Can Mindfulness Help You Find Polaris? Our Founder’s Interview with Author and Coach Bob Levant

It should come as no great surprise that someone who loves writing enough to have written a book and founded a blog loves to talk about writing. But do you what’s even better? Talking about writing with another writer.

This week, I got to do that two times in one day. On Wednesday I recorded a podcast for The Write Approach podcast with my lawyer friend and fellow author, Jeremy Richter. (Stay tuned for that one. It should be released soon.) That evening, I also got to talk to coach, author, and former attorney Bob Levant for the Iron Advocate Mindset Virtual Book Club.

The conversation with Bob was great because, like me, he’s also a fan of mindfulness. He does yoga regularly and explores the concept in his own book, Finding Polaris. Since as Bob describes, he covers the topic in less of a “deep dive” than my book, we get into some of the finer points in this interview.

During the interview, we discuss things like loneliness, managing fear and anxiety, and break down why mindfulness and compassion can help with these things. I had such a good time talking with Bob and reading his book that I wanted to share the interview with you here.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog here or follow us on social media:

Tortured No More: How Drinking Less Alcohol Helped Me Write My First Book

Our culture has this trope of the long-suffering tortured artist. There’s this idea that creativity comes from strife and is fueled by addiction and misery. I don’t say things like this often, but I want that idea to die.

First, it’s not true. Sure, there are many wonderful artists who struggled with or even lost their lives or careers to addiction, but there are also many, such as Anne Lamott, Stephen King, or the musician, Riopy, who went into recovery and thrived professionally after. Second, the idea is dangerous because it suggests that creative living is off limits to people who want to have a happy life.

I get upset about both issues because I experienced the opposite of what the trope claims. I experienced an extreme uptick in my creativity after limiting alcohol. In addition, the expansion of my creative efforts has resulted in more happiness, not more suffering.

This year I hit a major life milestone: I wrote and published my first book. I didn’t quite sell as many copies as Stephen King (yet) and I admit that I didn’t say anything nearly so perfect as Anne Lamott did in Bird by Bird. But, by god, I wrote a damn book. I wrote a book while practicing law, raising kids, managing a blog, and surviving two job changes in my household at the same time. I wrote a book even though I could have easily continued to think about it, as I had done for many years before.

Like the trope, this book had its origins in some suffering. It came from my own struggles with mental health and it was inspired by some of the darkest moments in my life. In addition, so many steps that led to me writing the book came out of the angst, grief, and upheaval of the pandemic. Oddly, one of those steps was the realization that I had relied too much on alcohol during the initial months of social distancing.

This is where the trope of the suffering and addicted artist explodes. Other than my initial bout with shame and denial, I didn’t have a torturous experience addressing my alcohol usage. Instead, I implemented some reasonable limits and supports, noticed an improvement, felt good, so kept going. At no point in the decision-making process did I consider limiting drinking because I wanted to be “more productive.”

That’s exactly what happened though. No, I didn’t get more productive in the breakneck way. I didn’t sacrifice sleep, or fun, or time away from my computer. Instead, I found a few extra hours here and there at night and on weekends where I felt like writing.

Think about it. When do most of us drink? Nights and weekends. When do most lawyers have free time to write and pursue personal hobbies or goals? You got it. Nights and weekends. When I started limiting how frequently I drank, I created more pockets of time in which I felt energetic and clear-minded enough to write. And, when things calmed down a bit and I had longer stretches, I could reliably bank a few thousand words at a time until I had a book.

Perhaps this story isn’t as interesting as the long-suffering artist, but it’s a whole lot more hopeful and in more ways than one. It suggests that steps to major life goals might, for any of us, be just around the corner. It suggests that doing the everyday basics to take care of oneself may be one way to reach the highest heights.

And here’s the best thing. Maybe I was a bit of a suffering artist in the early days of the pandemic. Maybe I used alcohol somewhat to avoid the suffering I believed I couldn’t handle. When I decided to make a change, the suffering didn’t swallow me up. Instead, it forced me to grow and make space for something new. It’s easy to get caught up in our habits or the tropes of identity, but it’s possible to break out of them. Even better, it feels really good when you do.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog here or follow us on social media:

Book Review: The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

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.

But, then I came upon a book by Kelly McGonigal with a title that proclaims that stress is good for me. Her book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It seemed to fly in the face of everything I thought I knew. The thing is, though, that I adore Kelly McGonigal’s work.

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.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog here or follow us on social media: