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Advice for young lawyers (or really anyone pursuing a distant goal)

June 24, 2013

I had a chance this weekend to read Neil Gaiman’s commencement address to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  I encourage you to take a moment to read it.  Written for young artists it nonetheless has a universal appeal. Gaiman shines a light on what for many of us can be, at times, a dark and lonely path from the here and now to our distant goals.

Here’s an excerpt from his speech:

“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes  it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be … was a mountain.  A distant mountain.  My goal.

 And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”

Life moves so rapidly, and we face a non-stop barrage of things we can spend our time on.  Gaiman offers a simple way of staying connected to what is meaningful:  Will this move me towards the mountain, or away?  What then is the choice I want to make?

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Powerful practice habits

February 21, 2013

I am now convinced that one of the most powerful drivers of success are positive habits.  My Slaw.ca column this month provides a step-by-step guide to building and maintaining positive practice habits.  To learn more about establishing positive habits try these books: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Habit Factor by Martin Grunburg.  To get your positive habits aligned with your goals follow this simple recipe from Grunburg:

  • Identify the goal.
  • Visualize accomplishing it. How does it feel?
  • Answer: Why is this goal important?
  • Decide: What are the positive habits (3 to 5) that I want to develop that will help me achieve my goal?
  • Answer: Why are each of those habits is important?
  • Set the minimum performance target for each goal. Not every habit has to be repeated each day.
  • Start your new habits.

I suggest you stagger your start so that you give yourself time to focus on getting one established before adding another. Habits for different parts of our lives, such as a healthy breakfast and combating procrastination with the 15 minute challenge can be started simultaneously without too much difficulty.

Track you progress daily by asking “did I accomplish my habit today yes/no?”

Build in some rewards commensurate with the degree of success you achieve. It is important to congratulate yourself and treat yourself to something special for successfully meeting your new habit formation targets. Sometime success is its own reward, such as the pleasure of walking into a tidy office each day. Sometimes it helps to reward yourself with a treat such as a massage, or heading home early from the office one afternoon.

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Happy New Year

January 4, 2013

Happy New Year! For all you goal setters out there have a look at this article from the Globe and Mail with 12 excellent coaching questions for considering at the start of the New Year. These questions will guide you through an appreciative contemplation of the past year and take you on a focused and strategic look at your intentions for the year ahead.

I would also encourage you to think about these two additional questions:

  1. What are the positive habits you have established that support you in achieving your goals?
  2. What is one new positive habit you can focus on establishing for yourself in the coming year?

Too often we focus on our bad habits. We forget that we also have positive habits that help us stay healthy, work more effectively, be better parents, partners, friends, etc.

Small actions repeated over time lead to achievement. Goal setting and corresponding planning activities are valuable, and equally so is focusing on developing habits of behaviour that support us in taking the positive actions to advance our goals.

Habits are behaviours and actions that over time become almost automatic for us. When something becomes a habit it becomes almost effortless. There is no more a need to exert will power. They become a part of our standard routine.

To establish a habit you don’t need to do it every day. Going for a run three days a week can become a habit. Taking time every Sunday to plan your priorities for the week ahead can also become a habit.

My new habit for 2013 will be getting up early four days a week to work on my professional writing. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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