is the practice of law killing your creativity?

Yes, creativity. And I’m not talking about your cast-aside attempts at pottery-throwing or watercolor.

I’m talking about your ability to be a good lawyer. A lawyer who thinks creatively to solve clients’ problems. Or avoid them in the first place.

A good lawyer is a creative lawyer.

But if you’re a lawyer who isn’t getting enough sleep or finding  (even a little) time to relax and release stress and anxiety? Then you’re more likely to suck at finding creative solutions for problems. Both your clients’ problems. And your own.

Why? There’s a perfectly logical, scientifically-based reason. Of course.

Our creative insights are more likely to come when when our brain is in a relaxed (RELAXED!) enough state to create new neural connections.

Seriously, it’s a wonder that lawyers have any creative thoughts at all, given our level of stress and anxiety depression. But I digress …

Here’s the deal: our brain has two separate pattern recognition systems: the explicit and the implicit.

In the explicit (rule-based, tied to conscious awareness), the neurons communicating with each other are typically in close proximity.

But not so in the implicit. This system, which relies on skill and experience, isn’t consciously accessible and can’t be described verbally. “When the implicit system is at work, far-flung corners of the brain are chit-chatting.” And this, my friends, is what creativity feeds on — your brain’s ability to put information together in new ways.

Before you can try out the hacks to work the implicit system to your advantage, you have to actually create the opportunity for your brain to relax. Yep.

Get enough sleep, e.g. > 6 hours (for most of us). Exercise. Meditate. Disconnect from the constant connection to work.

Not only will you find the brilliant, creative thoughts flowing, I predict. But you’ll also be happier. An added bonus!

[Inspiredlawblog is written by Cat Moon, a lawyer and coach who works with lawyers and other interesting folks who seek fulfilling, happy lives. Even at work. Especially at work?]

*quote by John Steinbeck

have you taken a break lately?

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I have. I just returned from a quite long one, actually. (See above for the view from my beach perch.) For a month (plus some), I took a break from [most] work and [most] media (including writing for this blog, Twitter, reading the 12 zillion blogs in my RSS feed, and other internet rabbit holes I frequent).

[Admission: I did spend some time on Facebook because I have family that will pester me unless they’re receiving semi-regular updates.]

I spent time with family and friends. Being truly present.

It was hard at times. Yep. I jonesed more than once for a feed — any kind of feed — on my iPhone.

But the mental, emotional and psychic break I got from disconnecting and truly breaking away? I’m still processing how important this was. Is.

I traveled some of the time. I think this is key to a real break. Get out of your daily routine. Get out of your comfort zone. Get away from what you know.

Relax expectations. This is also important. If you’re like me, you spend much of your time working to fulfill expectations. Your own, your family’s, your client’s. Someone’s. Let go of this, too.

We all know that the legal profession is filled with stress, anxiety, and too much negativity. Which makes taking a real break all the more important for legal practitioners. Not a working break. A REAL break.

I know this is hard. We are taught in law school that we can never work hard enough. The programming to work insane hours (way beyond any human’s productive capacity) continues for pretty much any law firm associate. I wager it’s worse for those in bigger firms, but I can tell you that the expectations in the small firm I worked for out of law school were the same. Stay long after 5:00 (or 6:00 or 7:00) has come and gone. Come in on the weekends. Failure to do so? Then you’re deemed not worthy. You don’t want it enough.

I’m not the only one who thinks that this is anathema to being a good lawyer. Or a healthy, sane, happy person. But it seems to be a perpetuated model.

Well, I for one don’t want to have a heart attack, develop a serious addiction, contemplate or attempt suicide, or alienate my friends and family.

So I take breaks. Long breaks. Doing things that have nothing to do with work. With people I love.

Breaks make us happier. Even in jobs that we don’t love. And especially in jobs we do. They make us more resilient.

How long has it been since you took a real break? If you’re reading this and thinking that there’s no way you can leave your work and truly disconnect, then I’ve got news for you.

You’re doing it wrong. Really, really wrong. There is no work, no legal practice, that stops you from taking a break. Create the right way to work, and the breaks happen. Because you build them into how you work.

I know this because it’s how I operate. And I’m not alone. But there are far too few of us in this club.

Come join the club. And send me a postcard when you get there.

get moving.

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Want to be a happy, healthy, successful lawyer [or anything else]? Then get moving.

I mean it — literally get moving. Get up, get out, and work out. 

How, when, and how much [to some extent] matter much less than the fact that you’re just doing it.

I’m sharing this because we lawyers need the benefits of exercise as much (if not more than) any group of people I know. Too many of us suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, and other health problems.

But we don’t have to. A powerful antidote is not complicated, expensive, or very time-consuming. It’s EXERCISE.

You likely already know this, but it bears repeating that regular exercise does all of the following and more:

  • relieves stress
  • calms anxiety
  • controls weight [you can eat more!]
  • boosts energy
  • combats many diseases
  • promotes better sleep

In addition to all of this external, scientific proof, I know from personal experience that exercise can be the single most effective way to improve both your mood and your health. It really is that simple.

I guarantee the following: commit to a regular exercise routine — focusing less on the exact exercise or level of effort, and more on simple consistency — and your overall well-being will improve measurably. You will feel better. You will sleep better. You will think more clearly. You will be happier.

In many ways, I am the poster child for this guarantee. When I’m not in a regular exercise routine, I feel different. In a not good way. When I’m in it, everything else in my life is easier. And the exercise itself? It’s not hard. I just have to do it.

Ready to get started? It’s a simple as using an app such as DailyBurn, finding some exercises appropriate for your fitness level and ability, and just doing it.

If you need motivation, get a buddy to hold you accountable.Two years ago I was in a real exercise slump. So my sister (who lives 2,300 miles away) and I agreed to do the Insanity workout “together.” We held each other accountable, talked each day about it, and even blogged about our experience. Nothing like this kind of accountability to keep you going. I’m still doing this workout when I need a real exercise-induced endorphin boost.

Or sign up for a series of classes — pay in full, in advance, and you’ll be more likely to follow through. 

The key? Be consistent, but not militant. Life happens. Plan to workout. Do you best to make it happen. If it doesn’t, start again tomorrow. Do it regularly and the habit of exercise will follow. And you’ll reap the immeasurable benefits.