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Resilience: an often overlooked skill for success

BridgeTower Media Newswires//March 21, 2016

Resilience: an often overlooked skill for success

BridgeTower Media Newswires//March 21, 2016//

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A recent study found lawyers have a rate of depression that is four times higher than that of the general population. The study also found lawyers have a rate of alcohol abuse that is three times higher than the general population. The data indicate not only that the practice of law is stressful, but that many attorneys lack adequate coping skills to handle the stress in a way that is not self-destructive.

Runner Running MAINResilience is an internal mechanism that helps people adapt to stressful life events and persevere in spite of obstacles. Those with well-exercised resilience (because it is much like a physical muscle that needs to be exercised) seem to be able to weather the harsh elements of practice and prevent burnout and self-destructive behaviors.

Anyone can build resilience. It is a skill that can be developed in multiple areas of our lives, and one that needs to be exercised in order to maintain its strength.

Resilience is not brute force, and it does not involve wearing rose-colored glasses. Resilience is the ability to recognize and appreciate hardship, learn from it, and come out of the experience stronger than you were before. It has been described as “the ability to bend without breaking.”

The bad news is you cannot develop resilience without encountering hardship. The most resilient people actively engage with the hardship that comes their way rather than avoid it.

The good news is the more you practice resilience, the better you get at handling the hardships. And let’s be honest: Eliminating hardships is not actually an option, so you might as well get better at responding to them.

Here are some specific ways to increase your resilience:

• Practice cognitive flexibility

Ask yourself: “What else could this be/mean?” We get into trouble when we interpret events narrowly. By challenging our initial assumptions about events or interactions, we can begin to identify opportunities that we would never have seen before.

If opposing counsel acts aggressively toward you, and you in turn always interpret that as a personal attack, you limit your response to feeling defensive. In essence, you surrender control of your behavior to the other person. We do this whenever we react to another person’s behavior (as opposed to responding to the behavior).

However, if you can come up with multiple interpretations (perhaps opposing counsel is intimidated by you), then you have the option to feel and act differently — such as feeling more self-confident and responding with calm, professional behavior.

• Practice acceptance

Accepting how things are and recognizing what you have control over (and what you do not) can help you focus your efforts on making change within your control. Many people get into a routine of replaying over and over a negative interaction from the recent past, only to realize that they are being weighed down by it.

Replaying the past does not change the present — and it actually damages you. No matter how much you wish for an alternative outcome, the past won’t change. Accept the past for what it is, and focus your attention on what you have control over in the present.

• Engage with support networks

Utilize the people in your life who are supportive to you and who understand the stresses that you deal with. If you do not have people like that in your life, find some. They can help lessen the burden of stress, provide a unique outside perspective, and offer encouragement after having gone through similar struggles.

Resilience is an active process. You need to be open to the idea that you can learn and benefit from any and every situation that you encounter. Practicing the ability to recognize alternative ways to view a situation does not mean that you will necessarily like those alternative options. But simply having the option can reduce stress and increase your sense of control over your life.

After all, we all need a sense of control in our lives; just don’t waste your time trying to control something that you cannot. Let the weather be the weather, and focus on controlling what you wear each day.

Dr. Shawn Healy is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Massachusetts.

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