Pachydermal Paranoia

by Phoebe Churches

Elephant and dog

You need a ‘thick skin’ to be a lawyer – but is this sort of resilience purely dispositional or can it be acquired?

My brother quipped recently that his every utterance contained ‘layers of meaning, and meanness’. Growing up with this, I have developed both a thick skin and the expectation that almost everything has a hidden meaning.

This started me thinking about environments where there is positive survival value in becoming immune to many provocations. I am not impervious to all types of needling of course, as my partner will readily attest. However in the cut and thrust of my professional life – shields are up and you will have to work very hard to get a rise out of me. No doubt my years working as a social worker also honed my ability to keep ‘other people’s stuff’ at a safe arm’s length.

Firstly, why do I suggest that thick skin is an essential quality in a lawyer?

Working as a lawyer has many challenges – but one of the biggest tests for many is remaining confident in the face of criticism. That doesn’t mean rejecting all feedback. Confidence is not arrogance. Self-confidence allows you to recognise weaknesses and fix them. Reframing criticism as something that will just make you better, both disables its debilitating sting and fuels self-improvement.

However, facing down criticism in an adversarial milieu is a different matter. I am talking about learning to zone out the white noise that is simply designed to undermine your confidence and get you to give in.

Your competence, skill and judgement will often be challenged. Even during negotiation in an alternative dispute resolution setting – you need to be resistant to the games which will inevitably play out as each party tries to get their best outcome. In the typical day of a working lawyer, we may need to remind ourselves that our clients are generally not misleading us, we are not thick or gullible and the claims we represent are not querulous. So when our opponent suggests we should just drop our case, that we are wrong and there is no merit to our claim – will we give in?

Well, not unless they are right.

How do we build this resilience, if you didn’t grow up with a troll for a sibling?

There are really two ways you can deal with criticism as you develop – you can absorb it, let it soak into your bones, weaken your confidence and sap your desire to challenge yourself. Or you can create a barrier which protects your inner world.  These are decisions we often fail to make consciously – but there is nothing stopping a conscious decision to develop or enhance our resilience to criticism at any time in life.

Number one tip – is that life is not a popularity contest. We don’t need constant approval to be happy. That’s it. Move on.

Next – nothing is personal. People generally act in self-interest – they aren’t really trying to tell us something we need to know about ourselves, they are trying to get what they want. Why do some things just roll off the proverbial duck’s back and other things cut to the quick? This is about knowing your ‘red flags’. The tiny (or sometimes screaming) inner voice which articulates the beliefs we have about ourselves. If you grew up thinking you were gullible, not good at logic or too emotional for example – criticisms on these points are going to score direct hits. If you have a strong inner belief that you are intelligent and rational – being called stupid and emotional is going to just seem silly.

It’s that simple. No, really it is. We can always question our unexplored self-beliefs and reality check them against what we know to be true. It is the unexamined character of the little inner voice that makes it so destructive. These things are no more than cognitive-emotional habits. Practice makes perfect.

Finally, could a thick skin be the enemy of empathy and compassion in our work? It would be easy to see someone like Julian Burnside as a bundle of porous empathy. However he has to face fierce criticism for his efforts. Thick skin is also about a boundary between you and everyone else. Perhaps paradoxically, when you are involved in the most empathic types of lawyering – you will need the best boundaries. I volunteer once a week in the Human Rights Law clinic at the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre and the risk of burn out is all too real.

We can be of public service only as long as we have resilience in the face of manifest systemic unfairness and the raw horror of some people’s lived experience.

Ultimately I don’t know whether it was growing up with a mean brother or 25 years of social work which thickened my skin the most.

Maybe I was an elephant in another life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear lawyer Bob, please be kind and gentle to yourself and remember …

by Bernadette Healy

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Have you ever tried writing a letter to yourself?  It can be an amazingly comforting experience. About ten years ago, I had a particularly memorable experience of composing and then later reading such a letter.

