Attorney Wellbeing: 'Tis the Season to be...Jolly - Setting Expectations Not the Table
This one-hour program discusses the science of resilience, patience and gratitude and offers practical skills and exercises to incorporate these practices into our daily life. We focus on the impact of stress on the mind and body, and how the pandemic is adding to stress to an already overly stressed profession. The objective of this course is to provide tools to approach setting expectations given the current environment of uncertainly.
Dani Berry - Hi, thanks for joining me today. We're going to discuss wellbeing, more specifically, setting expectations. The title of this program is 'Tis The Season To Be Jolly: Setting Expectations, Not The Table." We're gonna discuss cultivating resilience, patience and gratitude, and also discuss stress and the impact of stress on the body.
Is anyone feeling particularly jolly or grateful? I know times are tough and things are stressful. We're gonna talk a little bit about how we can flip the script and have a different perspective on what is turning out to be quite an extended period of uncertainty. As I said, we're gonna talk about stress and that includes the good, yes, there is some good and also the not so good. We're gonna go over tools and practices to help everyone stay grounded despite the stress. Those tools and practices are largely grounded in mindfulness. We're also gonna focus on resilience, patience, and gratitude. The goal, or one of the goals today is to learn how we can discover joy and happiness through contentment. We're gonna talk about some brain science that supports that thinking, and how we can have more expectations that our daily lives are enough, even if we're in lockdown, stuck in COVID quarantine with kids, whatever the situation may be, that through contentment we can act actually find happiness. We're gonna also talk about some challenges arising from COVID, specifically, we're talking about the challenges arising from COVID, but really it's just the impact of the pandemic. There's an impact that are on minorities and women, particularly, there also been a big impact on mental health and that affects everybody. We're gonna learn how to frame a response to those challenges. So instead of just reacting and living in stress, we're gonna learn how to pause, frame a smart, sustainable response, even when we're super stressed out. How are we gonna do that? We're gonna do that through resilience, patience, gratitude, also a little bit of mindfulness.
You may be asking yourself, "Well, why you, Dani Barry?" Well, I'll tell you a little bit about my background for context 'cause I think it's important. I'm not a psychologist by trade, but I love studying about the brain and the brain science and how stress impacts our bodies. I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, typical middle class household, I believe. My parents did get divorced when I was about in third grade, never remarried, either parent. I didn't really have good context for relationships other than what I observed, and I became a really good observer and kind of a chameleon, so I could go anywhere, I could fit in with anybody. And my parents taught me that we're not emotional people. So that means no I love you growing up, not a lot of hugs, not a lot of other support, emotional support. And that lack of emotional support included no I love yous. And so I was taught that we really shoved our emotions down, we suppressed our emotions, and sometimes that turned to resentment, sometimes guilt, and sometimes shame, and to be honest, I still have a hard time distinguishing between guilt and shame, but I think I feel guilty quite often and work on that. I was taught particularly by my mom that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I truly believed that. I was also kind of informed that because I was good at arguing, I should be a lawyer or consider being a lawyer, and so, I made that decision pretty early on. I made that decision largely out of fear as a child that like my mom, I could end up divorced, and I didn't wanna be in a position where I couldn't support myself, or have a consistent job. Not saying that she didn't have a consistent job or was unable to support herself, but it seemed like she struggled at times, and I didn't wanna struggle like that. So, I kind of did what I was instructed. I got good grades in school. I went to law, to I'm sorry, I first went to undergrad, and then I went to Law School and that was the plan, and I passed the bar the first time. I got married in my mid 20s, bought a house, had a car, dogs, eventually two kids. Became a partner at Big Law, one of the early and youngest partners at this firm. And I was miserable. And I was blaming everything external. So I got divorced. I tried to quit my job, that did not happen for various reasons, they convinced me to stay, but I tried to quit my job. And I was pretty angry at my mom, especially, because I did everything I was told to do. I got a job that I liked and felt stable, I found a husband, I had kids, I did all of those things and I wasn't happy.
