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The Best Life Hack for Being a Good Lawyer: Exercise

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By Joani Moberg

As lawyers and busy professionals, especially during a pandemic, life feels like an endless list of things we should or must do. Too often, self-care becomes another tedious and overwhelming item on that list. From there, we fall into a cycle of feeling too busy to care for ourselves, which in turn makes life feel more stressful and we are less likely to care for ourselves even when that is what we need most. It’s an endless and toxic cycle. 

For me, although I was a competitive athlete in high school and college, in law school, survival was the goal. Without the structure of competition and coaches, I didn’t regularly exercise. Then, as a young lawyer and a new mom, I couldn’t imagine taking time to exercise. Years later, I signed up to walk 60 miles in three days for charity. I fell in love, again, with movement. Now, I am training for a marathon, taking group strength/fitness classes every weekday morning, walking my dogs, and kayaking, swimming, paddle boarding and hiking at my cabin.

Approximately 10 years into my middle-aged fitness journey, I’m a better human and lawyer because of what I’ve learned. Here are some words of wisdom that have helped me: 

Put Your Own Facemask On First

Flight attendants know their stuff and it applies to lawyers too. We cannot take care of our clients (or anyone else) if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. My clients are surprised when I show up for trial and mention that I’ve already worked out. That’s just me putting my facemask on first. I feel good and I’m sharper when I rely on exercise in the morning instead of caffeine. 

The Power of Setting Goals

Remember when your kindergarten teacher gave you gold stars? That worked because it’s exhilarating to be recognized for setting and achieving a goal. At the beginning, those goals can be simple. Maybe just get 10,000 steps in every day. Or goals can be more aggressive. Several years ago, my goal was to be able to do an unassisted pull up. I set up micro goals along the way to get there and celebrated each success. 

When setting goals, remember that S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific (clear and direct), Measurable (helps in creating objective to reach the goal), Action-oriented (something to work towards), Realistic (they need to be obtainable) and Timely (set a time limit and stick to it). For example, a goal to lose weight is too vague. If that is your overall goal, what is your first step in getting there? When my goal was to run a marathon, I broke down the steps. First, I routinely ran a certain amount of miles each week. Once that was established, I followed a multi-month training schedule that told me what to do every day. One day at a time, I set goals, met goals, and by the end, I ran a marathon. Whatever your goal, making a plan and meeting the goal makes you feel great.

Take Care of Your Body and It Will Take Care of You

Don’t underestimate the mind-body connection. Our bodies and brains work best when properly fueled by oxygen, food, sleep and movement. 

In 2018, Yale University introduced a course called “Psychology and the Good Life,” which was created and taught by Professor Laurie Santos. The course instantly became the most-popular course in Yale’s 316-year history. Professor Santos says that “[w]e should be seeking out not good grades and not a big salary but we should be seeking out healthier practices.”1 She highlights sleep and exercise, which is a foundation highlighted by significant research.

Similarly, in the popular book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey’s seventh habit is “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you.”2 He goes on to say: 

Most of us think we don’t have enough time to exercise. What a distorted paradigm! We don’t have time not to. We’re talking about three to six hours a week…. That hardly seems an inordinate amount of time considering the tremendous benefits in terms of the impact on the other 162-165 hours of the week.3

Don’t Let Life “Should” All Over You

Comparing ourselves to others is common, but it’s not helpful. What works for one person might not and need not work for you. The point is to move our bodies consistently and in a way that is enjoyable and that enhances our capacity to work and enjoy life.

So be wise in developing an exercise program. Mr. Covey writes that a new exercise program should be thoughtful. There will be a tendency to overdo, based on what you think you “should” be doing. That can lead to pain and injury. Instead, start slowly and be consistent. 

To quote Voltaire, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s ok if you can’t train for a marathon. But if you can walk 30 minutes every day—do it.

Make a Plan and Follow Through

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, agrees that exercise is a pillar of happiness. She offers these tips to start and maintain an exercise routine:4

A. “Always exercise on Monday.” The snooze button is seductive on Monday mornings, but if you push past that and always exercise on Monday, it sets a powerful psychological pattern for the week.

B. “If at all possible, exercise first thing in the morning.” Just get it done. I love checking it off my list before work, knowing that as the day wears on, the will to exercise wanes and the excuses may become insurmountable.

C. “Never skip exercising for two days in a row.” Make a deal with yourself. You can skip a day, but you can never skip two days. This allows some grace, but not enough to derail your progress.

D. “Give yourself credit for the smallest effort.” My mantra is that the most important part of finishing something is starting it. For my 6:00 a.m. fitness classes, the hardest part is getting out of bed. After that, I just do as I’m told. Or I often trick myself into running by telling myself I won’t go too far or too fast. Most of the time, once I’m underway it feels good and I do much more than I intended.

E. “Look for affordable ways to make exercising more pleasant or satisfying.” I bought a Garmin watch that tracks many different activities and enters me into challenges that motivate me to do new activities. Other people find it motivating to upgrade their gym or hire a trainer. Whatever reinforces this discipline is money well spent.

F. “Be prepared.” The last thing I do before I go to bed at night is set out what I need to exercise for the next morning, whether that is clothes for the virtual class from my back porch, a leash and shoes for a run with the dog, or packing my bag to shower at the gym. This removes trivial barriers and makes the morning easier.

In the end, I hope you’re inspired to do this for yourself. Exercise is the best gift I give to myself and I hope you are doing the same or choose to start doing the same. And when all else fails, we should always listen to Mister Rogers. On the topic of self-discipline, he said:

I like to swim, but there are some days I just don’t feel much like doing it—but I do it anyway! I know it’s good for me and I promised myself I would do it everyday, and I like to keep my promises. That’s one of my disciplines. And it’s a good feeling after you’ve tried and done something well. Inside you think, “I’ve kept at this and I’ve really learned it—not by magic, but by my own work.” 5

We can better meet our obligations to our clients when we first meet our obligations to ourselves. Find ways to move your body every day. Then make a promise and set a goal. Keep that promise and crush that goal.


Joani--Moberg-150Joani Moberg
joani.moberg@henschelmoberg.com

Ms. Moberg earned her B.A. in psychology and family studies from St. Olaf College and her J.D. from Mitchell-Hamline School of Law. After a clerkship at the Minnesota Supreme Court, she began a 21-year practice in family law that includes founding her own firm, Henschel Moberg, P.A., with partner, Ben Henschel. She has been recognized as a Top 100 Super Lawyer and Top 50 Women Super Lawyer. She has lectured attorneys, taught law students, and trained judges.

 


Notes

1 Yale University has offered Professor Santos’ entire course at no cost at https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being

2 “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Stephen R. Covey, 1989, p. 288.

3 Id., p. 289.

https://gretchenrubin.com/2010/08/12-tips-for-nudging-yourself-to-exercise-regularly/

5 The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, Fred Rogers, 2003, p. 105

 


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