If you’ve followed the blog, you probably know by now that I am a fan of Peloton. Historically, however, I haven’t really used the Peloton platform to support my meditation practice because I prefer unguided meditation. Late last year, however, one of my favorite yoga instructors Aditi Shah announced the new intro to meditation program. As a maven of meditation, I did the program myself so I could tell you about it here.
Here’s an overview of the program, a summary of what I liked and didn’t like, and a bottom line conclusion for those of you considering it for yourself.
The Intro to Meditation Program structure is available on the Peloton app or any Peloton device. You don’t need any equipment to use it, though some headphones and a meditation spot or cushion sure help. The program is designed to be completed over the course of 3 weeks and consists of short (5-minute) instructional videos to explain basic concepts and 5 or 10-minute guided meditations for practice. The concepts covered include mindfulness of thoughts, mindfulness of body, metta (loving-kindness), and them mindfulness of emotions.
What I Like About the Program
Overall, I think the Intro to Meditation is a good start for those new to meditation and mindfulness. Here’s what I liked most.
I don’t normally do guided meditations because I enjoy silence, so I was pleasantly surprised that the program meditations actually included some silent spaces. I have done some Peloton meditations in the past that I wouldn’t even call meditations because they were so infused with imagery or storytelling that there was no space for my own awareness. These were comparatively less filled with words and allowed some space to experience the concepts taught in the program.
Even though I am a fan of Peloton and adore Aditi, I have to admit that the program is not perfect. Here are the things that I didn’t love about it.
Aditi Sounds Rehearsed at Times.
Aditi sounds pretty natural when I take her yoga classes, but she sounded rehearsed for most of the explanation videos. And, though I understand that Peloton sells fitness apparel, I thought it was silly that Aditi was wearing a sports bra with no shirt or sweatshirt when she was teaching the passive activity of meditation. To be fair, this was likely the result of a new format and the fact that Aditi was teaching in a new way. In order to get the content delivered in a time efficient way, she almost certainly had to be reading from a script. In other words, the experience of watching the explanation videos lacks the connection you might get even from other prerecorded Peloton classes.
Information Was Conveyed But Real Teaching Was Rare.
Along the same lines as the point above, the Intro to Meditation program provides information about meditation but it doesn’t really teach the subject. Clearly, this is a result of the forum and the intent for the program to only be an introduction to meditation. Even so, the explanation videos could have provided a few more stories or examples to give the content more life. The few that Aditi offered in the videos appeared heartfelt and were effective, so I hope future Peloton programs will dig a bit deeper on this point.
The Order of the Program Felt Scattered.
As I experienced when writing my book, it can be hard to identify the “best” starting point when teaching meditation. Though meditation practices often select a single focal point, our experience is rarely so isolated and usually includes a mishmash of sensory information, body sensations, thoughts, emotions, and external stimuli. Though I like that the Program included the right topics, I found the order somewhat confusing and scattered.
The Structure May Not Be the Best Tool for Establishing a Habit.
The Intro to Meditation Program is an accessible tool to help the millions of Peloton users worldwide learn the basics of meditation practice. Though the Program doesn’t stand on its own to support a long-term meditation practice, that may not be a bad thing. It will likely leave users wanting more but meditation practice is to some degree about exploration. Because the Program makes trying meditation simple and easy, it is a good start for anyone new to meditation but hopefully not a final destination.
How many times have you read a book and thought or proclaimed to a friend that it “changed your life”? While it can be exciting at first to see new possibilities open up in your mind after reading a book, the true test is whether it helped you change your life in meaningful ways. Time management guru, Laura Vanderkam, is a writer, speaker, and podcast host whom I have followed for nearly a decade. Having had time to see the difference, I can honestly say her work changed my life.
When I first encountered Vanderkam’s work, I was in the throes of young motherhood with an out-of-control litigation case load. I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I had no energy and I assumed somebody out there must have some answers. When I read I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Timeon a friend’s recommendation, I suppose I was looking for hacks and tricks to make things easier. What I got, instead, was far more valuable: reassurance that my messy life was normal and a reminder to be practical instead of perfectionist about my time.
Over the course of years, the mindset shift to dispense with all or nothing thinking made a huge impact on my life. Gradually, I began incorporating more of what I wanted in my life (writing, exercising, time with friends, etc.) and I let go of the doubts, worries, and guilt that got in the way.
Instead of assuming that I didn’t have time for the things I wanted or couldn’t commit to a new habit, at some point I decided to let myself try. Fortunately for me, meditation was one of the first habits I established. Because it gave me a quick way to recharge, mental space for insights and ideas, and awareness, other good things soon followed. I quickly got more active in my community, started writing more, and established a regular fitness routine.
Of course, Laura Vanderkam is not the only person to credit for this awakening. Friends, family, therapists and coaches have all helped me understand and craft this for myself. But I just listened to Vanderkam’s latest book, right as my own first book was coming out, and it hit me that I had unwittingly put into place so many of her time recommendations.
In Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What MattersVanderkam shares more than a set of 9 steps to manage your time. Instead, this book is about managing how you feel about your time. It’s not a tome that tells you how to manage a to-do list or claims you can simply delegate the tasks you despise. Rather, it recognizes that you may be busy for good reason. In light of that, though, it offers strategies that can help you experience your life as rich and full instead of just overscheduled.
I can’t say that I have put all 9 steps into practice but many of them have been essential to helping me open my mind and my schedule for more of what I want. In particular, fifteen minutes of Friday planning has helped me envision the coming week and prioritize personal and work goals. Likewise, moving early in the day has helped me manage stress and start my days off with energy. Finally, the biggest shift came when I started to prioritize what Vanderkam brilliantly calls “effortful fun.”
Though that sounds like an oxymoron, it makes senses. It means fun that takes a little more effort than standard relaxation. I had never heard the term before I read Tranquility by Tuesday but I can tell you that allowing myself to pick effortful fun more often in my life is one of the most important changes I have made.
This is the shift that Vanderkam’s work can help you make. She has five kids, two podcasts, numerous books, and a well-updated blog. Even so, I reached out to her to ask for a quote for the blog and she responded within an hour with this gem for all the lawyers and professionals who read the blog:
I think that one of the biggest misconceptions with demanding jobs is that there isn’t any time for other things. There may not be much, but “not as much as I want” is a very different story from “none.” The first story invites us to study our schedules, and see where this time may be, and how we can make the most of what we have, and scale this up over time. The second story is just defeatist. So the first, which is more truthful, is a better option.
I also think it’s important to look at life in terms of weeks. Individual days might be long. But often, over a week, there is space for the things outside work that make us feel like whole people. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 60 hours a week, and sleep 8 hours per night (56 hours per week) that leaves 52 hours for other things. Again, it is not an infinite amount of time, and you might need to be creative to seize it. But there is likely time for some exercise, reading or hobbies, and quality engagement with family. Think of it as a quest to find this time, rather than dwell on how little there is.
Indeed, lawyers rarely have as much time as we want but most of us have more than none. If you want to learn a few ways to make the most of the time you have, check out Vanderkam’s work and her latest book, Tranquility by Tuesday. I don’t promise that it will change your life, but if it changes your mind on a few things that will be a pretty good start.
Yes, we are supposed to be rule followers. In many cases, we are hired because we are experts of the rules. But anyone who has practiced law knows that there are times when the rules don’t tell us everything. Sometimes the rules shift suddenly. And there are instances when we have to blend creativity and ingenuity to chart a course around, through, or alongside the rules for clients.
This is why lawyers, steeped in rules as we are, are not mere rule followers. Instead, our jobs position us to be badasses. Our role is to help our clients shape the future for their lives, their businesses, or their families.
Much the same way, “badass” may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about mindfulness and compassion. The popular image of mindfulness these days is a blissed out yogi sitting on a cushion. We are more likely to think of our grandmas than a superhero when it comes to the word “compassion.”
That magic ingredient is compassion. It’s a word that I have seen mostly absent from discussions of stress management for lawyers. I think some people have believed lawyers wouldn’t listen. Some may have believed talking about mindfulness by itself would cover the bases.
I wrote it as a short and simple guide to help lawyers (or anyone else) understand the concepts of mindfulness and compassion and build a meditation practice of their own. Having meditated now for nearly a decade, I understand that meditation can be a challenge so the book creates a four-week program for you to build skills and stamina for meditation. As you do the practices, you’ll cultivate mindfulness, compassion, body awareness, and emotional intelligence.
The book includes no metaphysical discussions, little complicated terminology, and is actively and ardently anti-perfectionist. Admittedly, it’s a self-help book but only in the sense that it may offer some new skills, strategies, and ways of thinking that may allow you to help yourself. Explicitly, the goal of the book isn’t to change you in any way. It’s to help you see how awesome you are because your clients, your family, your community, and the world needs it.
Work is something that can provide purpose, personal growth, connection, and community. Sadly, this is not the reality for many American workers. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many American workplaces face challenges, including a lack of staff, mental health struggles, addiction, and more.
On top of this, workplaces may lack appropriate staff, leadership, policies or resources to manage personnel well. This can lead to complaints with government agencies, litigation, or at a minimum workplace turmoil. Compounded across companies, sectors, and time, this can cause huge losses in GDP and incalculable human misery.
This is why the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, released a new framework last week on Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being. In some ways, the framework appears to reckon with the scope of the national mental health crisis. It synthesizes in a 30-page document several indicators detailing how much mental health problems costs individuals and companies.
Fortunately, though, the document also offers a structure of what employers, policymakers, and voters can do to make a change. “Worker Voice and Equity” serves as the hub of the framework, supported by five spokes, including:
Protection from Harm
Connection & Community
Mattering at Work
Opportunity for Growth.
