Humour, self-awareness and a good mental attitude will help lawyers get through difficult times, says Elizabeth Rimmer
Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned. It is a key quality we need to foster in the legal profession in order to keep going as we face the inevitable challenges ahead.
Resilience is vital to survive and thrive in the current climate. Resilient lawyers will be able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges. It isn’t about coping ‘no matter what’, suppressing our feelings and just getting on with it, but about understanding our thought processes and emotions and looking after ourselves.
For senior managers and leaders, resilience is vital as staff look to them for reassurance and to motivate them as the captain of their ship through the storm.
So, what does a resilient lawyer look like? There are several key qualities that resilient people have. They will have positive views of themselves and their ability and won’t allow external factors, such as an overly critical boss or the threat of redundancy, to shake their belief in themselves.
Resilient people tend to view themselves as fighters rather than victims and will attribute their success to their behaviour, rather than luck or fate. They will celebrate their successes rather than dwell on things that have gone wrong, instead using difficult times as learning opportunities for the future.
Lawyers can often struggle with time management and prioritising simply due to the volume of work and the pressure they are under. They can often be people pleasers.
They may tell themselves, ‘I’ll just get to the end of this case and things will be easier’ or ‘I’ll get to that once I’ve got a bit of breathing space’. The reality is – the breathing space rarely comes. A resilient lawyer will recognise this and will make realistic plans and stick to them, resisting the urge to over promise.
Resilient lawyers are also good communicators and have high emotional intelligence, enabling them to recognise and manage their emotions effectively. They will notice when they feel stressed or overwhelmed and take steps to address this; and feel able to talk to someone about how they are feeling. Sharing feelings and connecting with people fosters psychological resilience.
In The Resiliency Advantage Al Siebert writes that “highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in constant change. Most important, they expect to bounce back and feel confident that they will.” That expectation is closely linked to a general sense of optimism – not a quality lawyers are trained to develop – but it is possible to develop the right mental attitudes to cope and even flourish when the going gets tough.
Part of resilience is being self-aware, recognising when we need support and asking for help.
Ten tips to build resilience
- Recognise that this situation is temporary – things WILL change.
- Don’t give in to negative thoughts about the future. Challenge them; ask whether they are true.
- Learn to see challenges, mistakes and failures as valuable learning experiences. If we can survive this we will be stronger.
- Use humour to diffuse and downplay difficulties. Laugh at yourself and situations, laugh with colleagues, friends and family.
- Be flexible. Recognise that nothing stays the same and don’t get too stuck in thoughts of how things used to be.
- Take care of your physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. When your physical self is in good shape, you’re less fragile.
- Take time off work, use your holiday entitlement and make sure you take breaks during the working day.
- Recognise that a bad situation is usually temporary.
- Don’t extrapolate one bad situation into another and catastrophise – it is pointless worrying about the future.
- Give yourself a pat on the back when things go well. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself when things go wrong. Treat yourself.
If you are finding things difficult LawCare is here to listen. We provide emotional support to all legal professionals, support staff and their families. You can call our confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or access webchat and other resources at lawcare.org.uk
Elizabeth Rimmer is chief executive at LawCare lawcare.org.uk