How to Relax the Thinking Mind

As lawyers, we value the mind. We value thinking. We value our analytical prowess. Yet, the thinking mind can be a terrible roommate. Often, lawyers feel distressed by the constant and persistent thoughts. The obsessive planning. Constantly feeling on edge. Thinking about your cases, your clients — over and over again. It can feel as though there’s a broken record in your own mind, without an off switch.

Mary Cranston, retired CEO of Pillsbury, Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLC, also the first woman to head a major global law firm, who has been meditating for over 30 years describes it in this way:

While the “thinking mind” is a critical tool for lawyers, meditation relaxes the thinking mind, allowing new and creative insights to surface. Most of my best trial strategies and business initiatives emerged in this way! But the real benefit is the peace and calmness that meditation has added to my life.

Retraining the brain to get out of the hyper-stressed, anxiety driven state to a more relaxed state doesn’t happen just because you decide it’s time to relax. (If only the mind worked in this way…) Rather, it requires that we create the right condition in which the mind can naturally relax.

I liken it to gardening. You can fertilize the soil, plant the seedlings at the right time, water it appropriately, yet, how quickly you’ll get to realize the fruits of your labor isn’t up to you. You just have to show up and do the work then let go of the outcome.

Meditation is one simple way that you can create the optimal condition so that the mind can relax, be more creative, and for insights to emerge.

You may be wondering, what exactly is meditation and how does it work?

Different people may mean different things by meditation. While many meditation traditions come with philosophies, religious beliefs, rituals, and specialized equipment, meditation itself is simply a form of mental training. All of the many different meditation practices that exist, at their essence, boil down to the same thing: they are all means of settling and focusing the mind. By sitting quietly with your own mind day after day, you get to know it better.

One reason meditation can have such a powerful effect on people’s lives is that our mind is one of the very few things we have the ability to control. We may not be able to control what happens to us, but by getting to know ourselves and our own thought patterns better, we can learn to control how we react to and process the events in our lives—and developing this ability changes how we experience life.

We can retain inner strength and a sense of well-being even in very difficult situations. We can savor life more fully when we aren’t distracted by unnecessary worries about what might or might not happen in the future.

Building this kind of mental skill is particularly useful for lawyers, since we are always working to attain outcomes on behalf of our clients, and yet have limited control over those outcomes. We can’t be certain of how the judge will react to our arguments, how our opposing counsel will receive our negotiating proposal, or even how the witness we’ve prepared will actually testify when faced with the spotlight of the courtroom. And, of course, we have no control at all over the facts that brought our client into our office in the first place.

The difficult reality is that regardless of how well we do our jobs, our ability to effect any particular outcome is highly constrained. Under these circumstances, getting to know our own minds and building our ability to deal with our mental reactions can be sanity-preserving!

Interested in giving meditation a try? Download this 6-minute practice.

This article was adapted from The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation