How to Make Any Decision

We are all given so many opportunities in our lives to take action in a big way. One of the challenges that come with those opportunities is the fear that this action will dramatically change things.

When we are faced with a choice that could have lasting repercussions, how do we know when to take the leap and when to stay put?

While I am not a soothsayer and I do not pretend to have any answers for anyone’s life other than my own, what I can offer is what I have seen so many women grapple with as they sort out big decisions. When new opportunities come to our door, they often bring the same party favors with them: self-doubt, fear, and guilt are common accompaniments.

We worry that we won’t have what it takes, what will happen if it doesn’t work out. We feel guilty for contemplating decisions that might upset those around us.

When all of those fuzzy feelings come to the door, it can be very difficult to think clearly and decide whether to act. In those instances, I work with my clients to start getting very clear on what it will cost them to act or not to act. In any choice that we make, there will be pros and cons. There will be consequences of many varieties, even when the opportunity seems too good to be true. In those instances, we have to consider what we gain by acting.

What could we gain if we try and end up failing?

What could we gain if we end up succeeding?

What does it cost you to NOT act?

The answers to these questions are something we all must answer for ourselves but these questions force us to look beyond the negative feelings that accompany change.

Fear, self-doubt, and guilt are all parts of the bargain when we choose to make changes — those feelings do not mean you are doing it wrong.

But we must set those feelings aside and focus on weighing the costs. For instance, when we know with certainty that staying in our current job or relationship will stifle our development and we can see what taking a risk will force us to grow and develop in new ways, we then have the assets we need to push through those negative feelings and take the leap.

When we have clarity about what is at stake with every new decision, that clarity will light the path when things get murky (because they will). That clarity will allow you to keep moving.

So when all those wonderful feelings meet you at the door of opportunity — self-doubt, fear, and guilt — invite them to sit down at the table because they will most certainly be coming along for the ride.

That is simply the price of evolving.

We have to ignore those feelings in the short term so that we can truly focus on and weigh the options ahead of us and make an intentional rather than an emotional decision.


Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Motivational Triad

When it comes to practicing law, our minds and our internal conversations will be our greatest assets. It won’t be the accolades and background that make or break your practice. It all comes down to your relationship with yourself and the internal discussions no one hears but you. Given this, it seems that the greatest tool we must understand and hone is that magical mind of ours. Specifically, why is it that our mind sometimes goes rogue and makes it seemingly impossible to move forward?

Our mind will analyze the data before us, we must decide what facts are unimportant and focus on the primary issues to maximize our efficiency. At the same time we must manage our emotional impulses associated with stress.

Practicing law is grueling. It challenges our self-worth, our values, and our ability to honor commitments both to ourselves and our clients but also to everyone around us. It is an emotional and mental boot camp of careers of sorts–it even comes with those fun “drill sergeant” type characters who seem to relish in screaming at you letting you know how pathetic you are.

Surviving these challenges not only requires a good amount of grit but a simple understanding of our basic impulses and how those impulses interact with our brains can be a complete game changer.

We are all familiar with “fight or flight” concepts but many of us are not attuned to our basic, biological instincts: the motivational triad. According to the motivational triad, we are wired to prioritize the following:

Seek pleasure.

Avoid pain.

Maintain efficiency.

Within the realm of a law firm environment, the triad can be found in the following tendencies:

Try every way imaginable to squeeze a compliment out of the difficult partner (seek pleasure) even if it means being on call at all hours of every day

Do not stand up for myself when I am being thrown under the bus to the client by a partner that dropped the ball (avoid pain) because I don’t want to get his wrath

Stay at the firm that I hate because this is what I know and I don’t want to rock the boat (maintain efficiency)

Understanding our basic instincts will help you sift through the BS your brain offers you at times. When you desperately want to leave your job and your brain offers you 1,000,000 reasons why that’s a terrible idea, we can recognize that your brain is responding as it was designed. It is trying to keep you safe. It is trying to keep you in the cave, lest you be eaten by cannibal litigators.

When you want to engage leadership in discussions about your work environment but you decide that it won’t be worth it and won’t make a difference. Those. Thoughts. Are. NOT. True. Those are biologically driven responses. Fear-driven, flight responses. Your brain is trying to keep you safe. On the hamster wheel.

When you are contemplating doing something uncomfortable, your brain will flood itself with all sorts of reasons not to act. They will seem reasonable. They will seem perfectly logical. But we mustn’t be persuaded by these biological responses. In those moments we foreclose our own innate knowing. We put blinders on to the other possibilities. Our brains get to work compiling evidence to support those biological responses and will ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Knowing this will allow you to recognize those thoughts just as they are: thoughts. They are not facts. They are not truths. They are not more important than any other thought. They alone are not reasons to act or not act.

