Follow The Show

Follow or subscribe now so that you don’t miss an episode!

Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsStitcherTuneInAmazon MusiciHeartRadioOvercast

Episode 143: Emotional Regulation Skills (Every Lawyer Needs)

by Heather Moulder | Life & Law Podcast

The practice of law can be all-encompassing, which isn’t exactly great for your emotional wellbeing. Today, learn how to combat that by improving your emotional regulation skills with counselor and lawyer Bena Stock.

Because how you feel impacts everything – from how you make decisions to your most important relationships. And when you change how you feel, you can change not just your decision-making but your results.

Here’s what my discussion with Bena covers:

  • A foundational (yet often surprising) reason why so many attorneys end up stressed, anxious and depressed.
  • The role perfectionism plays in attorney stress and anxiety.
  • Why emotional regulation is KEY to attorney happiness (and how to start improving your emotional regulation skills immediately).

Episode Transcript

[00:00:48] Heather: The practice of law can be all-consuming, which you well know by now, right?

I think it’s a big reason why attorneys face such high levels of burnout and why attorneys, generally speaking, have much higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and even substance abuse problems than the average population. So the question becomes, how do you combat that? And is it really possible? The answer is a resounding yes, it is possible. And that is exactly why I brought today’s guest onto the podcast.

Because today we are tackling that very issue, and I want to introduce you to our guest.

Today’s guest is Bena Sock. She is a former litigation lawyer with over two decades of legal experience in professional negligence and insurance defense. While working for the lawyer’s Indemnity fund of BC, Bena discovered that the role she enjoyed most was helping lawyers with the emotions that sometimes accompanied reporting an error or a possible error. This led her to retire from law so she could obtain a master’s degree in counseling and make lawyer well being her career focus.

Bena is the founder of the lawyer mindset and is a registered clinical counselor. As a believer in strength based counseling, she helps clients discover and build on their strengths while learning new strategies to overcome all the challenges of being a lawyer.

[00:02:13] Bena: Thank you so much for having me, Heather. I am delighted to be here.

[00:02:17] Heather: Well, I’m really excited to have you because a couple of reasons. Number one, I’ve never had an actual licensed counselor on here. Usually it’s life coaches or business coaches or lawyers or somebody in another similar capacity. So I think it’s important to have somebody on to talk about some of the issues we’re going to talk about today, and especially since, and I’m sure we’ll get into this today at some point.

A lot of lawyers seem to have this thing around, not wanting to get the help they clearly need. So I do want to just highlight there, we will get into that as though somehow reaching out to somebody is a failure or a weakness or something like that. And then also, I find it interesting that you were a practicing lawyer for a number of years and then found it in your heart to change careers. And this isn’t one of those careers a lot of people go into from being a lawyer.

So why don’t we start there?

I’m really curious about what made you become a lawyer and then what kind of transformed you into your current career path.

[00:03:24] Bena: I’m looking forward to talking about the mental health challenges that many lawyers struggle with and the resistance to reaching out for help. Absolutely. And maybe by explaining a bit of my journey that will encourage people to feel more comfortable to reaching out for help.

My undergrad was in psychology, and I went to law school after my psych degree. And while in law school, I discovered that there was a medical legal clinic. And I thought, wow, this would be a really interesting way to marry my interest in science and health with my interest in law.

And then I learned there was a law firm in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I’m from, that was provincial counsel for the Canadian Medical Protective association. It’s a little different in Canada, the way we defend physicians. And so I targeted that law firm, and I was fortunate enough to get articles there and be kept on. I stayed there for 21 years doing medical negligence defense work, along with some insurance defense work as a litigator and the medical piece, I really enjoyed that.

I’ve always kept my interest in health and medicine and in psychology, and then the opportunity to go in house with the lawyers Indemnity Fund, the law society BC, fell in my lap. And after 21 years of being a courtroom lawyer and getting kind of tired of the package deal that goes along with it. My husband’s a commercial litigator, and so two lawyers raising two children, it’s a lot of work.

I thought, well, maybe it’s not law that I want to leave, maybe it’s litigation. And so I went in house, and it was a relatively easy transition because it was the same type of law. It was professional negligence defense work.

And it was while I was there, as you said in your intro, that I really got to understand the stress and the psychology that went behind people – lawyers – who were struggling to maintain either their practice or they were concerned about being sued or concerned about a complaint being made.