Particular policy recommendations, including for example access to training and feedback, paid leave, and policies limiting out-of-office communications, are recommended throughout. However, the comprehensive and holistic approach to the framework may be most impactful. Because it is rooted in meeting the human needs of workers (safety, connection, growth, and meaning), it acknowledges how various workplace issues intersect.
Indeed, I have often seen discussions of DEI and workplace civil rights separated in the past. The Framework, however, appears premised on the idea that the issues intersect. As such, it suggests that a functional, inclusive, respectful, and collaborative workplace supported by robust policies and benefits is the best way to support employee mental health.
In this way, the framework invites us to reimagine what the American workplace could be. It posits that our society can “build workplaces that are engines of well-being, showing workers that they matter, that their work matters, and that they have the workplace resources and support necessary to flourish.”
Can you imagine what your workplace would be like if that was true? Can you imagine what the world would look like if that was true in most workplaces?
Of course, the work lies ahead for us to build such a reality. But it helps that the highest public health official in the United States has recognized the significance of the issue and offered a vision for how things can improve. The Surgeon General’s Framework is of course only a step in the right direction but it is worth your time to check it out.
If you haven’t yet read the framework document, the following 2-minute video offers a summary and highlights. Check it out here.
There are so many resources, websites, books, and teachers of meditation out there now that it is very likely that, at some point, you may come across one you don’t like. You know what? That’s not really a problem.
There are many different meditation techniques from numerous disciplines. Even though many meditation practices have been studied in a clinical setting, the practice can be deeply personal and spiritual. In this way, it’s a good thing that there are lots of different teachers out there because there is bound to be one or more who speak to your experience.
In this interview, our founder, Claire Parsons, talks with her friend, Talar Heculian Coursey about influential teacher, Eckhart Tolle. Claire isn’t a superfan but Talar is. Check it out to learn more about Tolle’s teachings and style and to consider how teaching style can affect the way you’ve learned mindfulness.
Not into video? No problem. Scroll on down for a full transcript of the video with some links to Talar’s profile and website, as well as the past blog posts and other resources we mentioned.
Claire Parsons (“CP”): All right. Hey, everyone. This is Claire Parsons from the Brilliant Legal Mind blog and we are trying something new this week. We are trying one of our first ever video blog series. So I have with me to Talar Herculian Coursey. And if I said her name wrong, I’m sorry. She’s a good friend of mine from LinkedIn.
I am debunking myths this month on the blog. And so one of the myths that I wanted to debunk in this series is to talk about the idea that what happens when you come across a meditation teacher, you maybe don’t care for that much. If you saw a few weeks ago, I did a post about Kendrick Lamar, his new album and men’s mental health. And in that album, Kendrick Lamar name drops, Eckhart Tolle quite a bit. Eckhart Tolle had been on my reading list for a long time and when Kendrick Lamar you know, mentioned him so much I was kind of intrigued.
So I listened to The Power of Now and my honest opinion, is it it wasn’t amazing to me. I didn’t think it was bad. I didn’t think you said anything wrong. But it just didn’t speak to me. But my friend Talar loves Eckhart Tolle, and so I wanted to have her here to talk about why, just to sort of point out that maybe you don’t like a meditation teacher, but maybe somebody else does and that there’s a lot of different opinions out there about meditation teachers and what works. So we can talk about this so Talar, can you first of all, give me just an overview, a quick snapshot of who you are.
CP: Yeah, congratulations. on that. I just saw that. So that’s amazing. Talar. I know in addition to all of those things, you you have been certified to teach yoga and I know you do have an interest in mindfulness. Can you talk about that? Just a little bit.
TC: Definitely. My, my first introduction to mindfulness was through yoga. And I, I used to refer to it as my moving meditation. And while I do meditate, I use the calm app, and I try to meditate at least 10 minutes every day through the daily 10 minute meditation. I am not very consistent. I do enjoy it, but not as much as yoga so for me, the mindfulness practice of yoga that includes both not just both mind, body and breath, the connection is what really works for me and what I look forward to doing as opposed to sitting down to meditate which confession, even when I do my 10 minute meditations, I do it lying down. I know she tells you straight back, sit up, stay alert. I don’t do it. I don’t follow those instructions. But it works for me.
CP: And yeah, I usually sit up because I don’t want to fall asleep. But I sometimes lay down to meditate and it’s generally okay to find a posture that works for you. She’s probably just telling you to try to be alert on that app, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. So I asked you here to talk about Eckhart Tolle, and I know at some point on LinkedIn, like you had like Eckhart Tolle, like fan girl or devotee or something on your LinkedIn profile. So what is it about Eckhart Tolle that you like so much?
TC: It’s groupie. I am a self proclaimed Eckhart Tolle groupie. I don’t think that group these are just for musical bands. I think that authors can have them too and I and I’m one of his. I would like to think I’m his number one groupie. It’s really hard to say it’s kind of like obscenity you know, when you see it you know, and I guess for Eckhart toll, it’s, it’s when you listen to it, or when you read it. And it’s funny, you mentioned that, you know, you’re not a fan.
