We cannot solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them.
— Albert Einstein
This is one of my favorite quotes. It is, at least for me, a truism that I must change my perspective, my way of thinking, my approach to a problem before I can possibly solve the problem. Another great quote on this topic is, If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. I understand that many 12-step programs use that statement to explain “insanity” in the context of the program.
What does the mean in the context of practicing law? Plenty. With regard to career advancement, if you’ve been taking the approach of being a reliable, industrious, somewhat reserved workerbee and you notice that you keep getting passed over for the big cases you’d like to work on, the answer probably isn’t to do more of the same and hope for a different result. If you’re constantly running ragged, wondering how you can connect with your spouse and/or children in an hour or so at the beginning or end of each day, it’s a safe bet that you won’t shift your actions until and unless you shift your perspective. Want a new job? You’ll have to pull some time and attention away from what you’re doing now to make the time to launch a job search. And if you believe that client development is something that you’ll begin “later,” you likely won’t recognize client development opportunities that may come your way — because chance favors the prepared mind.
To make a change requires stepping outside the situation long enough to identify a problem and then to make a mental shift that will help in solving that problem. How the shift happens is individual to each person. But creating and then using a shift relies on several basic principles.
1. The shift must be authentic. If your partner, your supervisor, your doctor, or anybody else tells you to make a change and you don’t buy into it, there will be no shift. Remember the punchline to the joke asking how many psychiatrists are needed to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really, really want to change. No psychiatry here, but if you don’t really, really want to change (or at least really, really believe you need to change), chances are good that you’ll keep on doing the same old, same old.
2. Maintaining the shift means keeping it in the forefront of your mind. If you’re trying to make a habit of arranging lunch with one potential client a week, put that on your calendar where you see it daily. If you’re trying to incorporate some stretching into your day so you don’t feel like you’re 90 years old when you hobble away from your desk at the end of the day, set an alarm that go off periodically. If you’re wanting to improve your efficiency in the office, use time management tools that keep your eye on efficiency. Holding onto a shift in perspective means keeping it in front of you visually and/or aurally, because it’s often all too easy to slide back to the old, familiar approach.
3. Reaping the benefit of the shift requires action. While it’s important to recognize a problem or a situation that can be improved, that’s empty if it’s a recognition without follow-through. If you want more balance in your life, take some action, even if it’s small. Claiming a 15-minute walk for yourself in the afternoon will not only provide some balance but also will remind you that you’re seeking balance. (Put it in your calendar and keep that commitment, too!)
4. It’s easier to maintain a shift, and to design and implement the actions that the shift calls for, with support. Tell your spouse that you need to set aside 3 hours on Saturday morning to catch up on work. Tell your secretary that you plan to eat lunch away from your desk one day this week. Work with a coach to provide accountability as you set out on your client development plans. If you decide you’re going to make a change, you probably have about a 40% chance of succeeding. If you decide to make a change, tell someone what you’re going to do, and commit to doing it by a certain deadline, you have about a 95% chance of succeeding.
What shift do you need to improve your practice and your life?