In a world where our brains are going to fight us to keep us safe and cozy in the cave, we must become practiced at asking the right questions and evaluating all the options. We cannot allow our motivational triad to push us to act from fear. To seek safety and avoid challenges.

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some of the work I do with my clients supports them to examine their beliefs and the source of those beliefs. We analyze beliefs and thoughts to ensure that in anything that we do, or don’t do, we aren’t acting from a place of fear and safety-seeking unless that is our CONSCIOUS decision. I love helping my clients observe the motivational triad at work in their lives, then dismantle it! Sign up today, to start your own journey and see where you biological brain is holding you back.


Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Managing Overwhelm

One of the primary reasons that my clients struggle with the practice of law is that they often feel like their life is out of control.

Their time and their practice is completely out of their hands. There’s a general feeling of helplessness and overwhelm. As if every moment, every lull in workflow is just another calm before the storm where there is too much work and no room to breathe.

We want to believe that we don’t have any control. We want to believe that work overload just happens to us and we have no role to play in it.

But that is only true if you decide to make it true.

In every moment of every day we have control over ourselves and the choices that we make. We decide how to handle every task that comes to us. We choose whether to do the work or not do the work. Rationally, we all know this to be true. But when we are stuck in the midst of the chaos and struggling to keep afloat, how do we silence the chaos and harness our own agency?

When we are swimming in overwhelming thoughts about our workload, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. Given this, my recommendation is very simple:

Get brutally honest.

Write down everything that you are telling yourself you “have” to do. Make a long list of all the things that are overwhelming you. Next to each project write the deadline BUT only include true, factual deadlines. When a partner emails you and says “We really need to get this out today,” that is not a real deadline. That is a preference; a request; a hope. For purposes of this exercise, we note that project’s deadline as “TBD.”

Get all the facts.

For all of those projects whose deadlines are TBD, we develop a communication strategy with the goal being additional fact-finding. We need to determine whether this is a  real deadline or not and whether there is flexibility in how we prioritize this item.

This may require you to contact the partner or the client and express to them where this request falls with respect to your other factual deadlines. Let them know that you want to do a good job and give the project the attention it requires but, given your other deadlines, you are concerned you won’t be able to give it the attention it deserves.

Be honest and focused on the goal: you want to find a way to good work for everyone and you don’t want to give any project short-shrift unless there is absolutely no alternative.

Eliminate and prioritize.

Whenever we start to think “there’s too much work to do,” our brain simply piles on. That email you have been sitting on for a week is suddenly an emergency to your brain; it MUST be dealt with today!

We have to stop this avalanche of “to dos” right in its tracks. If, after completing your list in Step 1 and assigning fact-based deadlines in Step 2, you have a project that is still TBD or unclear, that project gets moved to a NEW list: the Wouldn’t It Be Nice list.

We all have those little nagging projects that we just put off and put off and once things get heated we suddenly make that project a massive, career-making or -breaking priority. Stop doing that. Do not let the overwhelm create an avalanche of tasks. Know what projects are not priorities in this moment and move on. You don’t have to do it all today. You can prioritize real deadlines today and prioritize your Wouldn’t It Be Nice list on another day.

Recognize your limits.

Do not allow yourself to believe that there is no way to get help or support. I often hear my clients tell me “there’s no one who is able to help….everyone else is super busy too…my paralegal isn’t any help…my secretary can’t do that.” Those statements only keep you stuck. They make you the victim to your to do list. Do not believe that any of those statements are true unless and until you have asked for and allowed in support.

You do not and should not have to do it all on your own. (Rinse and repeat.)

You will be a better lawyer and a better team mate if you learn to recognize your limits and ask for help when you need it. If you want to believe that there is no help available to you, I challenge you to investigate the truth of that statement. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not but my guess is that you aren’t even open to the possibility of asking to see if there is any truth to that belief.

If you want to believe there is no help available for you, prove it to yourself first. You owe it to your sanity.

An ounce of prevention….

Even before the workload heats up, there are things that you can do to take control over your practice. In order to do that you have to decide what you want your practice to look like–are there certain clients you don’t want to work with? Are there partners you want to avoid? Is there an area of law you want to focus on? Is there an area of law you want to move away from?

If you don’t know where you want to go, you allow yourself to be at the mercy of others and where they want your practice to go.

Early on in my practice, I had a partner who told me that she wanted me to work only on her projects, within her specialty. She didn’t want me to expand my work into other areas of the group; she wanted me to become an expert in her specialty and her clients. Not only did I not want to work exclusively for this partner for a variety of personal and professional reasons, I did not like her type of clients. I wanted to have a broad understanding of our practice area as a whole because I knew that someday I would leave that firm and I didn’t not want to set myself up for a hiring handicap by limiting my experience. I organized a meeting with the other partners in the group and the practice group chair and I told them what I wanted for my career–a well-rounded practice with full exposure to all of our clients and sub-specialties. And that is what I got. Had it not been for that moment, I would never have had the skillset I needed to move on and found my own practice group serving all areas of specialty.