I had just returned from a very, very relaxing holiday.  Back at work on the first day I remember being so relaxed that I floated through most of the day.  At some point however, I was in the company of someone who needed me to go with them (metaphorically that is) to a very painful emotional place.  This of course is very common in the working life of a psychologist (and many others, including lawyers).  On this particular day, however, I was not there with them as they needed me to be.  They left and I sat and reflected and owned the fact that I had failed to do my job properly.  I recognized that I had been in a sort of relaxed fog that I didn’t really want to get out of and that nothing much could get through it unless a more conscious effort was made by me to make that happen.   I can still remember the mixture of feelings I had as I sat and analysed that particular work incident.  I thought what can I do about it (in addition to reparation with the individual) to try and ensure that it doesn’t happen next year?  I decided to write a letter to myself to be read the following year on my return from holidays.

I wrote myself a letter about how it felt to be back at work and what I might like to be on the lookout for, in terms of avoiding repeating the same mistake.  I made suggestions to myself and also reminded myself to be kind rather than punitive in my approach.  It was a very easy letter to write and I found myself being very reasonable to myself, accepting responsibility, applying critical thinking and suggesting strategies to myself.  I then signed off in a very warm and loving manner.  As soon as I had a diary for the following year, I attached the letter to the relevant week.   When I came back from holidays the following year, I read my letter to myself and ensured that I took my own advice!  Most importantly though, I experienced a quiet and private feeling of comfort that I had  not reacted to the mistake in either an overly indulgent or overly critical manner and that I had been able to trust in my own judgement about an effective response for the future.

Journaling (writing to yourself, specifically for yourself), can be a very powerful process.  If you will be patient and practice writing in one of the various journaling styles – of which the letter to oneself is an example – you will experience yourself coming up with all sorts of ideas, pieces of wisdom and an ability to identify potentially problematic patterns (amongst much more).  There are all sorts of variations of journaling, for example:

Style of Writing: Conversation / script

Helps With: Preparing for negotiation or performance meeting including

Examples:

“Hi Bob where is that xxx I asked you to prepare?”

“It’s a fascinating project and I have identified at least 3 possible tracks so far and would welcome your input about which one should receive most attention going forward”

“Its still a work in progress – how do you want me to proceed moving forward? “

“So its not finished?”

“That’s correct.  I assumed you wanted me to approach it comprehensively. But if you would prefer I give comprehensiveness a lower priority that the timeline I can adapt my approach from now on.”

“That’s right, I am having trouble setting task priorities  “

“Just get it done!”

“Of course but is it possible moving forward to provide an indication of the tasks within a framework, that is, level of detail required / priority of task relative to others / timeframe?”


Style of Writing: Stream of consciousness

Helps With:

  1. Accessing your own ideas and wisdom
  2. Finding out where you are stuck
  3. Clearing out difficult emotional material for which there is no real solution but which might be taking up lots of space

Examples:

Just write whatever comes into your head without any censoring of any kind, preferably first thing in the morning before doing anything else and keep going for 2 or 3 pages – push through resistance to the process! Keep private.  Don’t re-read until you have allowed yourself at least a week of writing.


Style of Writing: Letter to self

Helps With:

  1. Remind yourself of strengths
  2. Acknowledge effort
  3. Highlight need for improvement

Examples:

  1. Dear self, just want to write to remind you that today you did really well coping with that thing that you have had a lot of trouble with…. And the strategy you used was …
  2. Dear self, please remember that you are particularly vulnerable to ….. and even more so when x Is around
  3. Dear self, please remember that today you really stuffed up / hurt someone’s feelings when you behaved …. Said …  Next time it would be better to …

Style of Writing: Letter to other (not to be sent)

Helps With:

  1. Helping yourself to let go of difficult emotions
  2. Honouring feelings towards another not able to be expressed

Examples:

  1. Something you would ideally like to say to someone but know that that is unrealistic
  2. Something you wish you had said to someone who has died

Style of Writing: Detailed writing about known future anxiety-provoking situation

Helps With: Exposes yourself to your worst anticipated fears which frees you up to handling the actual situation more effectively

Examples:

Write in detail about the situation that you will be facing and everything you fear will happen including all your worst case scenarios[1].  Re-write daily for at least 4 or 5 days before the event.


Style of Writing: Worry log

Helps With: Manages worrying; helps you to sort out whether your worrying is useful or otherwise; illustrates your vulnerabilities; and over time, and with continued use, helps to break the habit of constant worrying.

Examples:

A few words jotted on note pad every time you become aware of worrying thought.  (Could be a thought to do with a current problem or it could be a ‘what if’ kind of thought.  Could be a problem solving thought or could be pointless rumination).  Put aside a time at end of day (same time each day) to consult worry log.