I also was turning very guarded and not handling stress well. So eventually when it turns out that getting divorced didn't change how I felt, and ultimately switching jobs didn't really change how I felt, I had to look internal, and I realized I'm the common denominator, and I had to figure out a better way to handle stress, and so I did. And so I started studying yoga. I've taken over 250 hours of teacher training, taught for a little bit. I went to Al-Anon, my ex-husband is an alcoholic and I found a lot of support there. I went to counseling. I did that weekly for a long time. And I really talked to a lot of people that were healthier than I was at the time mentally and tried to figure out how do I frame a smart response to all of the stress in my life, knowing that I'm not gonna be able to eliminate the stress in my life. And so that was my journey and it was worth it, and I'm on the other side of it, not to say I don't get stressed, I do, and sometimes I get hooked and we'll talk about that, but I'm able to come out of it very quickly and become grounded. And my legal practice has changed tremendously in that I don't react and I'm able to stay very grounded and resolve matters pretty quickly for my clients.
So let's get to it, enough about me. Chronic stressors and challenges to our system. So, the easiest thing to point out that's a chronic stressor that's affecting all of us is COVID, the pandemic. Humans want homeostasis, meaning we don't want change unless the change is on our terms. I think everyone can relate to that. What happened with COVID is that it robbed us of our homeostasis, and it pushed most people in a direction that is uncomfortable, and scary, and quite frankly unwelcome. But what if I told you stress, that's not the issue, it's really how we handle the feelings and emotions that are associated with stress. Are you completing your feelings and emotions? What does that even mean? Are you reacting to stress versus responding to stress? We're gonna explore those questions and what those meanings are a little later on. But with life comes stress, highs and lows, it's a roller coaster. I used to say, when I wasn't handling stress very well, that I just wanna get off the roller coaster. Someone reminded me, "Well, that's flat lining and you're not alive if that happens, life is a roller coaster." And while we spend most of our lives trying to control those up and downs, and smooth those up and downs, and resist change, that's often not helpful, and it often doesn't give us the response that we're looking for.
And here with the pandemic it's not an option to try and smooth the ups and downs. They're happening independent outside of us. And so what we need to do is get on the roller coaster and go with it. The only thing we can do is manage our response to those ups and downs, we don't have to be victims to it. Like I said, the pandemic is a chronic stressor. I'd also argue that the law is a chronic stressor. It can cause big emotions and feelings, fear, anxiety, grief. These feelings all challenge our health and potentially lead to long-term issues. We have a lot of parents, especially parents of young children, who are feeling isolated. They may be constantly surrounded by other people, but they're lonely, and they're restless, and they're not feeling part of their larger community.
You also have people who have compassion fatigue. They're trying to keep up appearances. They're trying to help everyone out. They're trying to bury their own stress for the sake of other people, and that can also lead to burnout. A lot of unpaid second and third shifts, where folks are working from home, and then that's bleeding into their roles as parents or care take acres, or whatever it is that they're responsible for outside of work. And those responsibilities are increasing. It's all coming within the household. And then we're seeing some opening up, oh, maybe things are kind of returning and then, oh, maybe they close back down. And so, it's very unpredictable. That can also cause stress. And then finally, these pandemic holidays for parents, we often might get phone calls that there's been an exposure at school, and guess what? The next 10 days you have to sit home with your child.
I had a period of time where the pandemic was not great in our area and there was a lot of diagnosis in my kid's school, and my youngest son's class went out and then the day it went back my oldest son's class went out and then the day it went back my youngest son's class went out, and that was 30 school days in a row that I had a child at home. And that really impacted my work, it impacted my well being and my stress. And so, we have to deal with that, these challenges. We have to expect that these challenges are going to happen and knowing that have an expectation that we can respond and respond in a balanced, healthy manner. So we wanna override the stress by finding gratitude, patience, and resilience, and that takes steadiness, it takes strength, and it takes practice.
