Lawyers are not unique in their struggle to prioritize their health and well-being. Many in the helping professions focus on those they aim to help at the cost of neglecting their own needs. It takes time and effort to learn how to prioritize one’s own well-being as an essential element in being an effective helping to others. For those looking for reasons to avoid addressing issues with their own well-being, lawyers can turn to their legal training to help provide justification for their avoidance of self-care.
This can be traced, in part, to one of the many tools that lawyers have been taught. When it is most advantageous, thinking in terms of “the letter of the law” as opposed to “the spirit of the law” can help lawyers redefine their less than ideal physical/psychological/emotional states. For example, if a lawyer is slightly concerned about how much alcohol they drink they might look to a checklist of symptoms or problematic consequences to see if the “qualify” for a drinking problem. A skilled lawyer might determine that since s/he only endorses 8 out of the 10 symptoms listed, s/he obviously has nothing to worry about and can justify going back to business as usual. And since sarcasm is difficult to convey in written form, the use of the word “obviously” was sarcastic.
The truth is, every human being has the ability to justify their behaviors despite information to the contrary. Lawyers just have an additional skill set to pull from when trying to convince themselves. Using “the letter of the law” approach is designed to separate two groups: those with a problem from those without said problem. The most helpful use of symptom checklists and diagnostic criteria is to demonstrate the commonality between us all: we have experience these things to some degree.
So, when you are aware, or even slightly concerned, that you could benefit from taking better care of yourself, try these suggestions:
- Practice using “the spirit of the law” approach in assessing your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
- Look for examples of how you are similar to those struggling to establish or maintain their well-being and learn from what has helped them.
- Practice humility and accept that we all could benefit from healthier practices and habits.
- Talk to friend about making a healthy change to one or more of your routines and encourage that person to practice with you.
- Remember that it is not selfish to take care of yourself. After all, your ability to help others is directly linked to your own well-being.
My encouragement to you today would be to start small and plan to take one step toward taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. See how that goes and build from there. You might be surprised at how it goes.
Shawn Healy, PhD