 

 

[1] Of course if you become extremely uncomfortable, discontinue and seek professional advice.

Your marketability changes…

Humans of New York

“I’m having trouble finding work. People assume that all attorneys are well off, but once you’re past an age where you are young and single and can work all night, your marketability changes. Everyone at my wife’s office knows that I’m an attorney, so they assume that we’re financially stable and that she can quit whenever she wants. It gives her a bit of a shield. I’d rather not show my face because I don’t want her bosses to know how badly she needs the job.”

Courtesy of: Humans of New York

The unbearable lightness of being a (female) lawyer

by Arna Delle-Vergini

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One of the frustrations of being a blawyer (lawyer/blogger) is that, more often than not, one cannot blog about one’s own clients. And yet, that is where all the best stories happen: in and around court. How to get around this? Well, this is this blawgers attempt. To protect my real identity, in this blog I’m going to call myself “Andy”. Oh, and I’ve made up a whole different country too. Just for added protection. 🙂

Once upon a time, there was a land called “Mysonia”.  It was a strange, half-forgotten land, where the quality of people’s lives was predetermined from birth essentially, according to the colour of their hair.  Basically, in this land, if you were born a brunette, you were considered to be a second-class citizen, blondes were first-class citizens and redheads were the ultimate rulers. Gender was irrelevant. In any event, there were rules and regulations about whom one could marry and have children with (as there are in our own country of course) but, since there were so many more brunettes than blondes or redheads, exceptions were allowed. These were rarely happy marriages though, as the brunettes would be routinely treated awfully by their partners and whilst there were laws that protected second-class citizens from being victimized, in practice, it happened all too often and little was done about it. Anyway, a great war broke out in this country and many people, of all different coloured hair, fled. Some fled to the US. Some to the UK. Some to France. Some to Sweden. And some saw fit to flee to Australia.

Our story picks up in Australia where “Andy” a lawyer is briefed to appear in a bail application on behalf of “Felicity” a blonde Mysonian who recently arrived in this country. Felicity had been charged (again) with breaching an intervention order. This was her third breach. She had a history outlining multiple assaults against her partner, Phillipe, who was; you guessed it, very much a brunette. On this occasion, Felicity bashed Phillipe so hard that he had to be hospitalized. After her arrest she made it very clear to the police that she had nothing but contempt for laws that protected brunettes from violent assaults and made it clear that she would repeat her behaviour the minute she was released. This was unhelpful for a bail application but Andy had been doing this for a while and was quite sure he could manage it.

It was 9.15am when Andy first met Felicity in the cells down in the Melbourne Remand Centre. He said a cheery “hello” and began to take Felicity through the remand brief. At one point he noticed Felicity looking at him strangely, but he decided to just continue. Eventually, he realized that the “strange” look was one of anger, possibly even contempt, so he asked Felicity if everything was all right.

“No, it’s not!” she said, with some anger. “They have sent me a prostitute”.

Andy looked around him quickly to see if anyone else had slipped into the interview room. Nope, just him.

“A prostitute?”

“In Mysonia, married brunettes do not work. The only brunettes who work are prostitutes. You are not married.”

Andy looked at his ring finger. “Oh, of course, I’m not married and I’m a brunette so you think I must be a prostitute”.

“You are a prostitute”.

Andy felt that, perhaps, reason might assist in this circumstance and explained: “Oh, no, you see, in this country, brunettes are allowed to work doing all sorts of work and it doesn’t matter whether they are married or not.”

Felicity did not seem at all pleased with this answer. In fact, she became angrier and demanded to know again why they had sent a prostitute in to act as her lawyer. Furthermore, Felicity didn’t believe, even in Australia, that Andy actually could have been a qualified lawyer, rather than a student, so she demanded to see Andy’s ID. Andy produced his ID but Felicity just became more and more enraged. She was starting to yell at this point and white flecks of foam were spurting out of her mouth. Eventually she started banging on the glass: “I want a proper lawyer. I want a redhead”.

Since Andy got paid either way, he was happy to leave Felicity foaming at the mouth in the cells while he organized a lawyer with different coloured hair to come and represent Felicity.  As luck would have it, there was a perfectly capable blonde idling about in chambers, so he flicked the brief to her and then casually made his way home.

As he was driving home he thought about two things. The first was how he might spend the rest of his day. (He favoured sitting at a café reading a book only slightly over sitting in a warm bath reading a book.). The second thought he had was: “what must it feel like to be born into a world that thinks you are superior by nature of your hair colour?” He had some idea of this because, in truth, even in Australia – the lucky country – there was a little of this caper going on. He had had some experience of people who were raised to see themselves as superior. These were people who were treated as smarter and funnier, even if they weren’t. These people were paid more to do the very same work as anyone else; consequently, they were typically wealthier. These people were given more airtime, as if everything that fell out of their mouths was golden when, really they talked as much rubbish as anyone else. These people often believed that they had no advantage whatsoever, but the moment someone tried to challenge them about their advantage, they instantly became very defensive and angry. They would say things like “just exactly who do you think you are?” Because Andy liked himself a lot, he didn’t spend a lot of time with these people but he had spent enough time with them to know that they existed and that, underneath it all, their greatest fear – greater than any other fear – was of being exposed. Their greatest fear was that one day, someone would discover that they were not actually superior after all. Andy couldn’t think of anything worse than living with a fear like this. It made him feel very sorry for them.

Postscript: Felicity was not satisfied with the blonde lawyer either and promptly sacked her. Felicity had come to feel a deep distrust of all Australian lawyers after having met Andy; after all, what kind of country allows brunettes to practice as lawyers anyway? No one will be surprised to hear that Felicity was not granted bail on this particular occasion. 

A different type of depression

 

The downtime is tough. It can be stressful when you go two weeks without work, and there’s nothing ahead on the schedule, and you log onto Facebook and see all the stuff other people are doing. And a lot of times it feels like I’m not building anything permanent. It’s relatively easy to get gigs when you’re thirty-something, but you don’t see too many old guys in other people’s bands. But being on stage is the happiest I ever feel. It feels great to have all those eyes on you and ears on you. There’s a jubilation to being up there and working together as a unit to vibrate the air and make people dance. I was pre-law during my first two years of college. I’m sure if I’d been a lawyer, I’d feel a lot more secure. But then I’d be battling an even heavier type of depression.

Courtesy of: Humans of New York

Stand by Me – The death of a lawyer.

by Arna Delle-Vergini

stand by me

STAND BY ME (1986, 89 MINS)
DIRECTOR: ROB REINER

Few people 35 and over have not seen the 1986 movie, “Stand By Me”. Directed by Rob Reiner, the movie is based on the Stephen King novella, ‘The Body’. It’s iconic theme song is, of course, Ben E King’s song of the same name and it is probably no exaggeration to say that it is impossible these days for a great many people to listen to this song without thinking of the movie.

“Stand by Me” is a moving coming of age story that tracks four young boys as they hunt for the body of a boy reported as missing and dead. The protagonist, Gordie (played by Wil Wheaton as a child and Richard Dreyfus, as an adult) hangs out with a gang of boys who his father disapproves of greatly: Chris (River Phoenix) – the son of a violent alcoholic, Teddy (Corey Feldman)– also the son of a violent father – he tried to cut off his son’s ear – and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) slightly less dysfunctional than the other two, but not by much. One day the boys hit on the idea of searching for the missing body and returning it. They have dreams of a possible reward, perhaps some publicity.  Their plan works out well until they discover that Chris’ psychotic older brother (played by Keifer Sutherland) is also searching for the body. When all the boys – both young and older reach the body, there is an inevitable standoff, which the younger boys ultimately win. It is, however, a Pyrrhic victory – by the time they have found and taken possession of the body – they have grown enough to realise that some things are best left as they are – undisturbed and unadulterated.

What make this film really fascinating for the writer is not so much the coming of age story of the four boys but the “coming into being” story of one of the principal characters, Chris Chambers. At the outset of the film, the adult Gordi, is reading about his friend, Chris Chambers, in the paper. It outlines that Chris was recently stabbed to death trying to break up a fight between two people in a queue. The newspaper clipping prompts the adult Gordie to reflect on his time with Chris.

