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President's Message

Change Bad Habits Into Powerful New Habits

By Linda S. Thomas

Ever heard of Nora Riva Bergman? Me either until last month when I met her at the National Conference of Bar Presidents. She’s an attorney turned “attorney coach.” It’s been said, “She’s uniquely qualified to address the lessons that every lawyer needs to learn to have a successful practice and fulfilled life. She’s been in the trenches...lived the struggles...and sees the challenges that lawyers face...” With Nora’s expressed permission, I want to share one of the lessons taken from her book, 50 Lessons for Lawyers

Lesson #5: Getting rid of unproductive habits and creating new powerful ones. We all have habits that destroy our focus and decrease our productivity, and while it’s easy to form bad habits, it’s difficult to change them. For example (admittedly, oversimplified), you’re working on a brief that’s due next Friday. You hear your computer ding letting you know, “You’ve got mail.” Your brain says, “Check your email. That could be important.” You stop what you’re doing to check your email every time you hear the ding. Without realizing it, a bad habit is born. 

To create a new habit, recognize the cue, then take it away — turn off that ding when you want to focus. Or maybe you’re in the habit of stopping by your favorite coffee shop each morning for that high-calorie, but yummy, coffee drink. To create a new habit, take away the cue — change your route to work so as to avoid passing the coffee shop. 

Essentially, there are three simple (but not necessarily easy) steps to follow to create new, powerful habits that lead you toward your goals, whether professional or personal, rather than away from them. Step 1: Identify the habit you want to create. Be specific, i.e. “drink six glasses of water per day” instead of “drink more water” or “check email once in the morning and once in the afternoon” rather than “check email less often.” 

Step 2: Set up external cues to help you remember to follow through with the new behavior until it becomes habit. If you want to make it a habit to meet with your paralegal every morning to review your cases, schedule the meeting on your calendar (and your paralegal’s) until the daily meetings become habit. 

Step 3: Following the same routine makes it easier to remember what you’re trying to do. If you want to create the habit of walking 30 minutes a day, do it at the same time and in the same surroundings everyday. Rituals and routines support remembering, so find rituals that work for you. 

The other 49 lessons taught in her book are also gems that help you “take control of your day, minimize unwanted interruptions, reduce stress, build a great team and love your practice again.” If you want a law practice that serves your life rather than a life that serves your law practice, these things are essential. 

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
– Goethe

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 88 pg. 428 (March 11, 2017)