My first introduction to Eckhart Tolle was actually in Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier. I don’t know if you’ve read that or if you’re Dan Harris, and he wasn’t a fan either. But I went down that rabbit hole, and actually started with listening to Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Eckhart Tolle. She did you know, I think it was a 10 part series, one podcast episode, per chapter where she interviewed at cart. So I listened to that before I read the book, and I don’t know if perhaps that helped me. Get you know more comfortable with the book. But I have the book in print. I have multiple copies that I gift to people, whether they want it or not. Some people return that gift. It does happen because he’s not for everyone. It’s kind of like caviar. You know, I don’t like caviar, but apparently some people do. I also have the power of now and a new earth on audio.
And so I like going to various chapters on the audio when I’m taking a walk and need to recenter myself. I just I just the way that he explains concepts and what he talks about, really works for me, and specifically, this concept of us being the watcher of the ego. You know, for me when I am trying to practice mindfulness, and not just because I’m trying to meditate or do yoga, really in interpersonal relationships. And conflict, even in communications on LinkedIn. After reading a Eckhart’s work, I will literally take a step back and watch my ego my ego might want to trash talk and complain and and argue but I will take a step back to watch my ego and recognize that it’s my ego that’s having that reaction. And in my opinion, I think most of the time, when we are reactive, you know, that is the ego at work as opposed to your you no mindful, true self. I can’t remember the question, but hopefully somewhere in there I answered.
CP: I think you did. You might have gotten into some of my later questions too, but no worries I can adjust. So, one of the things that in when you say when you talked about this think the thing that I like about Eckhart Tolle was the fact that I think he does explain concepts with a lot of clarity. The thing about his story that I think is the hardest for me is that in everything that I’ve learned about meditation and Buddhism, the enlightenment piece is the thing I struggle with most like I can’t necessarily conceive of it. You know, I’ve read about it, and I understand like, what in general it means, but I think his story is the hard part for me to understand how that just happens.
And so I think, he doesn’t get into the method as much like how to actually do these things. You know, he talks about concepts, but he doesn’t as much explain how to do it. He does get into meditation a little bit. I do like that. He talks about the importance of the body and meditation because I agree that that is very central. But like, that’s the piece that I have a disconnect with. He tells me where what the goal is. And he explains it very clearly. He doesn’t as much tell me how to get there. So when you say that you can watch yourself and your ego because you listen to him. Like can you connect those dots for me at all like in a practical way how his his work helped you do that?
TC: Like, you know, it’s hard to explain and I don’t you know, I don’t disagree with you. I don’t know that. His work. I don’t necessarily think of it as a you know, handbook guide for how to meditate and how to go about life. I think I think of it is more conceptual. And that you know, if you want to really hone in your mindfulness practice, you need to go deeper. You need to, you know, subscribe to your blog and listen to people like you to get the how, I don’t think he necessarily talks about how. I think he’s just painting the picture of where you can get to, and you know.
It’s interesting. I’m gonna go to something else you just said about the enlightenment piece. So I in addition to being Eckhart groupie, I’m also a Jesus groupie. And one of the things that I like about the way Eckhart describes his concepts he does pull in these great teachers, including Jesus, including Buddha, and Muhammad and all these other people. And his point as these concepts already exist and beliefs that you may already have you don’t have to choose one or the other. They’re not mutually exclusive. And he I feel like he describes it in different ways that different members of the audience might be able to understand it and for me as a Jesus groupie his reference to the Holy Spirit resonates with me in terms of enlightenment. So that’s what you know, my goal Nirvana, enlightenment that I’m trying to get to is access to the Holy Spirit within me, and stay true to that rather than the ego of my human form.
And for some people, you know, who don’t follow Jesus there that you know, maybe something else will. I, you know, I don’t think I’m fooling myself. I have had these moments where I feel like I’m back there. I’m literally having this out of body experience. And when I say back there, because I feel like I consider, you know, the ego being the outer shell of my body, not necessarily just in physical form, but the, you know, the animal part of me, and and when I think about having my out of body experience or tapping into the Holy Spirit, I literally envision myself stepping back. You know what I mean?
And watching this other person that happens to be me having this human experience, and that’s what I think that’s one of the other things he says is, he describes us as the spirit having a human experience, you know, and I just, I don’t know for me, it. I really enjoy the kinds of visuals that he represents, and especially as it relates to how much emphasis he puts on connection of all of us, that we are all connected by one Spirit, one energy, you know, and it each one of us is just having a human experience of that energy. So I like that concept and and because I do believe that we are all connected, and I think it’s just not just in our own personal best interests to support that mission. But also for the greater good as well.