The first thing we learn is that Chris “came from a bad family and everyone knew he’d turn out bad, including Chris”. And yet, if we follow Chris’s role throughout the movie we notice immediately some pretty impressive traits – one’s that are commonly associated with lawyers. Chris always takes the lead. We are told that he is the leader of the gang. He is also the one that comes up with the idea to find the body. Chris is always standing up for others when they are being bullied or even when they are acting destructively themselves. He tries to protect Gordie from his own brother’s bullying. He is the one who saves Teddy’s life by physically pushing him out of the way of the oncoming train when Teddy is playing ‘chicken’ with a train. Gordie narrates that this is not the only time that Chris has saved Teddy. He stopped him from falling out of a tree house, an event that Chris still has dreams about. In his dream, instead of catching Teddy, he misses him. But Gordie can’t understand this: “Chris never misses.

When there are disputes, it’s Chris that acts as mediator and he is the one who is always ready to reassure the others at times of distress. When Gordie asks him “Am I weird?” Chris replies: “Yeah, so what, everybody’s weird.” Chris then hones in on Gordie’s real concern is – does the fact that he wants to be a writer and not a footballer like his older deceased brother make him a loser? Chris is all support: “It’s like god gave you something. If your parents are too fucked up to tell you then maybe I should.”

It’s easy to see that with these traits, Chris would make the perfect lawyer, but we are told time and time again in the movie (usually by Chris himself) that the odds are completely against him – he will never amount to anything. So how does he go from being a smart kid with a lot of good qualities but from a bad home, to an attorney at law? One of the catalysts seems to be when Chris experiences a grave injustice himself.  Chris opens up to Gordie one night about a recent experience. It was nothing too unusual; he had stolen the milk money from school, which Gordie was aware of. But what Gordie didn’t know is that Chris returned the money to the teacher who, instead of congratulating him for doing the right thing, spent the money herself. Chris breaks down when he tells this story. His greatest pain is that there was no point setting the record straight because nobody would have believed him. This is a boy who has been told as long as he can remember that he is no good and will amount to nothing. After the boys have returned home, and at the end of the young Gordie’s reflection, Chris is still convinced that he’s got no hope: “I’m never going to get out of this town, am I Gordie?” Gordie’s answer: “You can do anything you want man.”

Which is exactly what Chris does do. The adult Gordi tells us at the end of the movie how Chris ultimately ended up going to college and becomes a lawyer. It is completely ironic to the adult Gordie that Chris, “who always made the best peace”, dies doing what he always did best.

“Stand by Me” is as much about the evolution of a lawyer as it is anything else. At the beginning and the end of the movie we are left with the image of a dead attorney – a man wrongfully killed trying to keep the peace. During the movie we are introduced to a young boy who is wronged in a variety of ways: by his family, teachers at the school, his whole community, but who somehow manages to find a way through. And yet, despite this commanding narrative, arguably the most powerful image that we are left with is not one that is suggestive of success; it is one that is suggestive of failure. We never actually see this image in the film but it will resonate with most lawyers. I am speaking of course, of the image of Teddy falling from the tree house – with Chris reaching down, desperately trying to catch him, but missing.

This movie is a must watch if you want to understand the inner world of a lawyer. Many lawyers are attracted to Law because they want to save and protect others, but they are haunted by the specter of failing in that endeavour. Each matter brings a new opportunity to fail. Each success is short-lived because it is overshadowed by the risk inherent in the next case. “Stand by Me” captures perfectly the lawyer’s classic credo: “I may not win this case, but I’m sure as hell gonna die trying.”

The Four Things I Learned from Law

by Joseph Kahlil

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One of my elusive dreams is to practice law in Australia. I’ve always wanted to take up a litigator’s degree and apprentice at one of the top firms in the Queensland area. I first marveled at law TV series, then started reading about realistic cases of personal injury lawyers and medical negligence experts.

As an advertising-graduate-turned-journalist, I later on found other professions can be equally demanding as that of a litigator’s career. This is true especially when you put passion into what you do. I’ve experienced being sent to seemingly absurd news coverage areas, hoping my pieces would not only satisfy show ratings, but also to send powerful messages to our viewers.

Nights of editing and working with the news team for a piece to air on TV can also take a toll on one’s lifestyle. I was once a morning person, but with the news chasing and shifting schedules, my body clock has become quite erratic.

Law specialisations can also vary and amongst all the literature I’ve read, four values come to mind when practicing law Down Under. You might not need to have lawyering skills, but I found these values are also applicable to any profession. These lessons are handy whether you’re a pastry chef, a gym instructor, a doctor or something else entirely:

  1. Find a mentor

You’ll never know what to expect as you launch out into the challenging world of work. Even the most seasoned practitioners are often unsure about the upcoming trends in their corresponding industries. What’s great about having mentors is they’ve worked longer than you have, which means they’re more experienced to deal with the unpredictable.

