Ed. note: Please welcome Elizabeth Adams, who will be covering health and wellness in the legal profession. You can read her full bio at the end of this post.
Ever feel like your brain is going to explode from too much information? I don’t mean too much information in the qualitative sense (e.g., information about your husband’s gastrointestinal problems or your boss’s sex life). The TMI I’m talking about is quantitative, like you literally have too much data in your short-term memory bank.
If you practice law, it’s likely you have suffered a quantitative TMI crisis at one point or another. It happens when your brain is forced to process more information than it can handle, perhaps because you have pulled an all-nighter to meet a filing deadline or because a partner has asked one too many questions about a case he just handed you.
Regardless of the cause, the feeling of information overload is unmistakable: your brain is completely overwhelmed, and you may start to confuse information or forget it entirely. Add fatigue and a couple cups of coffee into the mix, and things can get really ugly. You become irritable and withdrawn, snarling at anyone who dares to enter your office.
At a certain point, if you want to avoid a complete mental meltdown — not to mention a reputation as the crazy person who is always muttering about filing deadlines in the hallway — you must do something to slow down and de-clutter your mind. But what, exactly, can you do?
While some lawyers drown their TMI in alcohol, this is a bad solution to the problem. Clearly, there are serious potential health and professional consequences of chronic alcohol use, not to mention real practical limitations. In particular, there are only a handful of circumstances under which it’s generally considered acceptable to drink oneself stupid. For better or for worse, a law office on a Monday morning isn’t one of them.
The good news is that you need not turn to the bottle to solve your TMI problems. This is because there is one technique you can use today — right now, at your desk even — that can help you quiet your mind in the midst of a TMI crisis. It is meditation.
Meditation is a powerful tool for de-cluttering the mind, and it comes with a number of other impressive health benefits. In fact, according to recent studies, meditation is linked to an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain linked to memory and learning. This means that meditation may help you avoid the information-overload crisis to begin with.
But how do you meditate? The goal is to focus on nothing. While this sounds easy enough, it turns out to be pretty difficult, especially when you’ve got tons of information racing through your mind. The good news is that you need not invest in a giant golden Buddha and a water feature to have a successful meditation. Instead, you need only follow these four steps:
1. Set your timer on your phone for five minutes. Make sure the alarm is something soothing and gentle. If you’re using an iPhone, I would suggest the “Ripples” ringtone or perhaps “Chimes,” as opposed to something like “Summit” (otherwise my personal favorite… are those birds? In an arena?).
2. Pick a seat and get comfortable. Sit up straight in a chair, sit cross-legged on the ground, or lie down — whatever. Just find a comfortable position and commit to staying there without moving throughout the entire five minutes. Now start your timer.
3. Close your eyes and start with a few slow, deep breaths. Specifically, inhale to the count of four, pause for a moment, and then exhale to the count of four. Take about five or six big deep breaths like this.
4. Next, start repeating in your mind as follows: with every inhale the word “Let,” and with every exhale the word “Go.” Continue breathing in “Let,” and breathing out “Go.” Try to stay focused on these words. When other thoughts enter your mind, don’t fight them — instead, let them pass, and try to return to the words and breathing.
You’ll be surprised by how quickly the time passes. And when you awaken from your meditative state, you’ll feel mentally refreshed and physically calmed. Once you become comfortable with a five-minute meditation, you can start adding time in two-minute increments. Eventually, you may be able to work your way up to a thirty minute meditation.
Now, wake up, shake it off, and get back to work.
Elizabeth Adams (not her real name) is a recent law school graduate, former federal judicial clerk, and aspiring health guru. She currently practices insurance coverage litigation at a mid-sized law firm. When she isn’t sitting at a desk — which isn’t very often — she is following her bliss. At the moment, this mainly involves working toward becoming a certified yoga teacher. Elizabeth’s column focuses on exploring how and whether lawyers can achieve a sustainable work-life balance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.