The way the lawyers indemnity fund works is that a lawyer would report a mistake or a possible mistake, and the file would then be, say, transferred to me, and maybe the report was on a Friday, and I would contact the lawyer on a Monday. Invariably, that lawyer would have spent the weekend tearing apart every single file they had in their practice, looking for something else they may have missed. They hadn’t slept for 48 hours. They were basically on the ceiling. And I would say, you know what?

It’s going to be okay. I’ve seen this before. We’re going to do a, b, and c, and the outcome is likely to be one, two, or three. And I could feel the anxiety decrease as I was on the phone. So I started thinking, if this is the part of the job that you really like, maybe you better look into this while you still have some runway to make a career.

So I went to counseling. I hired a coach who had experience in transitioning lawyers out of law, and I eventually made the leap to go back to school and get a master’s degree in counseling.

[00:07:03] Heather: Okay, so two things there. First off, I’m curious. What made you want to be a lawyer in the first place? You did psychology in undergrad, and then you chose to go to law school, and then eventually, you went back into what you first started with. So what made you, or do you even know, what made you pick the law in the first place?

[00:07:25] Bena: It’s a disappointing answer, according to my children, who, in high school, they have to explain why their parents do what they do.

The truth is, I finished psychology. I took a year off, and I thought, what am I going to do with my life?

Maybe I’ll write the LSAT. Maybe I’ll apply to law school. I got in. Maybe I’ll go.

Unlike you, I know that you had a desire to become a lawyer from a very young age. I didn’t know any lawyers.

I really had no idea what was involved. And it, of course, was a real rude awakening.

Practice is not at all like law school, as many of your listeners know.

And I think that’s probably why I was so attracted to the medical defense piece, because it really allowed me to feel like I was making a difference in helping people, and it allowed me to marry those two interests.

[00:08:22] Heather: Yeah. I was going to say, before you even said it, it seemed like the perfect marriage between what you had trained to do and what you were really interested in.

Okay. The other thing that I’d love to get into a little bit more is this idea of the package…

The “package” deal of being a lawyer.

Say a little bit more about what you mean by that.

[00:08:49] Bena: I think sometimes we don’t know what we’re buying unless we’ve come from a family where there’s some lineage of lawyers or we know lawyers. And even that, I think that it can be a surprise.

The loneliness, the isolation.

Even if you’re working at a large firm and you get along with the people that you’re working with, you spend an awful lot of time by yourself, whether you’re a litigator, whether you’re a solicitor. I think that that is a big piece that people don’t necessarily expect.

And I think the all-consuming nature of the job is something that is really challenging to people.

That it’s not like if you’re a dentist and you do a root canal, you go home and you enjoy your evening with your family. You don’t really, I don’t think, ruminate about the root canal that you performed earlier that day. Whereas in law there’s always something to think about. Even if you are one of those lawyers who checks everything off on your checklist, which I don’t know if there’s anybody who actually does that, because it’s forever evolving each day.

And then to try to pair that with having a personal life, raising a family, it can be really difficult. And one of the ways you can succeed at doing that is by setting boundaries. But lawyers aren’t.

Let me rephrase that. We have a lot of opportunity for growth when it comes to setting boundaries. So I think that it can become a little overwhelming, especially to the junior lawyers.

And that’s why we see such high attrition rates in the first ten years of practice, and why we also see the high rates of burnout and the high rates of addiction and stress and depression and anxiety in the first ten years of practice. I mean, that is the cohort that is the most vulnerable.

Changing Your Perception

[00:10:57] Heather: Yeah, a couple of things. Although I’ve definitely known people in those places post-ten years. But I think that there are a fair number of people who leave within that ten years to at least bring those numbers down, which I find sad. Because some of those people maybe are meant to leave.

We all choose to go to law school and become lawyers for very different reasons. But if you chose it with real purpose and there are things about the practice you enjoy, I find it sad how many people leave because they think they just can’t, “hack it”. I’ve heard that a lot. And I don’t think that’s true.

It’s just learning how to approach it differently and train your brain to think about it differently. I think at the end of the day.

But this idea of the package that you put forth is we tend as lawyers to think, “Well, this is just the way it is.” As though we have to put up with it as opposed to looking at it from the perspective that we would take for our clients, which is…How can I solve this? This is a problem. How can I solve it so that it’s better, so that I improve upon it?

For whatever reason, we don’t apply those analytical, creative thinking, problem solving skills to our own lives and practices. And I think that’s really ultimately the solution.

[00:12:27] Bena: I agree. And the approach that you said you can take a different approach, and that’s one of the answers, is so very true. And there’s a multitude of reasons perhaps why we don’t necessarily apply that to ourselves.