Veterans and experts have gone through different scenarios, and the best value you can learn from them is their resilience to face the toughest trials in their jobs. So what makes a good mentor? There are three basic standards you have to include in your checklist:

  • Stellar credentials and track record
  • A match of personalities
  • Shared values

Your mentor should be your Yoda in faring through intergalactic career challenges. Schedule a quarterly, if not a monthly, meet up with him or her and see how listening to seasoned insights can make a difference to your professional path.

  1. Thorough knowledge and research of the company

Not knowing what an organisation stands for is similar to crossing a highway blindfolded. Whether you’re a fresh graduate or an experienced employee who’s looking for greater job opportunities, always make sure to thoroughly research your target organisation.

Lawyers who handle several cases gather as much information as possible before plotting out the main claims they’ll present to win a case. Similarly, you can use the target organisation’s information to your advantage. You’re likely expecting to stay for three to five years with this company and this means the firm will be formative to your professional career in the long run. Its culture will influence the way you work.

Before going to your scheduled appointment, you may want to make a random visit to its vicinity and see how much you like the atmosphere. Don’t hesitate to gather your connections, so you can speak with previous and present employees. See the company’s strengths and weaknesses, then check on how these characteristics align with your professional objectives.

  1. Lawyers need a life outside the court

Getting to the bottom of every case is entails a lot of hard work. Tasks include, but are not limited to, defense sessions, additional consultations with clients, case analysis with associates and drafting out argument strategies.

It puts a lot of pressure on a lawyer knowing the client’s future lies on their hands. This means each and every crevice of a case needs to be gathered to ensure the fullest defense and justice is served.

However, it’s never a good thing if a profession occupies one’s entire life. This can lead to inefficiency, as a litigator gets burnt out in the process. Surely, you have a secondary passion other than your present job. Pursue this on the side. Why not try a sport such as golf or fishing? This can be quite therapeutic and you’ll be more recharged as you resume at court.

  1. Leave the SoAs (Statement of Accounts) to the Billing and Collections Department

At this very moment, take the dollar signs out of your eyes. No client wants to hear you’re just after their money. While it’s true you need to earn a living, you still need to prioritise your client’s welfare above all. After all, this is this is your firm’s  primary purpose. This value should especially be applied to bigger clients, where constant handholding may be required.

As a practitioner of any field, you’ll always aim for the big shots as your top clients. The key to establishing a long term relationship with them is to really know their needs and be ready to address them, even before they’re asked. When all the transactions have been said and done, send your billing department over to separately settle your accounts.

I’m sure every lawyer has his or her share of stories to learn from. Throughout the years of following Court of Appeal cases from the Australian government’s website, news and online releases, these mentioned rules can help you become successful in any industry you choose.

About the Author

Kahlil or Joseph Kahlil was named after Kahlil Gibran – a world-renowned poet and author of “The Prophet.” Following his footsteps, he harnesses his creative juices through poetry, prose, and occasional musings about the “human condition.” As an observer, Kahlil loves to write about technology, legal matters and living green. He’s writing on behalf of MEJ – they have been protecting the rights of injured Canberrans since 1985.

Are you unbalanced?

by Bernadette Healy

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At this time of year in particular, as people start to receive festive season invites, many come face to face with the reality of their working life in terms of its tremendous demands on their time.  I hear many describing such invitations as if they are demands upon them rather than – as one imagines the sender intended (well hopefully most senders are so intended) – opportunities to share enjoyable moments.   For many people the last work day of the year looms as a date by which seemingly endless to do list items must be ticked.  At a time when you may be asked to join others for a cheer-intended gathering at an office or venue, many will be furtively checking the time and wondering how they will make up for the dent in their checking-off-tasks time.  In addition you may find yourself being inundated by the emails of those for whom ticking off the task list means sending off emails with requests for you to complete another task.  More annoying still are those who feel compelled to copy you in to endless numbers of emails, the content of which is at best tangentially related to your work, but for whom the drive to either be seen to be doing x, y or z or are possibly driven by fear and the urge to cover their tracks, far outweighs any concern for the annoyance and stress they will cause all of those trying to tidy up the in-box before the break.

