When It Comes to Mindfulness for Lawyers, Self-Discipline Is Overrated

As you might imagine, I am a disciplined person. I’m a lawyer. I meditate regularly. I work out every day. And I have managed to keep this blog going for nearly three years. Strangely, though, I have not written a single post extolling the virtues of discipline when it comes to meditation.

I have written about the value of habits and made it clear that consistency in mindfulness practice is important to obtain benefits. I have talked about the fact that we can’t expect to build skills without learning to handle some discomfort. And I have agreed that we can’t expect to find time – but have to make time – for the things we love.

Even so, I have not outright talked about discipline itself. Why? It’s not that I don’t think discipline has a place in mindfulness practice or in life. Far from it. In fact, I love the thrill of building things over time through daily work and commitment. It’s the way I have built my law practice, mindfulness practice, this blog, and wrote my book.

To be sure, discipline is important. I don’t talk about it on this blog much, however, because this blog is directed at lawyers and professionals. Most lawyers and professionals have plenty of self-discipline. In general, my readers are motivated, self-directed, and hard-working. Therefore, if I wrote frequently about self-discipline, I would be preaching to the choir.

In doing so, I would not be offering what I think my audience really needs. Many of us who start exploring mindfulness do so because we want change or maybe balance. Quite often, when we start to seek like this, we have no clue what we really need. We start looking and we hope a new practice might expand our horizons.

You know what’s easy to do when you start a new practice? You bring your old mindset and mental habits along. So it goes with lawyers who start exploring mindfulness by first relying on their self-discipline. Over the years, most of us have fine-tuned our self-discipline muscles so well that we rely on willpower and muscling through in almost every pastime we take up. If we are honest with ourselves, we may even notice it showing up in our personal lives with the people we hold most dear.

If change is our goal, this doesn’t really make sense. And, if balance is the object, why would we keep leaning so heavily on a skillset that is already so robust? Now you may be seeing my point. This is why I don’t talk a lot about self-discipline. You have self-discipline. You have tons of it. Trust me.

Don’t try to tell me you don’t just because you haven’t been able to make meditation a habit yet. Based on my experience meditating for a decade and teaching mindfulness for five years, too much self-discipline is the impediment—and not the key—to a long-term meditation practice for many lawyers.

You read that right the first time but go back and read the preceding line again if you don’t believe me. Lawyers and professionals have loads of self-discipline. They explore mindfulness and meditation because they are looking for something else. They are looking for a new way of living life and practicing law.

This way of life doesn’t throw self-discipline out the window. Instead, what mindfulness can do for lawyers is counterbalance their self-discipline with wisdom, self-compassion, real honest to goodness rest, and a newfound connection to their bodies and emotions. Sure, to find these things, some level of self-discipline is needed but most lawyers and professionals have more than they need to get started with and maintain a mindfulness practice.

By now, though, your lawyer brain may be kicking in and you may be thinking that I’m full of it because isn’t deciding to learn a new skill and committing to it long enough to really try it out discipline? Sure, some of it is discipline. As I said, discipline is involved. But it’s not the most important thing you need to maintain practice.

Do you know why? One reason is that self-discipline (willpower) gets tired. It is easily worn out. That’s why people often struggle to get motivated to meditate. Because sticking to a plan takes energy and energy quickly wears out. This is why other human traits are more important for a solid meditation practice. These include an open mind, courage to face pieces of yourself you have long overlooked, and self-compassion.

Next you may be wondering why I bring this up at all? Why would I devote a blog post to tell you what you don’t need to start or keep meditating? I wrote this post because discipline or the alleged lack thereof is what many lawyers complain about when they tell me that they struggle to meditate. In reality, I don’t believe a lack of discipline is really the issue.  

Instead, self-judgment and unrealistic expectations about a how a practice is “supposed” to be are more often the real culprit. Since discipline alone can’t be relied on to get you to the cushion or yoga mat, why not try something else instead? How about curiosity? Or kindness? What about hope for a better life or deeper connections with yourself and others? These are the real reasons many lawyers start meditating in the first place even if they don’t know it when they start.

Lawyers don’t start meditating to cultivate more discipline because they don’t need more discipline. They explore mindfulness in pursuit of a happier life with more freedom, deeper connections, and less stress. If this is your aim with meditation, then consider it as an opportunity to practice new skills and cultivate new habits. You get plenty of practice with self-discipline in your daily life. For greater peace, balance, and ease, let go of your grip on self-discipline a little bit and consider practicing skills like patience, self-kindness, the capacity to rest, and joy in your meditation practice instead.  

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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