So like being a lawyer, the work is never done, the education is never complete, it is a practice, we're always working and learning. Same thing here, it's a skill, you're never gonna perfect it, but you can always build on it. Talk about the skill building second half of the presentation. So we start with baby steps. We acknowledge and pay attention to the big feelings, the stress reactions. Stress, typical, big stress reactions, not necessarily typical. So while they aren't atypical, they don't feel good in our mind and body. And then that can result not only in discomfort in your mind and body, but then additional feelings of guilt. It's normal, but it's important to learn not to judge or criticize those feelings as they arise. You acknowledge that they appear, and that their feelings and their temporary, and then you think them and let them go. I'm gonna talk a little bit about the impact of the pandemic on some particular groups. Some of the headlines involving women are important to point out and you may wonder, well, why is that important to me? Well, we all work with women and a lot of women in the workforce are of childbearing age or have children. And what the research has found is women are more likely to bear the brunt of the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. Their jobs are also more vulnerable than men's jobs. So, while women make up 39% of the global employment workforce, they account for 54% of the overall job losses as of middle of 2020. And then at the same time, the burden of unpaid care, which has risen in the pandemic has fallen disproportionately on women. And that's a Harvard Business review study. Women are also three times as likely as men to report suffering from significant mental health consequences, so it's 27% compared to 10% for men, and that includes anxiety, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, and trouble completing everyday tasks. The Division of Labor in the Home places a heavier emotional burden on women. In the women, I'm sorry, in the US 55% of women do housework compared to 18% of men, and women tend to spend twice the amount of time with their children than men do. Finally, the research is showing that when schools close and children are left with remote learning, the burden to keep them focused and check their assignments is falling disproportionately on women. This is important to know.
It's important to know that folks you work with might be undergoing significant stress at home, and that that might be impacting their work. When we look at the legal profession, the headlines are, "Mental health week special feature, are we okay? Lawyers, burnout, and vicarious trauma." There are also headlines talking about the mental health effects of our dashed expectations and unfilled aspirations. There are a lot of folks who had speaking opportunities, trials, other career type aspirations, and things that were actually calendared that have been canceled; conferences where people do business development, and meet colleagues, things like that. There's been a lot of turning to online, which is great, but for some people it's not as impactful. So lawyers, we need to look as the headline say and widen the lens and look at mental health in the legal profession, and look at how the pandemic and the stress of the work is infecting our wellbeing and younger lawyer wellbeing as well.
So when we talk about professional burnout there's a lot of overlap with caretaker burnout, they look largely the same, by caretaker that can include professions such as nursing. It can also who include individuals who are at home caring for young ones, or parents, or family members. But it often leads to emotional exhaustion, a decreased sense of accomplishment and depersonalization. So, emotional exhaustion is the element most strongly linked to negative impacts on mental health and physical health. Emotional exhaustion can include things like it's too much too soon, too much work, too much responsibility, don't have the capacity to handle the volume of what they need to deal with, shame regarding those emotions that they're unable to care for another, that they're unable to care for themself. Oftentimes that shame, especially when you're in the midst of caring for others, or in the midst of a big project, "Shove it down, I can't deal with that right now."
There are a lot of cultural norms, both in the workplace and outside the workplace. A lot of those norms have changed for some employers, but not all. So, norms for attorneys, face time, and I'm not talking the app on your phone, face time in the office; maintain a large number of billable hours, so I was from a big firm, I know that often 2,100 hours was average. Norms to keep up the schedule and in person meetings, even if you don't feel safe of doing so. And then there are cultural norms at home; staying agreeable, using your resources on others, staying quiet about those things that bother you. One of my friends is always talking about keeping up appearances with her and her husband. I don't agree with that. Everybody's entitled to do their thing, but keeping up appearances, at least for her, is quite stressful. And so when you have shame, or guilt, or anxiety about how you feel, if you are acting in a way that you feel is disconnected to who you are deep down, then you develop rejection of your feelings, and that's just an additional spiral of shame. It's important to understand as the studies show we are not competent beings who feel sometimes. Our default is not rational and competent beings. Our default is we're emotional beings who are on occasional occasioned to think rationally.