So how to handle the extra demands on your time?  It is more important than ever to build in moments of relaxation in the midst of the busyness (see exercises at the end).

Ask yourself what does a balanced life mean for you?  Do you want one right now?  Perhaps you are happy concentrating on one area of your life to the exclusion of most else.  Being aware that you are making choices all the time, including a choice to forego balance, is of itself, protective.  That is, if you are aware of the fact that you are living in an unbalanced way (current societal definition) but have chosen to do so, stress impacts are likely to be less than for those who find themselves caught up in an unbalanced lifestyle without having ever consciously thought about the situation.

Actively reflecting on one’s life – which begins with asking oneself questions about what it feels like, right now, to be living the life you are living – is a critical tool for personal wellbeing.   Now might not feel like the optimum time to ask yourself such questions.  However you may find that spending a few minutes doing so will provide a stress-release function, even if none of the questions can be answered.  Just the action of allowing yourself to move to a different frame of mind via the structure of specific questions, can create the pause in your day which moves the pressure valve down out of the red zone.  If you are inclined to ask yourself some questions at this time, a few suggestions are:

  • What feels balanced for me?
  • Am I in the habit of tolerating unreasonable behaviour/ behaving unreasonably?
  • Do I regularly catch up with trusted others?
  • Am I actively avoiding anything right now?
  • What am I fearful of?
  • When did I last feel as if I was being my truly authentic self?

Asking yourself these sorts of questions and allowing time to reflect on the answers opens up the communication process within yourself, about yourself and fosters the development of personal insight.  Personal insight, while beneficial in terms of increasing your engagement with your own life and with others is also associated with emotional intelligence which is a hallmark of superior performance and of leadership.

And remember you can choose to be unbalanced if that makes sense for you right now – but set a review period and re-visit this decision.

As you review:

  • Consider your values and whether your current decisions fit with these values – living in way which is a poor fit with your values is in and of itself, highly stressful.
  • Think about the relative personal energy usage of competing decisions together with the goodness-of-fit with the real you.
  • Take responsibility for your choices and be aware of any tendency to explain your decisions as being for the sake of others when in reality it is because it is what you want to do
  • Watch for feelings of stagnation and lack of laughter as these suggest that your experience is becoming too confined and that some expansiveness is required – that is, that the lack of balance has run its course.

2 stress management exercises

(takes as little as a minute and can be done at your desk).

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

For each of following body parts start by breathing in and clenching tightly until muscle tension can clearly be felt and hold until you need to breathe out, and release the muscle as you breathe out – try and be aware of the difference in body sensation between holding the tension and the feeling of release – how does it feel to release tension?

  • Fists
  • Biceps (via bending at elbows and raising clenched fists towards shoulders)
  • Brow (Frowning brow)
  • Eyes (squeezing shut)
  • Mouth (opening mouth as widely as possible)
  • Lips (pursing lips into ‘o’ shape)
  • Shoulders (hunching shoulders up towards ears)
  • Stomach (pulling stomach in at navel towards spine)
  • Buttocks (clenching buttocks)
  • Legs (outstretched and toes pointing outwards away from body)
  • Legs (outstretched and toes pointing back towards body)

Awareness of breath

It is helpful, if possible to do PMR before the breath awareness exercise but if not that is ok too.

  • Close eyes gently.
  • Sit with back and neck straight.
  • Become aware of your breathing.
  • Don’t try and modify the pace of your breath, just observe it as you breathe in and out.
  • Try and let go of any thoughts as they arise – remind yourself that they are just thoughts, choose to let them go as if the thoughts are like traffic which is whizzing past you as you stand by the side of a busy road. As thoughts arise, (as of course they will) do not berate yourself for becoming distracted by them but instead, as soon as you are able, bring your attention back to your breath without any judgement or criticism.
  • Observe your breath coming and going.
  • Don’t count the breaths or think about the process of breathing, but just experience the sensations of breathing in and out.
  • Try to observe the breath in the moment of breathing.
  • Notice whatever there is to be noticed, for example, the temperature of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils, the feeling of air on the skin just under the nose, a feeling of movement within the chest or abdomen as you breathe in and out etc. Practice this full awareness of the breath moment by moment for a few minutes (even a minute will be helpful in terms of increasing clarity and lowering the experience of feeling stressed).