CP: So you got a little mystical on me there. And I’m not necessarily I don’t think that’s bad or unimportant because I think those pieces of life matter a lot, but in practical terms, because honestly, the reason I love meditation so much is because it’s practical, and it’s useful. So, you know, for our readers, who are lawyers and professionals, I mean, what are the practical things that his teachings have helped you, you know, do in your life, what are the practical benefits, and you can just list them if it’s easier.
TC: Well, you know, I think it just comes down to one general term. And, and it’s avoiding being reactive. You know, and I think that that’s part of the goal in meditation, as mindfulness is to be able to take that pause and be responsive instead of being reactive. And after reading his work several times and listening to it. I’ve gotten better and better at doing it both in my personal relationships work on LinkedIn in any situations where like, I can feel the fire of reactive, you know, bubbling up, but I’m able to step back and pause. And my personal method, like I said, is questioning you know, the reactivity that I want to deliver, questioning whether that’s my ego or my true self. So that’s, that that’s been how I’ve been able to adopt it. So
CP: Basically, my next question was going to be that, you know, I read the power of now and what other resources would you look to but it sounds to me that you maybe already answered that earlier when you said that interview with Oprah, to kind of go through that and listen to Eckhart talk about his book and what it means maybe in a more personable setting, since Oprah is a miracle worker in terms of her interviews.
TC: Yeah, it was phenomenal. And like I said, I don’t know if I would be such a fan had I not listened to that first because it made work so much more accessible. Okay, great. That’s a good tip. Definitely that one and for anybody who hasn’t read 10% Happier. You know, that was my introduction to mindfulness work, I think, but I really enjoyed that. He’s a good storyteller too.
CP: Well, on that note, I am a fan of Tara Brach and in 10% Happier Dan Harris actually is kind of critical of Tara Brach, too. And I referenced one of this on one of our earlier blog posts, but there’s a later interview of Tara Brach on Dan Harris’s podcast and they discuss that and they have a real nice conversation about how they both learn from that. So I definitely, I think for that reason, I’m probably like not wanting to go after Eckart Tolle and say bad things about him because like, I got really mad at Dan Harris. I was like “really?”
So I try I understand that there’s a lot of differences with respect to how people react to teachers, and that every teacher isn’t for everybody. So that’s kind of why I wanted to do this. So on that note, like if there is someone out there who finds a meditation teacher or reads a book or listens to some guided meditations or whatever, and they just don’t like the teacher, what would you tell them to do? If they were still interested in mindfulness?
TC: Keep looking. Absolutely keep looking. You know what, what I would analogize it to is food. We we all like different things. Just because you like fish and I don’t doesn’t make the fish bad. And you don’t stop eating. You keep searching for what works for you. And, I mean, personally, it’s been suggestions from friends and of course, my husband is also a certified meditation teacher, and he’s the one who first introduced me to Dan Harris and 10% Happier and he’s had a great practice for many years, but I would take suggestions from different people don’t hold it against them if you don’t like it.
I mean, Claire, you and I can still be friends even though you don’t understand how wonderful Eckhart is. He’s not for everyone, and that’s fine. But I think with the amazing amount of literature and people who are available in the mindfulness realm right now, you will find people that you love. It’s the same for yoga teachers with me. There’s, I love yoga, but if I don’t have a teacher, whose voice I like to hear, like if it’s cringy I’m gonna have a terrible practice the same with a meditation teacher, or if I don’t like the way that they are describing the poses or if they’re going too fast, whatever the case.
You know, I, I absolutely think it’s worth the effort to find someone that you like and you enjoy and it doesn’t have to be just one person you can find several. If there’s one thing I could tell my younger self, have a mindfulness practice sooner. In fact, one of my goals is to start a yoga practice at my son’s middle school like once a week 10 minutes to start getting them familiar and use us to mindfulness at a younger age because, you know, I didn’t learn about it until I was in my 40s.
CP: Okay, so Talar I really appreciate you talking to me today and explaining some things that I may have missed with respect to Eckhart, so thank you very much. So just so people can find you. If people do want to find you, where should they look? You can find
TC: Find me most days at the LinkedIn coffee shop, which is just the platform but it’s kinda like a coffee shop, Talar Herculian Coursey. I also have a website, which is wwwtalaresq.com. And if you’re in Salt Lake City where I live, give me a shout just don’t be creepy and follow me home or anything like that. That’s where you can find me.
CP: All right, follow on LinkedIn. Do not follow home. All right, everyone. This is our interview blog with Talar and I really appreciate you taking a watch and checking out the blog. So I hope we’ll have some new stuff up next month including we might have a guest post from to Talar’s husband Bob so stay tuned for that. And we will see you later. Bye.
This month I am focusing on debunking myths relating to mindfulness, compassion, and mental health. After all my years of meditation, I still find myself holding onto a few myths every now and then. One of those myths is that stress is bad for you.
As a lawyer, I have been informally trained to know that stress is a scary thing. The lawyer mental health crisis tells me I have to “manage” my stress. Family, friends, and doctors will tell me to “limit” my stress. And even in my training to become a meditation, yoga, and compassion teacher, I learned that stress can impede us physically and mentally.