Lawyers are, the majority of lawyers are people pleasers, and we really fear disappointing people. And you’re right, can’t hack it, can’t cut it is something that is sort of an umbrella that covers a lot of folks in the practice.

Using Flexibility To Your Benefit

But the reality is that our situation is often way more flexible than we perceive it to be. And this might come up for you in your coaching practice. I know it comes up for me in my counseling practice where somebody, whether they’re within that tenure group or later, really feels that it’s just not sustainable. And I said, well, have you thought about options?

I’ll just back up for a second. Lawyers are so great at black and white thinking, the all or nothing thinking. Like, it’s either got to be this or nothing. I’m either a success or for me, often I hear I’m going to end up living in a box under one of the local bridges, like there’s no gray zone.

[00:13:47] Heather: It’s amazing to me how many lawyers think in those terms. And even though they’ve been very successful and there’s no way they would allow that to ever happen, because they’re high achievers and they don’t allow their brain to interrupt and go, whoa, whoa, no, you’d do something about it before you’d get there.


[00:14:05] Bena: And so I’ll have these conversations with some of my clients and say, well, perhaps you can reduce your hours. Oh, I don’t think I could do that. Well, have you asked? And I will always say, if you don’t ask, the answer is already no.

First of all, the research does show that our situation is much more flexible than we believe but I’ve got a personal story to share that demonstrates that it was late 90s law was very rigid. I’d returned after my first Matt leave to back to back trials. They all went. They didn’t finish. My husband was a litigator. I was paying my nanny probably. She was netting almost as much as I was like with the overtime.

And I thought, I just can’t do this anymore.

And so I went to lunch with my mentor, who was the managing partner of the firm at the time, and I handed him my resignation.

And he read it and he looked at me and he said, no. And I said, I’ve never done this before, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. And he said, no. I’d like you to take some time and draft a proposal for reduced hours. I said I didn’t think that was even an option. And his answer was, well, it depends on what you draft. It took some time, but eventually I was able to work reduced hours partially from home. VPN was brand new. We’re talking the late ninety s.

And so really I encourage people rather than leaving to look for alternatives because you often can make things work.

[00:15:45] Heather: There’s a couple of things there that you highlight so clearly. Number one,

We assume it’s that black and white, all or nothing.

Instead of stepping back and going, wait, what are all the options available? How could I? And actually laying them out and thinking them through to me, that’s always step one, like identify the options, which is a big hurdle to get over. Right? But I think the next hurdle is even bigger.

The next hurdle is then being willing to be the person to be different, to do it differently, to do it your own way.

So my guess, because I see this all the time, I’m sure you do a lot, like practically in every client you’ve ever had, potentially, because this is so common in lawyers. And I think this is really the crux of what causes all these other, all the stuff that going on inside of our heads that convinces us to just keep going along until it’s no longer sustainable and then quitting or driving ourselves into anxiety, depression, coping mechanisms that are not healthy, that kind of a thing. Right?

So when you are presented with somebody and they say, okay, there are options, but I’m not sure, or I don’t think I could do it, what would be the first step for you in helping that person take that next step and do things differently?

[00:17:17] Bena: That’s such an excellent question because you’re absolutely right. We do get entrenched in our perceptions. And the first step I’ll often take is to encourage people to recognize that even if you’re a lawyer and it’s your job to be perceptive, sometimes you’re wrong.

Not all your thoughts are true.

Let’s just step back and check in on those thoughts.

What’s the evidence to support what you’re thinking? Is there any evidence to the contrary? Are there other people who have a practice that you would like to emulate, that you think would work for you? Who are those people? What do they do? How have they done it differently?

And so the first step is really to focus on what our perceptions are and how we think about the situation.

The next step is to include what you think about yourself.

If you are to take this step, what does that say about you?

Because perfectionism is socially sanctioned in law, and you’re nodding.

[00:18:40] Heather: It is because we’re all perfectionists, right? And we all feed off of it. And I think for me, and I’d love to know your perspective on this, but it feels to me like those of us who are drawn to the.

We care so much about how we’re perceived, that that’s the real issue. Because of that, we want to be the best. We want to be the ones that always have it together.

Our outward projection is perfect, yet that alone is problematic. But even worse is we feel, because we’re so much like that all the time, our minds inside. No, we’re not. Right? And so it’s counteracting it with, but you’re not really like this, and here’s all the evidence for it.

