of old habits. This inertia determines most of our behavior: We do what we have always done, what has worked or not worked in the past, and what we are comfortable doing.

Change is difficult and takes effort. To change in the present moment you need enough willpower and intentionality to overcome the inertia of the past. The good news is that once the new healthier behavior becomes a habit, it develops its own inertia and takes less effort to maintain.

The Key to Making Mindfulness Part of Everyday Life Is to Make It a Habit

Start small. Choose a realistic, attainable goal and make it a habit.

Start with mindful moments. If sitting still is difficult and the idea of meditating for 20 or 30 minutes each day sounds like torture, start with mindful moments. Take a minute or two out of each day to practice breath awareness. Put it on your calendar as an appointment with your inner stillness, and just do it. No excuses. You may even consider using a meditation app to send you reminders. At this stage, you are establishing a new habit and want it to take a minimal amount of effort to achieve the goal.

Over time, you may want to extend your mindful moments and increase the minutes you spend each day on breath awareness. Slowly but surely, as you turn your awareness inward each day and seek stillness, you will become more familiar with what it feels like. You will start to notice the difference between your anxious everyday mind and the relative peace of those moments of awareness. You may start to notice a slight gap growing between your thoughts and emotions and your witnessing awareness. Even when you are feeling upset, you may start noticing an aspect of your awareness that isn’t consumed by the thoughts or emotions of that moment.

Set larger goals to increase effectiveness. As your periods of daily breath awareness grow from a minute or two to five minutes, then 10, you may want to set new goals. Now that you’ve made a habit of mindfulness, you can start reinforcing and refining the habit to increase its effectiveness.

A Dedicated Space for Mindfulness

If you have no experience with contemplation or mindfulness, it is good to start with mindful moments wherever you are, whenever you can, every day. But once you have that down and your mindful moments have grown into periods of meditation, it is a good idea to dedicate a place in your home to your practice. It can be a corner in your bedroom, a portion of an unused spare room, or even a closet. It doesn’t have to be big, it just needs to be a space designated to your purpose of seeking inner stillness that is comfortable and has minimal distractions.

Once you establish a space, you may find it useful to schedule your periods of meditation in the mornings after you wake up or right before you go to bed. You should still squeeze in mindful moments throughout the day, and use them whenever you find yourself slipping into mindlessness, anxiety or anger. But these longer periods of meditation in the morning or evening — or both — will have their own inertia that will carry you through difficult moments.

Experiment With Meditation Techniques

As mindful moments progress into periods of meditation, you may start thinking about different meditation techniques, postures and other things that can aid your practice. I’ve explored many different techniques over the years and found sitting upright with spine erect, eyes closed, and awareness on the gentle rise and fall of the breath 20 to 30  minutes a day is enough to reach my goal.

Find Your Community

Another aid that may be used at any point in your journey toward becoming a mindful lawyer is a contemplative community. Just like a fitness class or workout buddy can help you establish a new workout routine, the community of fellow contemplatives can be invaluable to developing a mindfulness practice.

Fortunately, increased interest in mindfulness and meditation has lead to a proliferation of meditation groups and apps that provide both in-person and virtual community. You should be able to find a group that suits your needs, whether you are in a small town or a big city.

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Zachary Horn

Zachary Horn is a partner in the Frankfort, Ky., office of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, where he practices in the areas of civil litigation, banking, creditors’ rights, and bankruptcy. He is Vice Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and a frequent speaker and advocate for attorney wellness and mindfulness in the law. Zachary blogs on issues relating to attorney wellness and mindfulness at MindlessLawyer.com.

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