Make a decision about where you want your practice to go and commit to it for at least a year. You can always change your mind later. Do not allow room for thoughts that this will limit you in the future. This is not only intended to allow you to focus your efforts but is also intended to insulate you from project overload.

When you identify where you want your practice to go and you voice that desire to your partners, you have established an order of priority for your work. You permit those partners that you WANT to work with to see you as their “go to.” It will be understood that they get first priority over your time and it sends a message to others to keep their “busy work” projects for other associates.

Rather than waiting in fear that you will get buried in work that you don’t want to do, seek out a stream of work that you WANT to do and continually work to keep that plate full. When your plate is full for a particular partner or client, you can better anticipate the ebbs and flows and practice defensively–keeping your plate full of work you WANT in order to avoid others filling it with work you DON’T want.

In the middle of work overload? Take advantage of a free session, and let’s get your head right.


Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

Giving Away Our Power

As a basic premise, we as humans have the right to determine how we spend our time, where our energy goes, who we have relationships with. We have complete autonomy over our lives. We know this at our core but when it comes to implementing it and OWNING it every day, we give away all of that power.

With my clients, I most often see this happen when we start envisioning changes they want to make in their life.

Making commitments is easy. Following through on them is what distinguishes successful people from the rest.

Many of my clients have similar items on their wish lists —

I want to make time to workout

I want to spend time playing with my kids

I want to have a date night with my partner

I want to leave work at a reasonable hour every day

When it comes down to implementing and executing on those wish lists there are a mountain of reasons why it never happens–I’m just so tired at the end of the day, I just don’t have enough time, it’s just not a priority, something always comes up.

Any of those sound familiar?

You have the freedom to make your life whatever you want it to be.

If you don’t want to workout everyday, want work late every night, and want to rarely have one-on-one time with your family, that is absolutely your right. But let’s get one thing very clear: you are CHOOSING do to do those things. You are CHOOSING not to play with your kid when you get home, you are CHOOSING not to go to the gym, you are CHOOSING not to make your self-care a priority.

In order to get serious about creating the lives we want, we have to start getting honest with ourselves.

This life is not just happening to you–you are creating it.

You have to take ownership for the choices you are making every day.

Being tired at the end of the day is not a universal justification for not going to they gym. You are choosing not to go to the gym. People do all sorts of things every day when they are tired. YOU are doing all sorts of things every day even though you are tired. You are simply choosing not to make the gym one of those things.

When it comes to work, it is no different. You are choosing to answer that phone call right before you were supposed to head to your kid’s soccer game. You are choosing to work late and honor that last minute deadline.

You do not have to honor any deadlines.

Seriously.

You do NOT have to honor any deadlines.

Ever.

You are CHOOSING to do so. Maybe you believe that if you don’t you will get fired or you will lose the client, whatever your justification may be, there is likely a reason you are doing it.  A reason that you believe you HAVE to do it. But the truth is, you are simply making a choice. People blow off clients and deadlines and bosses and phone calls every day. You are choosing not to and that is your right. Own it and stop blaming your choices on everything else. Take ownership of the decisions you make in every moment.

Recognize the reasons for your choices and own them for what they are–choices you are making for whatever justifications you decide are important.

I pay my taxes every year not because I “have to” but because I choose to. I choose not to commit tax fraud. I choose not to violate the law. That’s my choice. Many others in this world do not make that same choice.

Sometimes, I choose to disregard my schedule completely and make something else a priority. Whenever I get a call from my family during business hours, I answer immediately and drop everything else. That is my choice. In that moment, I remind myself “You are choosing to do this, you do not have to do this.” I don’t let myself be a victim to circumstances outside of my control. I choose to blow up my schedule and best laid plans if I want to. Because that is my choice. It’s as simple as that.

When we stop telling ourselves we “have” to do things or when we make excuses for not acting, we are ignoring the simple truth of it all–we are choosing to do or not do those things.

When we take ownership of the choices we are making in every moment of every day, it allows us to hit the reset button. It allows us to ask whether that is a decision we WANT to make. A decision we would make again.

In every moment of ever day, you are making choices. Do you like the choices you are making? Are you blaming someone else for your decisions?

When you look at your life and your days as a series of choices, you take back all of your power.

You reclaim your ability to decide how you want your day and your life to play out. Don’t allow yourself to believe that your life is at the mercy of anyone other than you. Live on purpose and choose consciously how you want to spend your time.

We struggle to make ourselves a priority. We are really good at not choosing to put ourselves first. Make an investment in yourself and your life.

What do you have to lose?


Photo by Robin Glauser on Unsplash