She explains scientific concepts in a simple and engaging way that shows she really understands them. She does this so well that, in turn, I feel like I really understand the concepts too. I thoroughly enjoyed The Willpower Instinct and The Joy of Movement and, despite it being only in audio form, learned a ton from her course on compassion.
So, even though the title made me skeptical, I decided to give The Upside of Stress a try. Guess what? It totally changed my mind. And when I say “changed” I don’t mean that it made me suddenly welcome and enjoy all the stress in my life. Instead, it refined my understanding of what stress meant and how it actually worked.
Most of us know the “fight/flight/freeze” reaction as the stress response, as if it was the only response to stress. In Upside, however, McGonigal explains that this is only one possible response to stress and it usually occurs in dire threat situations. This is when stress can harm us physically, impede our performance, and even lead to bad behavior and aggression.
On the other hand, humans can respond to stress in other ways, including the “tend and befriend” or “challenge” responses. In other words, we can learn to care for and forge connections to deal with stress or see a stressful situation as a challenge that can present opportunities. When we respond to stress in these ways, research shows that it can improve performance, cause us to behave more ethically and collaboratively, and create courage, motivation, and energy.
Now, of course, the skeptics out there are likely to wonder why we hear so many dire warnings about stress if it is good for us. McGonigal acknowledges that stress can be bad, even devastating for some of us, but she explains that the popular discourse of stress is often misleading.
One thing that is often left out of these discussions is that our reactions to and mindset about stress can determine how it affects us. That is why so much of The Upside of Stress is devoted to changing the audience’s mind about stress, because just acknowledging that stress can have an upside is the first step to healthy stress management.
When I read this part of the book, I was ever more surprised because I realized I already knew it or had at least experienced it. I had not officially accepted the idea that stress could be good for me, but I had learned through meditation to respond to stress differently.
Rather than ignore, evade, or fight stress, I had learned to regard it as a normal part of life, to accept it as human, and to treat it with care. In other words, meditation had helped me more frequently invoke a challenge or tend-and-befriend response to stress. As McGonigal argues, it didn’t make the stress go away but it made it easier to bear.
If, like most lawyers, you want some help managing stress, consider checking out The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. If the only thing it does is change your mind about stress, that alone could be enough to change your life for the better.
This blog usually encourages you to meditate, but in this post I’m going to make a recommendation that you may not expect: watch some Korean TV. You may have heard or watched Squid Game, but if that’s your only frame of reference you are missing out. Kingdom was a great political period drama but also with zombies. Rookie Historian was a great political period drama but also with the most deliciously awkward romantic subplot I have ever seen. Inspector Koo was a great mystery show but with a female detective so unruly she might make Veronica Mars laugh out loud and blush at the same time.
Even though I don’t really love legal TV dramas, this background compelled me to take note when my lawyer friends started to talk about Extraordinary Attorney Woo, now streaming on Netflix. I’m a school lawyer and have extensive experience with special education matters. One of the neat things I’ve seen evolve during the last decade is the increased attention to disability issues and neurodiversity in popular culture. As the show tells us, Attorney Woo is about a young attorney starting her practice in Korea but she’s an attorney who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
The show is entertaining and it definitely has some of that delicious awkward romantic tension I loved from Rookie Historian. Critically, though, it also educates and advocates at the same time. When I saw this, Haley Moss immediately came to mind.
I have never met Haley, but I was supposed to in March, 2020 when we were both honored by Ms. JD. Unfortunately, the awards ceremony was the same week that states of emergency relating to COVID-19 began rolling out and so I never met Haley. Fortunately, though, I stayed connected with her and watched her work progress.
I reached out to Haley to get her thoughts on the show. Here’s my brief interview with her:
Q: You’ve expressed a favorable reaction to Extraordinary Attorney Woo in past interviews, what about the show is exciting to you?
A: The show definitely pushed some boundaries in a good way, although it isn’t enough and it’s a trend that needs to continue. I love how Attorney Woo has “main character energy” and gets to grow and learn and be her best self like many nondisabled characters do. She isn’t a prop for someone else’s growth. She has friends, hobbies, family – very “typical” things like any other young lawyer should have.
There is a pivotal moment to me where she represents an autistic person and comments on autism perceptions throughout history and how 80 years ago we weren’t worthy of life apparently and casting doubt on Hans Asperger’s legacy (if you didn’t know: he’s problematic – and Woo calls it out!). The show has slowly pushed boundaries, especially by showing someone in the legal field, a woman no less, and that monologue really got me.
Q. Most of us know that lawyer TV shows aren’t always the most realistic, but was there anything about Attorney Woo that spoke to your experience as an attorney?
A: I can’t even comment on the realism too much since we know the Korean legal system and American legal system are not the same! But, how Attorney Woo approaches problem solving and is creative with a different thought process than her colleagues is most similar to what my experiences have been.