And then it creates this fear around what will others think? How will they judge me? What will they say about me? What will they think of me if I admit to a mistake, if I admit how I really feel, that I’m not always happy or that I’m miserable. What if I reached out for help for something, whether it’s with a coach for business development coaching, or a counselor for anxiety and depression, right?

And so we tend to talk about perfectionism as one thing and overthinking as another thing and all these different things. To me, they’re just almost like different flavors of the same meal at the end of the day. They all come from how we think about how we’re perceived and how we show up and what others might say. We’re so worried about that. And if we could just get over that, we could let go of so much of it.

Perfectionism Is A Weight

[00:20:43] Bena: That is so true. There’s been a lot of writing about perfectionism and how it really.

It’s a weight, right? Like, if you think of a ball and chain around your ankle, that really is what perfectionism is for many lawyers. And the perception, how we want to be perceived is sort of the overriding know, Brene Brown talks a lot about perfectionism, and she says it’s a way of thinking that if I look perfect, work perfect, and act perfect, I can avoid criticism, judgment, and blame or shame, which, of course, is an emotion that no one wants to, you know, full disclosure, I am a recovering perfectionist.

[00:21:33] Heather: So am I.

[00:21:36] Bena: We have something called a professional legal training course in BC that all articleing students must complete before they’re called to the bar.

And I remember my instructor telling me that I was trying to be plough perfect, and I was so misguided. I thought that he was complimenting me at the time. He clearly was sending me a message, like, you need to dial it back.

So I think, yes, there’s definitely that concern about what will people think really is. What it comes down to. I think added to that as well is a fear of failure.

For the most part, lawyers have worked really hard to get to where they are. We have excellent work ethic. We want the best for our clients. We will go to so many lengths to serve them and meet expectations.

And that fear of failure can be so overwhelming, and it can be paralyzing.

And I will often go to law firms, and I do a lot of presentations at law firms, and I’ll go there to talk about time management and procrastination and what I’m really talking about. And what I end up talking about is what you and I are talking about right now, and that is perfectionism, because that fear of failure, maybe you have to draft a factum or some submissions or an agreement, and you’re just not really sure what the next step is. Maybe somebody has to review it. Maybe the stakes are really high. So you postpone. You postpone. You postpone, right? And then as you do that, you start to beat yourself up. You become more anxious.

That erodes your self confidence, which then increases your fear of failure, and it becomes a vicious cycle. So there’s several elements, I think, that come to play, and it really can be helpful if we start to shine a light on the reality that:

You’re not alone.

I don’t know about you, but I waited for somebody to tap me on the shoulder and say, hey, you know, you’re nice, but we made a mistake.

[00:23:47] Heather: Yes, you said something earlier that is so true – how isolating the practice is. And that was one thing that really did surprise me, because, you know, when you grow up watching the procedural shows and it’s always the lawyers in court around people and even the behind the scenes, they’re always in groups, right? And yes, there are times where you’re working with groups, but most of the time you’re doing your work on your own.

And that was a little surprising to me, which wasn’t a big issue for me because I’m more introverted. But even as an introvert, you need to be able to shine that light by talking to people.

Shining a light isn’t just about, by the way, reaching out for help. That’s part of it, like an expert. But it’s also talking to colleagues and peers and people you can trust about how you feel, what you’re struggling with, the questions you have, all of that.

And the thing that it was amazing to me once I started doing that is how much better all of this other stuff got. Because all of a sudden you realize, oh, my God, nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m normal. This is totally okay. I’m not an imposter. I’m not a fraud. I’m not all these things that I was thinking and all of that stuff just gets exacerbated and spins out of control when it stays inside of your mind.

[00:25:11] Bena: Yeah, that is so true. If you tell yourself that it’s just me and then there’s something wrong with me, that can be debilitating. And for your listeners, it is not just you. I think it’s so important to normalize what we’re talking about. You are definitely not alone. And I think that particularly now, I don’t know what era we can call this post Covid. We’re seeing a lot of disconnection, particularly for those people who perhaps have onboarded during the pandemic. They haven’t had the opportunity to develop and nurture those kinds of relationships. Or maybe they’re working hybrid and they’re not in the office as often.

I can’t emphasize enough how important and valuable it is to start to create these micro communities.

And if you’re a sole practitioner, I get it, it can be difficult, but join organizations, get a mentor. If you’re senior, start mentoring somebody junior, start to develop and nurture these relationships because you need to be able to walk down the hall, plop yourself in somebody’s guest chair and say, oh, my God, I just need to vent and then have somebody say, oh, that sucks.

