What happens when we repeat the same behavior or action over and over again?
Nothing new! The outcome is the same.
We know that, and yet sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a rut and have to learn that lesson again. What are we missing? Adopting a regular practice of reflection can help us learn and move forward to make the difference we seek. Reflective practice, like Aristotle’s practical wisdom, is built on the process of assessing an experience for the purpose of learning from it.
Some law school programs, such as legal clinics, routinely incorporate reflective practice into their training. As Professors Jodi Balsam, Susan Brooks, and Margaret Reuter noted in Assessing Law Students as Reflective Practitioners:
Pick one activity in your life you wish were better/stronger/different and set aside one hour to reflect, analyze and plan.
Building upon our gratitude focus last month, December provides an ideal time to send a holiday message to one of your groups (students from your fall class, colleagues, family or friend group). Before sending the message, reflect on your relationship with that group and then write a message that feels most appropriate. Your message could be sharing your appreciation for that group because of the significant role they play in your life and then suggesting your next interaction with them. You might use the message as an opportunity to reach out to heal a past hurt or clear up a misunderstanding. The possibilities are many! The message should be whatever your think best after thoughtful contemplation about the relationship.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Some practice a Thanksgiving tradition in which they share something (or someone) for which they are thankful. As we focus on well-being and celebrate Thanksgiving next week, it seems fitting to focus on the benefits of practicing gratitude. Rather than relegating thankfulness or gratitude to once a year, studies show tremendous benefits to practicing gratitude as part of our daily routine.
A gratitude practice may be especially beneficial for students experiencing the stress of law school. Students naively believe that life will magically be better/easier after law school, but we know such is not the case. The practice of law, and life, can grind up and wear down the best of us. Gratitude positively effects the well-being of both the person showing appreciation and the receiver.
This week before Thanksgiving is a perfect time to encourage our students, as well as our colleagues and loved ones, to practice gratitude regularly and offer suggestions on incorporating a gratitude practice.
Gratitude helps you put things in perspective. Specifically, it helps prevent your view of your situation from becoming overly negative. We have a tendency to see our situations in reference to the predominate emotional evaluation we experience. In other words, if our day seems more than 50% negative, we experience our entire day as negative. Likewise, if our day seems more than 50% positive, we have a better chance of experiencing our day as positive. Since everyday has both positive and negative aspects, it all depends on what you focus on. A day with one significant negative event can taint the entire day if that negative event is the focus on our attention.
From the repository of the “Pendleton Judicial Training Updates,” Retired Judge Pendleton from Minnesota reminds lawyers that we have an easy choice each day “between two possible daily mindsets:
1. A mindset where you are grateful for the opportunity to excel in a challenging field and happy just to be involved, or
2. A mindset of struggling and griping about every inch of gained ground, never satisfied with the outcome.
When you read those two choices, no one would consciously pick the second one. Yet when the bell rings and your day begins, many attorneys (and judges) allow themselves to revert to an adversarial mental state (choice #2). Besides the negative affect on the quality of your own life, a non-grateful daily attitude also has a profound impact on how you are perceived by others, including your friends and colleagues. Of course, most of you already know which local attorneys and judges fall into that second category. Don’t be one of them.”
Gratitude exercises allow for reflection on influential people and the milestones they made possible. A gratitude wall will enable students to show their recognition in a public way. The instructions for this exercise are simple. Have the students take 1-3 post-it notes and write down one thing they are grateful for on the note. Then have the students or lawyers place the post-it notes on the wall of the classroom or meeting room or a large poster board.
A variation on the gratitude wall is gratitude cards. For these, pass out note cards and have them write down one thing they are grateful for on each card and review these cards every day. In a following class or meeting, discuss how this exercise impacted their daily lives.
“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” -G.K. Chesterton