Q. In this blog, we focus on mindfulness and mental health topics for lawyers and professionals. What role, if any, does the representation of neurodiversity in popular media have on mental health?
A. Neurodiversity and mental health go hand in hand. I think that’s something that gets lost a lot in both the mainstream neurodiversity conversation and the mainstream mental health conversation – especially for lawyers.
Mainstream neurodiversity has an overarching focus on autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities that may require less workplace support or perceived as superpowers; traditionally this focuses on who society perceives as being more “desirable.” But what media representation we get out of autism, especially in popular media, is limited and often damaging; think Rain Man, a movie that is older than me and lives on in peoples’ minds about what autism is.
Lawyer mental health almost exclusively focuses on depression, anxiety, and substance use – which leaves out people with more highly stigmatized mental health conditions, and ignores the fact that nearly all of these conditions are forms of neurodivergence. In addition, most “traditional” forms of neurodivergence (for lack of a better word; i.e., autism, ADHD, learning disabilities) more often than not do have co-occurring mental health conditions.
Q: If the streaming higher powers bring us an American remake of Attorney Woo, what would you like to see done differently and why?
A: Well, I’d like to consult on it! There are known autistic attorneys in the U.S., so not inviting our perspective would be a massive faux pas. There are also no autistic actors, writers, directors, or creatives involved in the show, which is disheartening. Disability (and autism) representation in Hollywood has always been an inclusion issue that’s poorly addressed. How we’re portrayed also matters.
Q. What other shows, movies or other media (besides your own books which I already plugged) do you recommend for lawyers who want to learn more about neurodiversity at work?
Lots of people tell me that they can’t meditate because they can’t sit still. I usually tell them that they don’t have to sitstill to meditate. Strangely, people also tell me with a similar frequency that they can’t do yoga because they can’t do the poses. Sometimes they say that they can’t balance. Sometimes they say that they aren’t flexible. Sometimes they express a concern that they look silly. In other words, these people tell me the inverse of what the people who can’t sit still during meditation say: that they can’t move the right way during yoga.
When I hear these concerns, one of the first things I say is to acknowledge that I used to struggle with yoga too, but that letting go of the idea that there was a “right way” to move was what helped me learn to love it. One of the practices that helped me do this was restorative yoga. When I finally tried yoga for real, I already had an active meditation practice but it helped me realize I had to develop some ways of caring for my body in addition to my mind.
Though I’d been athletic growing up, I had not worked out consistently in years, so I started with yoga as a way to ease back into movement even though my earlier attempts with it had not been successful. Because I needed time to build up cardio endurance, I had to start with slow and gentle classes first. That’s when I found restorative yoga. Lucky for me, it was enough like meditation that I could enjoy it but different enough that it could serve as a segue into more yoga exploration.
Restorative yoga is a restful kind of yoga. Poses are part of the process, but the poses are supported rather than held. You don’t build strength and balance with the poses. You practice rest instead and you practice letting yourself be supported. In most cases, the poses are done lying on the floor, reclined on props, including blankets, blocks, or bolsters, or resting against the wall or a chair for support. This is because yogis hold the poses in restorative class for at least 5 and often as much as 15 or 20 minutes at a time.
So, why is this good for lawyers? It’s good for a lot of reasons. Restorative yoga practices rest and being supported. Most of us lawyers are in the habit of being active all of the time and doing many things on our own. For this reason, practicing another way of being is a way to offer balance to our lives. In addition, the poses themselves are beneficial to the body. Poses that help open the chest or arch the back may counteract the effects of sitting at a desk all day and inversions may balance hormones and offer relief from the effects of gravity and wearing uncomfortable shoes.
Finally, if you are one of those people who have struggled with meditation because you can’t sit still, restorative yoga may offer a new way to think about mindfulness. The instruction in most restorative classes is just to be in the experience of the pose, to feel oneself resting, and not to drift off in thought.
This is similar to the practice of sitting meditation, but it has some additional physical and restful components that may help you relax into and tolerate the experience more. Even if you enjoy meditation like I do, you may find that restorative yoga is a nice way to mix things up or can offer a chance to find mindfulness when life makes meditation seem a bit too intense.
If you are interested in learning more about restorative practice, you can find it at many yoga studios. Some fitness apps and online platforms, such as Peloton offer it too. In addition, you can easily start a home practice by finding a set of restorative props online.
You can also check out some of the work of Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T. Her book, Relax and Renewoffers pictures and explanations of poses and full sequences to help you do the practices on your own at home.
Just as you don’t have to sit still to meditate, you don’t have to move to do yoga. Restorative yoga offers lawyers the chance to practice rest so that they can find peace in stillness and pay closer attention to how their bodies feel. It is a beautiful practice that offers people in stressful jobs many benefits. Giving you the chance to experience how expansive yoga can be is just one of them.