[00:26:30] Heather: And guess what? I’ve been through something like that. And you start to figure out, oh, I’m not alone. That is an interesting – with the rise of these hybrid work arrangements and more and more remote working – I am hearing more and more how disconnected people are feeling because of it.

The Challenges Posed By Remote/Hybrid Work Arrangements

Everybody loves the fact that they can be more “flexible” in life, working from home. But there is a drawback. I’ve had a whole episode this season on the drawback of remote working. And if anybody out there is working in a hybrid arrangement or remote working, I highly encourage, if you haven’t heard that episode, to go listen to it because it gives you some tactical things that you can start doing.

You are in control of your career, your practice, your life. And if you are in that type of arrangement, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to always be alone and isolated, but there are things you need to proactively do for yourself.

I also encourage firms out there who have those. You need a better structure around mentorship and creating those micro communities within people. It is not okay to just allow it to just be and make people kind of figure it out for themselves. You will not have prosperous employees in the long term if you do it that way, because human beings need to belong, including where they work. And there is no ability to create belonging and connection if you don’t proactively work to do it. So that’s my spiel for that. I’m very adamant.

I get into arguments with my husband sometimes over this very issue because he’s always been a remote, kind of pro remote worker. And I’m like, yeah, but there are drawbacks. Like, you can’t look at it and say there aren’t drawbacks and you have to deal with them proactively.

[00:28:19] Bena: I agree. And it’s a two way street. Like you said, you are in charge of your career. You get to choose how to make successful. And if you’re a junior lawyer, if you’re younger, seek support, ask questions, be not the squeaky wheel so that you become annoying, but talk to other people. Start to develop relationships, right.

I often hear from senior people that they try to establish those relationships and they extend the olive branch, but nobody takes them up on those offers. And that can be difficult. If you’re senior. Please do reach out, check in with the junior people, and by the way, tell them they’re doing a great job. That’s one thing that’s missing in law, is that positive feedback that the no news is good news approach is terrible helpful.

[00:29:17] Heather: It’s not a good management technique, people.

Giving Feedback As A Senior Attorney

By the time this podcast comes out, I think my top ten management mistakes podcasts will come out. And one of those is that very thing, like, you’ve got to give feedback. And feedback does not mean criticism. It means everything, including the good with regularity, so that people know where they are and how they’re doing and also can hear the good and figure out how to leverage what they do well in everything else that they.

[00:29:52] Bena: Absolutely, absolutely.

Adam Grant says it really well. He says when you give feedback, one of the important things to do is to let the person know that you have the confidence that they have the capacity to achieve what you’re asking them to do. And so it’s really important for us to encourage people to strive and to let them know what they’re doing well. And yeah, we do need to learn and grow, and so we need to let them know what they can do better and why. And also the big picture. Right? So, especially if you work in a large law firm, sometimes you’ll be delegated just a small slice of a file. I think it’s really important for people to understand the big picture. And that goes back to the belonging, that sense of belonging that you spoke about earlier.

[00:30:45] Heather: Yeah, absolutely.

Okay, so we go back to, I think it was in the introduction where you chose, or at least when you started to make this decision. I think I want to go back and use my psychology and help lawyers because you were seeing how they were reacting emotionally in extreme ways due to mistakes, due to errors.

And here’s the deal, y’all. We all make mistakes and errors. We all sometimes make big ones. Like, I don’t think there’s a lawyer who’s practiced for ten or more years who hasn’t made at least one big mistake, and many small ones.

Cure For Making Mistakes As A Lawyer: Emotional Regulation Skills

And we all know where the brain goes when that happens, right? We start to double check everything. We overanalyze everything. We obsess over the mistake. We just go into that rabbit hole that puts us in a box in the street. And I saw, I think it might have been on your blog, a discussion around emotional regulation.

I’m guessing that comes into play when these types of things happen. So let’s talk about that for a minute. What do you mean by emotional regulation?

What Is Emotional Regulation?

[00:31:55] Bena: I’m so glad you asked that question, because it is a foundation. You have spoken about drinking from the fire hose, and that is often a day in the life of a lawyer. You walk in maybe you have the best intentions. You’ve got your to do list, and you don’t get to even one item on that list because something has blown up and gone sideways. Right?

And so if we are not emotionally regulated, we react, and we’re kind of like the person putting our finger in the hole of the dam. We’re reacting to situations as opposed to stepping back, taking a deep breath, and choosing how we’re going to respond to a situation.

