Listening to your own self-talk: a challenge during law school finals

Part of effective listening is dealing with what you hear from your own self-talk. As reported by Susan David and Christina Congleton in their Harvard Business Review article on Emotional Agility, we speak on average 16,000 words per day–out loud. A comment to the article suggests that internal self-talk generates 20,000-40,000 “neurological” words per day.

The idea behind the Emotional Agility article is exactly what I wanted to write about here at Listen Like a Lawyer at this time of year. Law students are headed directly into exams, a petri dish for negative self-talk, as Alison Monahan has written about here at Ms. JD. Recent graduates are about six months out of school and either moving past the honeymoon phase of a new job or still seeking employment. Practicing lawyers face pressures to close out the year in terms of projects, deals, cases, and billable hours. In general the holidays can be a time of stress, and those involved in the legal profession have our own brand of stress around this time. Stress leads to “internal chatter” that may be counterproductive.

Thus these difficult times are exactly when effective listening skills in terms of dealing with your own self-talk is so important. Self-talk is pervasive, but as David and Congleton write, sometimes we become “hooked” on certain “rigid, repetitive” thoughts. To break these patterns and become more emotionally agile, they recommend recognizing, labeling, and accepting these chattering thoughts–followed by intentionally acting not on the chatter but on your own values. I recommend the full article (available free with registration) as well as the comments, which acknowledge related models serving both therapeutic and business/leadership goals.

Particularly for law students headed into study periods and finals, there is no better time than now to work on productive management of self-talk. As one example of a resource, here is Berkeley Law’s online guide addressing law student stress. And one of the sources cited there is Debra Austin’s law review article on “neural self-hacking to optimize law school performance.” I recommend this article, particularly the solutions section at the end. The benefits of mindfulness and meditation are most directly related to the self-talk issue. But other solutions such as exercise and sleep have powerful indirect effects on negative self-talk as well.

Lawyers, law students, and legal professionals: please share your own experiences and advice about effectively dealing with self-talk. Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving to all.

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