So emotions are there all the time. It's important to learn how to identify emotions and feelings in your body. It's also important when you have a negative emotion, or a stressor to allow that to be completed in your body so that it's not held within your tissue. So studies are showing the more that we stuff feelings down and we never get them out, so we never talk about 'em, there are other exercises you can do depending on who you are and what works, breath exercises can help get the stress out of our bodies, exercise, sitting, breathing, meditating, jumping up and down and kind of shaking if you're super stressed, if you can think about an animal who is dying, they will often shake, and that is actually energy and stress leaving your body. So there's studies on this that the more we hold in, then more negative impact it has on our mental and physical health. So feelings are in your body and they must be completed. You must complete the stress or they're held in your tissue. And exhaustion can happen when you get stuck in an emotion. My yoga teachers always talk about, if you think about mice, they learn to only go to the tunnel with the cheese, humans often are running down tunnels with no cheese. We are thinking and engaging in thoughts that are not productive, and engaging in actions that are not productive, and we know better, yet we continue to do it. So let's talk a little bit more about the stress response, so the science that's within your body. And again, this is important to understand so as you feel stress, whatever the cause, you have tools then to combat the stress.
So emotions, like I said, they're always present, there's cycles in our body. There also can be involuntary neurological events, the fight or flight system. That triggering of the sympathetic nervous system or the nervous system is involuntary, it's automatic, and it can trigger a stress response, a stress reaction in your body. You don't decide whether the initial stress reaction is the fight, flight, or free, but you feel it. And once you feel it, and you are aware of it, you can intervene in the stress response to trigger rest and digest. So rest and digest is the parasympathetic nervous system. The fight or flight is the sympathetic nervous system. So science is catching up to a lot of what the ancient yogi studied, and I'm not gonna get here and lecture you on ancient yoga practices, but in yoga, one of the very initial teachings or sayings that was written down is, "Yoga is a steadying of the fluctuations in our mind," okay? So it's steadying that overreaction, that triggering of that stress response. And the more you practice accessing the parasympathetic nervous system, you can access it easily through breath work, the more you work on accessing it, the easier it is, okay? So that's how we're going to, that's what we're gonna talk about a little bit more today.
The sympathetic nervous system has a very important function. So it's critical to our survival. Primarily when we were, long time ago, cavemen, it was very critical to our primitive survival, our primitive ancestors. So it prepared the body for a literal physical reaction, a real fight or flee, running, right, in the face of danger, which back then was something like a lion or a saber-tooth tiger. Our bodies cannot differentiate between a saber-tooth tiger and a paper tiger, right? So the email from that opposing council you do not get along with can trigger the same response in your body as was the response of your primitive ancestors when they saw a saber-tooth tiger, okay? We don't need that level of the stress response when we get an email. We're not facing life threatening dangers, but it's critical to understand that the fight or flight response cannot distinguish between a true life endangering physical threat and the everyday stresses of our practice. So our bodies are reacting to our everyday stresses as though they were life threatening dangers. And the long term effects of this frequent fight or flight response may lead to permanent, harmful, physiological changes like chronic stress. So we have to find and implement ways to control these harmful aspects of this primitive response. We're falling victim to the hard wiring of our natural instincts, and that's important to understand.
So I wanna give you an example about how we can kind of interject when we have a fight or flight response, and how our bodies may react one way, but we can intellectually intervene, and how everything isn't black or white. So think about you're walking on a path, and all of a sudden your mind catches something, but your visual centers haven't seen it. So your mind alerts you and you feel in your body the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. And we're talking milliseconds here, walking down a path, you get a body reaction, stress in your body, heart rate increases, your alertness increases, and then all of a sudden you see a snake cross the path. That may be to you a true life endangering threat, but that's not necessarily what it is, but you have that stress response. You can intervene with breath and calm it down to access the parasympathetic nervous system. That's one reaction. The other reaction, which also engages some mindfulness, is you're walking along a path, your body senses something, the sympathetic nervous system engages, your heart rate increases, you get that sense in your body, the tingling anxiety sense, and a snake crosses your path. But you happen to be my 11 year old son who loves snakes and he says, "That's a California king snake." Picks it up, says this is one of the best snakes there is, it's not harmful and carries on. That interjection can cut off the fight or flight response and you're back to the parasympathetic nervous system. That's the triggering back and forth. And that's also how our bodies react whether we know if it's a life-threatening danger or not, we have a story and that is part of our reaction to stress.