And I think that if we want to be successful in law and in our personal lives, it behooves us to be able to take those few moments and ground ourselves and decide how we’re going to respond.

And so what often happens in law is that we’re putting fires out all of the time, and we may not be putting the right fires out in the right way, making the right decisions in the right way, and then that contributes to that cycle of, oh, my God, what if I made a mistake? I should have done this differently. It also compromises relationships. Right.

Quite often what happens is we can hold it together while we’re at the office, and then we come home and emotional regulation goes out the window.

[00:33:36] Heather: That’s when you scream at the spouse for not loading the dishwasher correctly or having a jacket over a chair or like these stupid little things. Right. And you have these massive fights over them.

[00:33:51] Bena: Absolutely.

Developing/Improving Your Emotional Regulation Skills

And I think that one of the things that can be really helpful strategies and solutions is something that you and I both talk to our clients about, is I often, when I teach emotional regulation, I invite people to think of a bell curve, standard bell curve, and at each end is a green zone. And that is when you’re feeling fine, right. Nothing is causing anxiety.

Ask 3 Key Questions

And I like to ask people to ask themselves three questions, what am I thinking? What am I feeling? And what am I doing when I’m in the green zone?

And then we have the yellow zone. Ask those same three questions. That’s when I start to vibrate. That’s when I start to feel like the world is speeding up. That’s when I start to panic, because there’s all of these things on my to do list, and this needs to be filed by this date, and how am I going to get it all together? And then what am I thinking, doing and feeling when I’m in the red zone at the top of a bell curve?

And I use the bell curve example because this information can be flags. It can be informative. Right.

When I am going up the curve, what is happening to me? And what information can I take. That’s going to allow me to come back down to base, to come down to the green zone so I can be reflective, so I can make thoughtful decisions and choices in my practice and in my personal life.


[00:35:25] Heather: Yeah. What I’m hearing from all of this is at the end of the day, the emotional regulation is awareness, a self awareness piece so that you can see and feel, oh, I am in the yellow zone right now. Don’t want to get into the red. Let’s step back and figure out a way I can get back into the green. Right.

Intentional Choice

And there’s self awareness and self reflection in it and then intentionality of choices. And the whole point is to get to that place where you can be intentional.

Because when we are reactive, we are not intentional. And all those people out there who are thinking, yeah, but it’s just so busy. I’ve got too much going on. I don’t have time for it. We tend to think that everything’s happening to us. And what I love about asking those three questions, and it only takes a minute or two to do, I’m sure, right.

Step back, take a few deep breaths and ask the questions and answer them. It opens your eyes, I would think, to what’s my part in this at this point? Because you cannot change what’s happened, but you can identify what was I doing in that situation that has actually helped and contributed to leading me here. And had I done this, then I could be in a better place because that drinking from the fire hose, jumping from one emergency to another, all of that is often not just because of external stuff, it’s because of how we’re reacting to those things as well.

And so when we take the reactivity out and get more intentional, it automatically starts to lessen that.

[00:37:05] Bena: Absolutely. And the goal is, if you are able to be intentional, you can avoid the red zone. Right. It takes a lot of work.

Improving Emotional Regulation Skills Changes Habits Over Time

You’re asking yourself to change your patterns, and that’s what change is often about. It’s disrupting those patterns. And so starting small, don’t start it when you’re in a crisis, start it really small and try it out and start to build those new neural pathways so that you can be intentional. And pausing becomes part of your practice. And it really doesn’t take long. You’re absolutely right. It just takes less than a minute.

Neuroplasticity & Habit Change

[00:37:52] Heather: And I would love to address this attitude. And I don’t know if you get this a lot, but I’ve gotten it in the past of. Well, but this is a habit that I can’t break, because this is just the way I am. It’s the way I’ve always been. As though it can never change.

Well, it will never change if you feel like that and you continue to argue with yourself over it in that way.

I like to explain to my clients that whole neural pathway that we used to think the brain can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Not true when it comes to humans, at least probably not dogs either. But the brain doesn’t work that way. The brain is amazing, and you can teach it new things and you can create new behaviors over time.

I like to think of it as – we’re big hikers in our Family.

So let’s say you’re hiking on a path, right? And it’s a very clear path because everybody takes the same path, but there’s an old path that would lead you to the same place more quickly, and you can see it a little bit, but it’s massively grown over. Well, if you choose to take that path, you and your family are not all of a sudden going to make a new path, right? Or going to make it not grown over and beautiful. But if people continually after you keep coming and coming and stop the other path, the other path is going to become more grown over, and that path will clear out.

That’s how I like to think, how it works with habits and the way the neural pathways work in your brain, it doesn’t necessarily mean all of that old stuff goes away. You may still lapse upon occasion, and that’s okay. It happens. You’re human. But you can always choose with intention to go on that new path. And the more you do it, the more it strengthens.

[00:39:34] Bena: Yeah, you are absolutely right. A lot of what I teach, majority of what I teach is evidence based, and neuroplasticity is evidence based. If your listeners want a brief, less than two minute great video, I suggest they google S-E-N-T-I-S neuroplasticity and explains what you’ve just explained. And I love that you mentioned paths, because when I try to disrupt patterns or encourage people to disrupt patterns, I like to tell silly stories and I talk about cow paths.

Cows are creatures of habit. I do. If you’ve ever seen cow paths in a pasture, right, the cows take the same path from the pasture to the barn to get shelter, food, water.

And we are no different. We all have our own go to regular ways of thinking and doing things. And I’d like people to pause and pay attention. That’s the first step to what their cow path is.

And it can be something as simple as, here I am at the fork in the road today. Let’s take the path that’s been a little overgrown and let’s just see how it’s different. Right? It could simply be I’m going to start my day a little differently. I’m going to reflect on what I didn’t get done yesterday and ask myself, are there any patterns to things that I don’t get done? And just pause. Maybe that’s going to be something that’s different for you in your practice. It could be pausing before you open the door when you come home from work, right?

My kids are grown, but when they were teenagers, I would come home from work and sometimes I would see the teenagers, their friends in the family area, and they’d been having a great afternoon. Watching tv and spending time together in the kitchen would be a disaster. And I’ve got to come home and I’ve got to cook dinner.

[00:41:26]And so I taught myself emotional regulation. Pause. Take a breath before I open the door and be grateful for the fact that my kids are safe in my home with their friends having a great time and choose a different way of responding.

[00:41:42] Heather: Okay, so a lot of the things we’ve talked about today are practical. They relate to tools that can be utilized. All great.

Sometimes, however, doing it on your own, using tools might not be enough.

When should people seek out help, whether it be from a coach or a therapist/counselor?

[00:42:07] Bena: My answer to that is, anytime is a good time. You spoke at the beginning about the resistance that lawyers have. I mean, stigma around mental health is huge. When I teach to groups of lawyers, whether it’s in person or whether it’s online, I use a method of teaching.

It’s an app called Mentimeter – it’s completely anonymous. And so it allows people to see in real time answers that others are sharing. And my intention is to break down stigma. Like if I say to people, well, what are some of the things that you struggle with in your practice? And you are sitting there as a lawyer and you’re seeing answers that you totally identify with. That helps break down the stigma. And so I think any time is a good time.

When You Can’t Solve Your Own Problems

There are some people who wait till all the wheels of the bus fall off. I’ve had a client say, and this is a challenge with lawyers. I remember one client said something like, I was sitting in the coffee shop in the basement of my building, and it was the first time in my life when I realized I didn’t know how to solve a problem.

We’re problem solvers by nature. That’s what we do for a living. And when we realize that we can’t solve our own problem, that can be overwhelming. That is definitely a time to reach out because your problems can be solved. And we talked about that earlier, right? That there’s different solutions to different problems.

Self-Improvement Reasons

But I also encourage people to reach out if they want to learn how to improve.

Right. If you’ve got that growth mindset, what can I do to get better at relating with my clients, or relating to my partner or my children, or becoming more productive at the office, or to overcome procrastination? And that can be with a coach, that can be with a therapist, you can psychotherapist, a counselor.

There’s really no right time, but I really encourage people to pause if they feel alone. They aren’t. I know in the US and in Canada and in the UK, there are lawyers assistance programs which can be very helpful. I was with the lawyers assistance program in BC for three years before I opened my own practice. So that’s always an right. So please do reach out because there is help.

Change Your Perception Around Vulnerability & Getting Help (Because It’s A Strength)

[00:44:35] Heather: And I would add that I think there is this misconception because of the way we tend to see ourselves, because of this perfectionism, because of all the things we’ve talked about. We tend to think of getting help as a weakness.

It’s actually a strength. It shows incredible mental fortitude and strength. Vulnerability is a given. We are all vulnerable, we’re all human. It’s just there. And I think it takes a very strong person to admit they’re vulnerable and admit they want and need some help at something.