What happens when you call 988? The program connects you immediately with a trained mental health professional. This is significant because anyone who has experienced any kind of mental health situation knows that there is almost always a waiting period to begin care. Moreover, like any other professional, counselors, therapists, and other mental health providers usually work during normal business hours. Though we have existing emergency services, like fire, EMTs, and police, those officials are not always trained to provide care for mental health needs.
In addition to providing a support for people in need during a mental health emergency, another aspect of the lifeline is normalizing seeking help. The 988 lifeline has media kits and logos for public use and a hashtag #Bethe1To to spread the word about suicide prevention. It also has a collection of stories of hope and recovery from those who have experienced suicidal thoughts or mental health challenges in the past and tools to help those who wish to share their own story. As someone who has written about my own mental health challenges, these are powerful tools for individual healing, building community, reducing shame and stigma, and spreading awareness.
Having experienced mental health challenges myself, I have experienced how hard it can be to recognize symptoms in yourself and to seek out help. For this reason, it is essential to have a lifeline, supports, and education available to empower communities to promote and protect mental health. I am glad that this new tool exists to support lawyers, professionals, and the entire community in the United States with mental health emergencies. Please help spread the word about it.
What is confidence? That question lies at the heart of Russ Harris’ book, The Confidence Gap. Most of us view confidence as a feeling and, in fact, that is how most dictionaries define the term. Oxford defines “confidence” as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.” What this definition doesn’t tell us, of course, is when this feeling should or must emerge. To be confident, is it necessary that one start out that way?
Whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us may assume that this is in fact the case. We may believe that good and necessary action emanates from an unshakable, and perhaps innate, belief in ourselves, our teams, or our values. We may have watched the courageous actions of others from movies, history, or even our own communities that made it appear that their bold acts flowed from confidence. As a result, we may value confidence highly and simply assume that feeling confident is essential to living a worthy life.
This, however, is the very confidence gap that Harris argues against falling into in his book. According to Harris, the confidence gap is the space between action and feelings of confidence. He argues with clarity and wit that many of us believe that feeling confident is a necessary precondition to acting with force and skill. As a result, many of us never begin and take the action necessary to develop true confidence. Over time, this process can accumulate into a cluster of memories and fears that make us feel powerless, stuck, and drained.
The way out of this, according to Harris, is to instead accept the reality that anything challenging in our lives will inevitably cause most of us to feel unsure. In other words, Harris tells us to stop expecting and trying to feel confident from the outset. He suggests that we use mindfulness strategies to help us allow uncomfortable bodily sensations and acknowledge the troubling thoughts that may impede action. Harris suggests that neither thoughts nor feelings are themselves problematic if we can learn to “defuse” from (or not overidentify with) them. As we go through this challenge and take on new risks, Harris also explains that a healthy amount of self-acceptance (or self-compassion as I would call it) is essential.
To that end, much of the book is devoted to describing strategies for defusing in detail, including my favorite, which is to sing your nasty inner commentary to yourself to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or to type the statements out and put them in a funny font. I mean, doesn’t the phrase “I’m going to ruin my life.” seem less threatening when you type it out in pink Comic sans? And don’t these well-worn self-doubt phrases seem a little less dire when you sing them to yourself in the tune of “Happy Birthday”: “I’m a terrible mom. I’m a bad attorney. I am a total failure. My life is a mess.”
They sure do. Because, as Harris suggests, the words and the feelings don’t have power in themselves. They only have power because they can create discomfort in us that can stun us into inaction. If we can use mindfulness strategies, however, to give ourselves some space and grace in the midst of that discomfort, we can still learn to move forward in the midst of discomfort. That’s when we find confidence because we learn that fear can come but it doesn’t have to hold us back. In this way, Harris suggests that confidence is in reality a process rather than a feeling.
You could learn a lot of the lessons from The Confidence Gap without reading the book. In fact, I liked the book because it seemed to explain back to me in logical and research-based terms what I had experienced in my own life. I had always struggled with self-doubt and overthinking, but started to work my way out of those habits with years of mindfulness practice. Eventually, I learned my pattern: I would feel a rush of inspiration to try a new thing, then set out to try it, and then feel scared and want to quit. After a while, my mindfulness practice became established enough that, instead of quitting or never starting at all, I learned how to not accept as true every thought that came to mind, care for my fear, and keep going. Over time, I noticed how often my fears were exaggerated and how rarely they affected my actual performance. Now, even though few new challenges go by where I don’t experience some fear and doubt, I am far more confident in myself because I know what to do with the fear and doubt. Now, I just bring it along for the ride instead of letting it drive the bus.
The Confidence Gap is a useful read because it can help you sort out the mélange of thoughts, sensations, and expectations that arise in the space between ideas and actions. The analysis in the book may help you understand what confidence really means for you and the strategies may help you avoid letting the confidence gap turn into a lifelong (or maybe just too long) inaction rut. So, if you want more confidence in your life or to understand the subject better, check out The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris for insightful analysis, useful strategies, and a much-needed examination of what confidence means.