So, we talked earlier about long-term stress can lead to harmful physiological changes. And we've also talked about completing stress, the importance of letting stress run its course through our body, feel our feelings. And why is that important? Well, the science shows that while stress is not healthy, unhealthy per se, negative consequences, like cognitive decline, strain relation chips with clients, anxiety, alcohol abuse, burnout, among other issues arise as stress becomes overwhelming. The body, when we are under stress for a big hearing, or motion, trial, bar exam, oftentimes messages in our body aren't heard or appropriately communicated through our wiring. So, I'm gonna propose a question, you're not here to answer it for me, but think back. And is there a time where you've ever gotten sick after a big exam, maybe the bar exam, or after a big hearing, or a trial, and you assume your body is run down. And that may be part of it, but there's also wiring messages sent down our spine, through our nervous system. And when we are under extreme stress, messages aren't heard. So the headache and the body aches, the sore throat, maybe clammy feeling is ignored until the stressor is removed.
So that big project is completed, the hearing is done, the trial is over, and then you get sick. That is stress that is repressed and held in the body in the tissue. That can also happen when we don't have a big event, when we're just chronically stressed day to day and not in touch with our body. There can be things going on that we are ignoring, and the longer ignore it, the more likely they're gonna be long term effects and other health issues. So how does stress show up in your body, and where does it show up for you? For me, when I get really stressed, my jaw gets tight, my shoulders get really tight 'cause I think I'm always in this tense up posture. For some people it can show up in ways of habits, addictions, so maybe you're drinking more, maybe you've started doing drugs again, or for the first time, maybe your addiction is food, or shopping, maybe your addiction is work, and that's all you do. There's been an increase in reported abuse, domestic abuse, verbal, physical, self-inflicted harm during the pandemic also, but this is also we'll talk a problem with lawyers outside of the pandemic. And that's often because of stress and an inability to process that stress, right?
So you have these feelings, we talked about big feelings, what do you do with them? Can also lead to a lack of self care. You're stressed, exercise would be great, but you also don't feel like exercising, or doing your hobbies, or socializing. And sometimes it takes that mindfulness and that intention to do the things that you don't really wanna do knowing that it'll feel good, or you'll probably be glad that you did it once it's completed. From a medical standpoint, poor stress responses and increased stress leads to depression, anxiety, and burnout. It can lead to irregular sleep, and it just can lead to poor habits, increased work and screen time. So think about what you might be indulging, areas that you might able to reset. I think that lack of self care is often the first unit to tackle. The studies show that we are only able to take care of others in the same manner that we take care of ourselves. So, if you aren't taking good care of yourself, then you're probably not taking good care of those around you, despite your best efforts. Little bit of self care a lot of times, right, is better than a lot of self care a little. So see what you can carve out in your day for you, even if it means waking up 15, 30 minutes earlier to have a little alone time.
We are in a wellbeing crisis. The ABA, the American Bar Association, has been studying this. And put out a study about four or five years ago regarding its wellness efforts and lawyer wellbeing. There's been a recent more updated study of lawyers, but it's largely the same information. And so, this graph that I have represents is a 2016 study of 13,000 practicing lawyers. And what it found is between 21 and 36% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, so again, this is pre pandemic, 28% struggle with depression, 19% struggle with anxiety, 23% struggle with stress, I would think that's low. Other difficulties included, but were not limited to suicide, social alienation, work addiction, sleep deprivation, and job dissatisfaction. Notably, and this is important, the study found that younger lawyers in the first 10 years of practice and those working in private firms experience the highest rates of problem drinking and depression. That is different from what everybody thought, by everybody I mean the legal experts on this. What their thinking was is the longer you stay in the legal profession, the more likely it is that you'll develop addiction. And now they're seeing, that's not it, you're developing this in law school. And so, our baby lawyers, our first years are coming in often with issues, and whether that's drinking, or depression, or anxiety, or stress, alienation, sleep deprivation, whatever it is, there's a whole bunch of things that could be going on, and we largely just turn a blind eye to it. The same group of folks did a 2016 study of 15 law schools and 3,300 law students, and found that 25% qualified for being at risk of alcoholism, 17% experienced some depression, 14% experienced severe anxiety, 23% experienced mild or moderate anxiety, and 6% reported serious suicidal thoughts in the past year. Those are our new attorneys. Those are our zero to five year attorneys. The study also shows that more than 60% of workers say their mental health affects their productivity. And in 2019, the World Health Organization estimated that depression and anxiety cost the global economy one trillion dollars per year in lost productivity. That's real money folks.
So, how does this wellbeing crisis affect lawyer competence? Well, the increased stress and decreased wellbeing can result in missed deadlines, lower quality work product, mistakes and errors in judgment, communication issues, increased risk for malpractice, job loss, client loss, disciplinary action, you name it. So it's important to frame a smart sustainable response, that's the good news. So, we already went over, we went over the bad news, we went over stress, how that can impact us, so now let's talk about the skills we have to build a smart, sustainable response. The goal is to develop skills that move away from viewing life as full of challenges, and towards curiosity and observation. So when we approach life from a place of curiosity, our view is more expansive. And when we get stuck in negative thought, we can work to cultivate the opposite, be curious about that thought and try and restore balance. That allows us to come from a place of resilience, patience, and gratitude.
So let's talk about mindfulness for a minute. What is mindfulness? Well, mindfulness is being fully aware of the present moment without judgment or labels. So right now I'm sitting in an office, I'm recording a podcast, I have some slides up. That's what's happening in my life. There could be thoughts in my head, but that's not what's happening, I'm grounded, I'm here. It's the facts, right? So it's your statement of facts, it's not your legal argument. And the goal of mindfulness is to stay grounded and to not get hooked by your feelings or your emotions, so, it's, we don't wanna head down that tunnel with no cheese, right? Mindfulness is focus attention. One of my friends tells me that mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, okay? So when our mind wanders, or is in default mode, which is daydreaming, we are not being mindful, and we're likely engaged in one of three things, okay? So when you're daydreaming, your mind's wandering, you're likely to think of yourself, so my, me, mine, your life, you, you, you, time traveling, so reminiscing, regretting, ruminating about the past, or dreading, anticipating, or fantasizing about the future, or the last one making social judge or comparisons. So this is hard if our mind is wandering to one of those three places and we're trying to get work done. And one study showed that mind wandering occurs on average 47% of the time during the day. So that's a lot of time.
The research also shows that those who practice mindfulness can be alert to distractions and return their mind to the task at hand, so to the present moment. So I'm very good at knowing like, "Ah, I am in La La Land and I need to come back and focus." And the more I practice that, the easier it is for me to get in what's called the flow, and that's where your brain is happy when it's in the flow. It's not happy when we're in default fault mode. So when we're in the zone, we're in the flow, and we're engrossed in an activity, we tend to be content, and that can be even the mundane, laundry, dishes, for me, gardening, yard work, those are the things that get me in the zone. So why do we care about mindfulness? Well, despite the obvious that I just explained, it's also recommended by the ABA Task Force as one way to improve lawyer wellbeing.
So, for me when I'm stressed and I engage in, I'm engaged or caught by that stress response, my first action is to breathe, long inhale, even longer exhale, I wanna get every bit of air out. When you do that you're engaging your psoas, which is a muscle, and you're vagus nerve, which helps in regulating that fight for flight, right? It helps you access the rest and digest, okay? So mindfulness meditation is paying attention to your breath. So when your mind wanders, where do you bring it back? Not to the present moment of work or what you're doing, you bring it to your breath, I'm breathing in, I'm breathing out. And in order to control that if your mind is really wandering, you can use just a little saying, as easy as I am breathing in, when you are breathing in, and I am breathing out, when you're breathing out, and then pay attention to your body, what are you feeling? And you will calm down. So mindfulness meditation, it's a practice. You'll get better at it with time. There's no perfection, there's no goal, but it enhances your cognitive reframing, your resilience. It aids your ability to monitor your thoughts and to become emotionally overwhelmed. Over time when you have thoughts, negative limiting thoughts, you'll be able to say those are just thoughts, you won't be hooked and buy-in to any truth of those thoughts. Research also has found that mindfulness can reduce rumination, stress, depression, and anxiety. It also increases focus, concentration, memory, cognitive skills, ethical, and rational decision making. This is a no-brainer for us lawyers, mindfulness meditation does improve wellbeing.
Let's set some expectations now that we know about mindfulness. So we can engage in mindfulness and calm ourselves, we can find contentment. The expectation is contentment, not excitement. The research has shown that we want excitement, and that lives in our mid brain, and it's part of our survival mechanism and the dopamine hit, and that looks like travel, parties, dinners. The result of excitement is cravings and restlessness among other things, it's not all bad, I'm not saying that. Contentment on the other hand is where joy is found, so it's in the front brain. So, it's things like radical okayness with what's going on, generosity, gratitude, it's expansive grounding behavior. So we want to set an expectation where contentment is where the joy is. Contentment is really where we want to be to have happiness, that excitement and happiness are not a direct relation, okay? So we know correlation does not equal causation, so excitement does not equal happiness. And when we talk about contentment, I wanna point out quickly, it's not satisfaction, right? So satisfaction is I don't want anymore. You can be satisfied, but not content, and I think about that with food. So you can be satisfied, but not content. And so, contentment does not equal satisfaction. What contentment is is when feeling discontent is you wanna cultivate the opposite, right, and be happy with what is. So when you're down and out, you have the internal power to flip the coin, right?
The next practice we're gonna talk about is resilience. So there's been a lot of research around resilience since about the 1970s. There's a lot of information, it's a popular term right now, but there's also a lot of misinformation. Resilience is really having a firm grasp on and acceptance of reality. You're not hooked again, by the emotions of the situation, the emotions of the present moment. Resilience is that you have a deep belief typically tied to a strongly held set of values, that life is meaningful, even in the stuck, right? So even in the things that aren't so much fun, there's still meaning, there's still purpose, even if it's not clear. And then resilience also is the exceptional ability to improvise or pivot, right? So these are the three kind of factors we see in folks that are resilient. Have a plan, work that plan, have a backup plan. So one of my colleagues used to have it as his email tag. Have the ability to pivot or improvise.
One definition of, there are a couple definitions of resilience that I like. One is the developed capacity to remain present and determined under conditions of significant stress and change. It also means the ability of a natural or built system, or mind or body to recover from an extreme load or event, and that's chronic stress change or adversity. That's the engineering definition, the ability of a natural or built system to recover from an extreme load or event. We can adjust that to ourselves, but that is resilience. So how do you become resilient in practice? How do you practice resilience? So its the developed capacity to remain present and determined under stress and change through an acceptance of reality, a deep belief life has meanings, and pivot. So let's say you have a holiday coming up, and it's not gonna be what you thought. Your parents can't come, someone has COVID, something else happens. So your inclination is to bag it, not to do anything too special. How about pivot? Bring out the China, make it super special. Or do the opposite. All your family happens to come over and maybe that's not what you were expecting, but you're resilient, pull out the China and order pizza, right? There are things that we can do.
Talk about rules of engagement. If you're feeling nervous about getting together with folks who maybe have different beliefs than you right now, it's kind of a polarizing climate, so set boundaries. You're happy that folks are coming over, you're happy to celebrate, you're happy to engage in that Zoom happy hour, but you're not gonna talk about COVID, you're not gonna talk about vaccines, and you're not gonna talk about politics, right? The goal is contentment, it's all good, not satisfaction, not excitement, to be all good with what you have, and use what you have, right?
Use what you have to celebrate it in your house. There's no point in saving things for later. My friend pointed out, she used to come over, we would have happy hour on Fridays. And I would give her this same stemless wine glass that had writing on it that had gotten kind of smudged in the dishwasher. And I have this whole cabinet of really nice wine glasses. And she finally said to me, "Why don't you use those?" And it was because I was afraid one was gonna break. I mean, these things are replaceable, right, and they bring me joy, so why don't I use them? So now we bust out the good wine glasses whenever we have a glass of wine. Things like that can help you pivot and find resilience during hard times.
Patience. Patience is a tough one, but patience also can really help us in the face of stress. The most important skill to access patience is the pause. Patience after the pause will help you find contentment. So, what is patience after the pause? It's the capacity to accept, or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Does that sound good? Again, this requires practice. Viktor Frankl, I hope everybody knows who he is, if he isn't, look him up, he has some great books and great quotes. He's a Holocaust survivor. And he's noted for saying, "Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Let me read that again. "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." It may not feel like there is a space, and I get that because I used to feel that. There was a stimulus, there was a stressor and I reacted, and sometimes it was a powerful explosive reaction, so mine was largely with words. So I would yell, I would do all sorts of things in reaction to stress, and that's not helpful.