So please turn that around and understand it’s actually a strength. The weakness in my mind is continuing on and on when you know it’s not working, just because you don’t want to admit that you have a problem or let the outside world see you’re actually a human being, which, by the way, they already know.

They know because everybody is. So it’s not going to be a shock to anybody that you’re not perfect.

And the other thing I would say, and the thing that probably has helped me the most, because I’ve struggled with this my whole life as well, is to remind myself that human beings are meant to connect with other human beings and we have a need to belong. And part of that, frankly, is helping other people through our strengths, our skills, our gifts, which means we all have to do it for one another. So you can’t be the only one to help others. Others have to be able to help you. That’s part of connecting and belonging. And so it’s a natural part of living.

And I like to remind myself of that often in order to enable me to be open and reach out and be vulnerable and all of those things that we’re talking about.

A Note About Confidentiality

[00:46:27] Bena: Yeah, I agree 100%. And a lot of times there’s also this perception. Maybe sometimes there’s a perception of people are going to know, people are going to find out. And I think one of psychotherapists, counselors, there’s really strong ethics regarding confidentiality, for sure. But I think if you choose somebody who was a former lawyer who’s now a coach or a counselor, you’re in lockdown.

And so the confidentiality piece is really important, too.

[00:47:03] Heather: It is. And I would say whether you’re looking for a therapist or even a coach, if you are looking at a coach who is ICF certified or an ICF member, confidentiality is a big deal there, too. So just be cognizant that you can look into that and ask those questions and ensure that they will be upholding certain confidentiality as well. Although I will say this, I find it interesting, the number, and I don’t see this as much as I used to, but I still do see it from some potential clients. I find it odd, especially since it comes from primarily people who are initially reaching out to me for business coaching. The number of people who are embarrassed to admit they have a business coach or need a business coach.

It’s strange to me, if you’re afraid of admitting that you are working with a business coach, then I am gathering that you’re afraid to admit you’re working with anybody in any realm of your life. But to me that just seems backwards because we’re not all supposed to be experts at everything. And getting coaches doesn’t mean you don’t know. It just means it’s there to kind of help supercharge you to be better and show up better, regardless of whether you’re talking about a life coach, a business coach, a therapist, a counselor, whatever.

[00:48:21] Bena: Absolutely. We all have blind spots, and it is so beneficial to be able to work with somebody else who can point those out and help us overcome them 100%.

[00:48:33] Heather: Well, before I let you go, I definitely want you to let people know what you do a little bit more. How you help people and how somebody could reach out to you or find you online.

[00:48:45] Bena: So you can google me, Bina stock, or you can also google the lawyer mindset, which is the name of my counseling practice. I do a lot of one to one counseling, and all you need to do is reach out to me. Send me an email and we’ll set something up. I also do a lot of presentations to law firms, to legal organizations, to government organizations and their legal departments, and there’s a section on my website that shows the kind of webinars and presentations that I do, and I also curate specific presentations depending on what the organization’s needs are.

And so although I am located in Canada and the majority of my clients are canadian, I have worked with a lot of clients in the United States and elsewhere, including giving presentations and the one to one counseling.

[00:49:47] Heather: Thank you so much for joining us. I know that the audience is going to get a lot, and I mean a whole lot, out of today’s episode.

Rate, Review & Follow

  • “Lawyers need this podcast.”
  • “Heather hits every relevant topic, giving practical advice in an easy to digest manner.”
  • “Love hearing perspectives on topics attorneys often shy away from.”

Sound like you, too? Please consider rating and reviewing the show. Your review & rating will help me support more people (like you!) to succeed in BOTH law and life.

Click here, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate & select “Write a Review.” Then be sure to let me know what you love most about the show.  And don’t forget to hit follow so you never miss a new episode.

About Bena Stock

Bena is a former litigation lawyer with over two decades of legal experience in professional negligence and insurance defense.

While working for the Lawyers Indemnity Fund of BC, she discovered that the role she enjoyed most was helping lawyers with the emotions that sometimes accompanied reporting an error or a possible error. This led her to retire from law so she could obtain a master’s degree in counseling and make lawyer well-being her career focus.

Bena is the founder of The Lawyer Mindset, and is a Registered Clinical Counselor and member of the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counselors.

As a believer in strengths-based counseling, she helps clients discover and build on their strengths while learning new strategies to overcome all the challenges of being a lawyer.

Connect with Bena here: