As high achieving professionals, lawyers are genuinely busy people. Too much to do and not enough time to do it in. But what if the busyness that most of us busy people face on a daily basis is not due to pursuing some professional or personal goal but instead a distraction from something else? What if we are busy but not productive? I often tell people that as human beings we are motivated by two basic drives: to pursue pleasure and to avoid pain. And avoiding pain is stronger. Given this fact, we can understand a lot about why we do what we do by understanding what we find painful, or uncomfortable, and how we typically respond to that discomfort.
Once we understand our response to discomfort, we can decide to learn a better way of responding. This will increase our sense of control and self-efficacy in our lives. Ultimately leading to a greater sense of contentment as well as productivity.
Apparently, for most of us, one consistent source of discomfort is the thoughts we all have when we are not constantly distracted. Having to sit with one’s own thoughts is often cited by beginners as a reason why meditation is so difficult. In fact, researchers have found that given the choice, many participants would rather give themselves electric shocks than to be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Given this fact, it’s no wonder why so many people fill their time with busyness. But if your busyness is a result of avoiding discomfort, you aren’t going to be very productive. Not to mention the myriad of other benefits of mindfulness and meditation that you will be missing out on if those practices cause such discomfort.
Meditation comes in many forms. Silent meditation can be challenging, but those who practice it say that the benefits can be life-changing. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have many positive effects on the brain and can be done in almost any situation throughout the day. Simply put, mindfulness is the intentional focus on the present moment. Mindful eating is a common practice that allows you to focus on the food you eat, enjoy the experience more, be attentive to your body, and be present-focused. Meditative practices are great examples of consciously deciding to focus and taking control over the automatic urge to distract or move onto “what’s next”.
Whatever your method of slowing down and focusing on the present moment, it pays off to pause the busyness once in a while. Doing so will not only reduce the unproductive busyness but it will also increase your sense of control in your busy life. Everyone needs a sense of control in life. The only question is where you will seek that control. Will it be in an area of your life that increases distraction or will it be an exercise in letting go of those distractions and focusing on the present moment?
And for some practical advice on managing distractions, watch this webinar on Distraction Management for Busy Lawyers.
Shawn Healy, PhD