So how can you pause, find your breath, and decide, right? You have the power to choose how you're gonna respond. So patience and practice, setting expectations. So, life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful. No one is perfect, especially now. We know that we're in a practice, a legal practice, and that's what it is, there's no perfection. Stress and anxiety, when you have it, you want it to go away, so you react, usually it doesn't provide the intended results, so let's find our pause. Setting expectations about should or should not. I really try and take that out of my vocabulary. There's no book that says you should or should not do anything in particular, so, just remove that. I think recognize other people may be experiencing stress and worry differently from you, so be patient with what others are going through. And I think also just learning to roll with it, being patient and rolling and not resisting what's going on, not being wed to any particular set of expectations will allow for patience and gratitude towards others, and potentially unexpected creative solutions.
Remember everyone is experiencing challenges. Finding contentment with an attitude of gratitude. So it's easy to talk about the things that you're not particularly thankful for during COVID, but it's much harder to access the things that you are thankful for. Gratitude is not a fake it till you make it practice, it's really a practice that you engage in every day shifts you cognitively, so it shifts your brain and allows for reframing. So gratitude is the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. I was very uncomfortable with this concept when I started practicing gratitude, and it helped me maybe because I'm a lawyer to start by saying to people, "I want to acknowledge X, Y, and Z," so something that they did instead of, "I'm so thankful for, grateful for you," and that gave me kind of the tip toeing into the more expressive gratitude. The Harvard Medical School provides a really cool definition of gratitude. And they say, "It's a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals, whether to other people, nature, or higher power," and I believe that.
So how do we set expectations to have more gratitude? Well, you have to express it. So, however that works for you, do it. You have a job, you're alive, these are awesome, amazing things. My family does rosebud and thorn exercise, and what that is, and we do it at dinner. The rose is what was the favorite part of your day, right, so the highlight. The bud is what are you looking forward to? And then the thorn is what was the worst part of your day, or your least favorite thing that happened? And even if they don't have any particular rose or any particular thorn, they have to come up with something, right? So even a good day, let's talk about how even in the good day the worst thing that happened to you is maybe you forgot something in your lunch. It's a pretty remarkable day if that's the worst thing that happened, right? So my kids and I we go through that. Gratitude journals. I did one, I thought it was crazy at first, but I did it. It was funny now that I look back on it. The first six months, I'm grateful for things like boots, new boots, and clothes, and external tangible items. And then through the work, I became grateful for myself, and my strength, and my ability and taking care of my children, and looking back and seeing that shift is pretty cool. So again, this is a practice, you have to start and then you have to stick with it.
So as we wrap up our presentation, I wanted to give you some parting wisdom, and this is one of my most favorite quotes by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe so it's pronounced G-U-R-T-A. And he's a German literary figure, and I'm just gonna read you the quote 'cause it's pretty impactful. "I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or deescalated, and a person is humanized or dehumanized." It's true. We all have the power to control the daily weather. The mood in our house, we can be miserable or we can be joyous. We can be torturous or inspire. We can laugh, we can humiliate. We can hurt people, or we can connect and heal. And it's you that has to decide which side you're gonna fall on. And you have to engage in the practices to get you there if you're not where you are or where you wanna be. My friend sent me this early on in the pandemic, and it was kids were going around our community and putting inspirational messages on sidewalks that people would see as they were walking.
And this one is great, "Don't count the days, make the days count. Every day you wake up and have an opportunity to make it your day, one day at a time, every day. And the good thing about taking it one day at a time is if you're acting at a way you didn't particularly enjoy one day, you can wake up tomorrow and flip the script." We've spent about an hour together. I come to you as a member also on a journey.
And I hope that I've been able to give you some tools and practices that will prove meaningful and useful to you in your practice, and help you manage expectations surrounding stress and overall life. I trust it's been time well spent, and I appreciate your time and attention. Thank you so much.