There’s too much to do before the end of the year. This is true; I’m not going to argue with you. However, I am going to add something else to your list. Don’t panic. I promise my suggested add-on will make everything else more manageable. Before the end of the year, I suggest some self-reflection.
Harry Kraemer, professor of management and strategy at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, asserts that productivity demands self-reflection. No matter how 2018 has gone, a lot has happened over the past 365 days. You can choose to push it all under the rug and hope it doesn’t follow you. Or you can self-reflect on the aspects of 2018 that may help you make better choices in the year ahead. I recommend the latter.
To make this easy, here are five things to reflect on before year-end:
- Give yourself credit
- Learn from your mistakes
- Let stuff go
- Practice gratitude
- Prioritize self-care
Give Yourself Credit
If your year was anything like mine, everything didn’t go as planned. There were some bumps along the way. Maybe you set a New Year’s resolution that was broken by the end of January. Or you had goals that weren’t fully realized. Whatever it may be, instead of focusing on what you didn’t do in 2018, take 5-10 minutes to think about and/or write down the things you did.
Perhaps a goal you didn’t achieve allowed you space and time to accomplish something else. Give yourself a “pat on the back.” As lawyers, we often don’t take time to reflect on our accomplishments. We must move on to the next case, client, or project. However, if you take time for self-reflection, you’ll likely notice the things that weren’t completed pale in comparison to all you’ve done.
Learn from Your Mistakes
After giving yourself some well-deserved credit, think about the mistakes you made in 2018. The legal profession is fast-paced. Lawyers must make high-pressure decisions quickly. This logically leads to mistakes, whether real or perceived.
Think about one mistake you made over the past year that still bothers you. Now, take a moment to reflect on what happened. What were the circumstances that led to the mistake? Did you have enough time to think it through? Did your client give you enough information to make an educated decision? Finally, self-reflect on how you can proactively prevent a similar mistake from happening in the future. Then, let it go.
Let Stuff Go
We all need to let things go that no longer serve us. It might be eating out too much, staying up too late, waiting until the last minute to complete work, resenting something or someone, etc. There is at least one thing you’re holding on to that’s hurting you. Take a moment to reflect on what it is and what you need to do to let it go.
Something that helps me let go of things is to think about trees losing their leaves. This comes from my meditation teacher, Elesa Commerse. Each fall, trees must let go of their dead leaves. But what if trees held onto their leaves? We wouldn’t get to experience the beautiful changing colors of autumn or the budding leaves of spring. The same goes for you. Without letting go of what’s harming you, you won’t have space for something new and healthier to enter your life.
Make space for a regular gratitude practice. Gratitude is free medicine for the mind and body. The science behind its benefits is strong. I challenge you to write down at least 10 things you’re grateful for that happened in 2018.
Upon self-reflection, you may be surprised that you take some things on your list for granted, like that morning greeting from the security guard in your office building. My guess is that your list will easily number more than 10.
Few lawyers practice self-care, but most need to. I can already hear the excuses: “I don’t have enough time,” “Self-care is an overused ‘new age’ term,” etc. I’m here to let you know that self-care is neither “new age” nor selfish. Like brushing your teeth, self-care needs to be part of your regular routine. If you were driving a car and the tank was empty, you’d stop at the gas station to refuel. As lawyers, we’re under constant demands that cannot be met if we don’t care for ourselves.
Reflect on what refuels you. Make a list of at least five things that make it easier to deal with that difficult client, boss, or opposing counsel. It could be a massage, going to the movies, or walking by the lake. Then, self-reflect on how regularly you did these things in 2018. After self-reflection, if you feel like you need more time for self-care, think about how you can incorporate it into the year ahead.
Yes, I’m adding one more thing to your year-end to-do list. However, this “to do” may lead to a happier and healthier holiday season and 2019. Isn’t that worth some self-reflection?