Create sustainable habits by aligning your wellness goals with your values and interests.
As an executive coach, Kara Dodson spends the majority of her days speaking with high-performing lawyers. No matter their seniority, one thing that many of her clients seem to have in common is their struggle to maintain aspects of well-being.
This is not surprising considering that a 2016 study by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that out of 13,000 practicing lawyers, up to a quarter of practicing lawyers in the United States struggle with alcohol, depression, anxiety, stress work-life conflict, social isolation, addiction, and sleep-related issues. In addition, a 2016 survey of over 3,300 law students across 15 law schools revealed that between 14–23% experience some level of depression or anxiety.
In this industry, it is fair to ask if it’s even possible to meaningfully focus on your own wellness while meeting the demands of firm life? If you ask Dodson, she will tell you that it is possible. It’s all about assessing your personal needs, values, and interests and starting with small, focused goals.
Figure out what you need.
Unlike the hours spent meeting deadlines at work, the hours spent on your wellness aren’t exactly billable. So how will you hold yourself accountable for maintaining your own well-being?
Dodson attests that our most valuable drivers are our internal values and motivations. Your goals should not only be about solving a problem. They should be in alignment with your overall values and interests.
Whether it be exercise or diet, managing stress levels, connecting with family and friends, or even hobbies and interests outside of work—you first need to figure out how you need to improve your own wel-lbeing. That’s right, even before you take one step on that treadmill or practice one second of meditation, determine the specific way(s) in which you need to improve so that you can create a more actionable and sustainable plan.
What if, for example, you felt that you were in pretty good physical shape, but felt very out of touch with your friends and family? In this instance, it would have a higher impact on your well-being to spend a planned and specific amount of time connecting with loved ones each week, rather than joining a group fitness challenge.
Set goals that align with your values and interests.
Harness the power of motivation by focusing effort on activities that are most important to your life and pique your interest. Imagine you want to eat more healthfully, but you know you have a ton of work lunches and dinners on your calendar. Oh, and you hate cooking. Filling your fridge with fresh, healthy ingredients from the farmers market to make elaborate, organic meals might not be your best plan of action. Instead, you may start by simply choosing the healthiest options on the menu every time you eat out this week.
Use the Thine Wellness Impact Quick Assessment to determine which types of activities and goals will have the greatest impact on your overall well-being.
Start small to form healthy habits.
Dodson warns that if you’re someone with a busy schedule that can change from day-to-day, expecting to sustainably change your lifestyle to incorporate more wellness all at once is a mistake. Instead, she recommends starting with very small goals around one single aspect of well-being.
Maybe you’ve decided to start meditating to reduce stress and increase focus, but you’ve never practiced meditation before. Your first thought might be, “I’m going to meditate every day, 30-minutes a day, no excuses.”
“This would be like saying I’ve never exercised but now I’m just going to run a 10k,” says Dodson. If you haven’t formed the habit, other demands of your practice will more easily knock your wellness goals off your list of priorities. Instead, if you have a stacked schedule and don’t know where to start, Dodson recommends starting with the smallest thing you can possibly do to get started. This could be as simple as running around the block or using an app like Calm, InsightTimer or LegallyMindful to guide a 3–4 minute meditation. “That initial 3-4 minutes a day, for six or eight days in a row, is going to start to establish a healthier habit for your well-being.”