Mindset for Lawyers – 3 Lessons from Athletes


Some of the most successful businesses and ideas were born in difficult times. Microsoft, Netflix, and Airbnb to name a few.[1]

Where you can accept the current reality, but continue working toward your definition of success.

mindset awareness can move you from fear, to coping, to inspired leadership.

Why does this matter for legal? Because you’re always switched on for your clients. You practice law like athletes practice their sports. Athletes physically train to get better. They also get coached on mindset so they can perform better. Lawyers practice their ‘sport’ but don’t get coached on mindset, which means they can’t perform optimally. That’s why mindset awareness is a total game changer for lawyers. Let’s explore further.

Types of Mindsets
To be a top performer, you need to know the types of energy you experience – the ones that zap you and leave you drained and the ones that invigorate you and propel you forward.

In my coaching program we start with the Energy Leadership Index (ELI)

The ELI Assessment measures your propensity towards two types of energy: anabolic and catabolic. Anabolic is the energy that’s constructive, motivating, and growth-oriented. Catabolic energy, on the other hand, is draining, resisting, and fueled by stress.

The ELI Assessment categorizes these two types of energy into seven levels, the lowest two levels characterized by catabolic energy and the other five by increasing levels of anabolic energy. An energy spectrum, if you will. Rather than delve into the details of those seven levels, this article will discuss the three core mindsets that straddle the various levels: fear, coping & inspired leadership.

The end goal is to get you aware of the different mindsets you experience so you can learn to shift to that which will best serve you and those around you.

Fear Mindset

Imagine wearing a pair of completely opaque lenses – the type that blocks out any light and essentially blinds you. That is what the fear mindset looks like. It’s catabolic energy. It makes us feel trapped by our circumstances and leads us to catastrophize.

Maybe your law practice has slowed down over the past few weeks. Maybe clients haven’t been paying on time given the current economic situation. And maybe (likely) you’re worried that we’re on the cusp of another Great Recession.

Sound familiar?

You’re not alone. Lawyers have a heightened fear mindset because they’re trained to think through worst-case scenarios. This training makes lawyers excellent at issue spotting and problem solving for their clients, but it can negatively impact their personal lives, causing them to experience intense stress responses.

Consumption habits make matters worse. The news is depressing. Many of us binge watch Netflix to get away from it all. We eat more junk food and drink more wine. We consume whatever makes us feel good in the moment to escape what’s happening in the world around us.

The problem is that poor consumption habits exacerbate the fear mindset. We all need self care, but if we’re not careful, a night of Netflix and wine becomes two, three, four nights. In other words, if we’re not mindful, our consumption habits can put our fear mindsets into overdrive and cause us to feel even more stuck.

When we feel this way, we cannot perform at our highest level. We cannot show up for ourselves and our clients in the manner we’d like to. We become like the injured athlete who wallows in misery instead of thinking through how they can get back in the game and help their team.

So how do you get unstuck? You learn to shift your fear mindset into a coping mindset.

Coping Mindset

The coping mindset is the critical shift from catabolic to anabolic energy. Think of it as the process in which the opaque lenses start to get clearer. It’s where we move from feeling like all the bad things are happening to us and ‘life isn’t fair’ to ‘we’re all just trying to do our best in this difficult time.’

The coping mindset allows us to acknowledge the difficulty of a situation but accept it for what it is. When we cope, we can move from stress responses and overwhelm to a place where we see things more objectively. We can go from reaction to proactive action.

Let’s see how this works by going back to the earlier examples of a law practice slowing down and clients not paying on time.

Shifting from a fear to coping mindset allows us to accept the fact that we cannot control the economic slowdown and its ramifications. We can then accept that our practice will be slower in the short-term and that certain clients might not be able to pay on schedule. Once we accept these facts and let go of fear, we can start thinking objectively and problem solve more creatively.

For instance, if your practice area has slowed down, rather than panic, you may:

  • Ask your clients what problems they’ve encountered a result of the current climate.
  • Start thinking through ways in which you can help solve those problems
  • Think about whether you can pivot your practice and learn a new area of law?
  • Design a new payment plan to accommodate clients who are having problems paying on time due to the current situation

To make this critical shift from fear to coping, you must first recognize when you’re in a fear mindset and choose to start moving towards a coping mindset. Doing so isn’t easy at first but gets easier with practice. Getting intentional with your self care also helps.

Moving to a coping mindset is an exercise in self-discovery. Experiment and find ways to cope that work best for you – e.g., nature walks (my favorite), exercise, a healthy diet, meditation, and mindful consumption. Once you find what suits you, you’ll find that you’re better equipped to shift from fear to coping.

Picture the injured athlete again. Imagine they’ve taken the time to get upset and fear for the future of their career. Now imagine they’ve started to cope – they’ve found that meditation works best for them, allowing them to focus on rehab and getting back in the game one forward motion at a time. That’s what we’re going for with a coping mechanism: acceptance and the start of forward motion.

Inspired Leadership Mindset

Inspired leadership refers to the clarity of mind that comes when we’ve had time to feel and acknowledge fear, accept the situation for what it is, and take steps forward in an inspired way. It is anabolic energy. There’s a lovely poem, ‘If,’ by Rudyard Kipling[2] that perfectly encapsulates inspired leadership.

A few of my favorite lines:

As Kipling’s poem artfully expresses, inspired leadership is the space where we perceive the world neutrally – as neither good nor bad, where we feel motivated and empowered to succeed. To put this in perspective, let’s revisit the examples of a law practice slowing down and clients not paying on time.

Let’s say you’re not making much headway with a new practice focus you’re trying out. When you’re in an inspired leadership mindset, you can confidently and calmly work collaboratively with your clients to figure out how you can best serve them. You can retool your practice without getting defeated. Now let’s say you’ve implemented a new payment plan for those clients who haven’t been able to pay on time and the new plan isn’t working for whatever reason. Rather than get frustrated and spiral into a fear mindset, you’re can rework and move forward with a plan B.

As these hypothetical examples show, inspired leadership is a “can do” mindset. It allows you to lead (motivate) yourself and others in a positive manner. It allows you to continue working toward your definition of success regardless of the situation around you. And it certainly will help you be resilient and persevere in what is one of the most challenging years we’ve ever experienced.

Let’s picture the injured athlete one last time. Imagine they’ve gone through rehab. Maybe their injury has healed, and they can get back to competing. But maybe the injury has caused permanent damage and will either delay or prevent them from playing their sport again. If they’ve cultivated an inspired leadership mindset, they can accept that new reality and redefine what success will look like. Perhaps it’s a year of rest and volunteering with youth sports while they continue to heal. Perhaps it’s figuring out a way to stay in the game yet off the court, as a coach or announcer.’

The key is forward movement. An inspired leadership mindset will propel the athlete forward, no matter what the circumstances. And it will do the same for lawyers who learn to harness that mindset.

Mindset Work Takes Practice

Now that we’ve explored the three mindsets, I want to reiterate that the goal is mindset awareness. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about having an inspired leadership mindset at all times.

It’s about getting more aware of how you respond to different situations and practising shifting your mindset to that which will best serve you and those around you.


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