Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2006

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MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program

Change of Habit

Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.

- Agatha Christie,
Witness for the Prosecution

Four attorneys – all on the verge of burning out – attended a work/life wellness workshop. Their goals were twofold: (a) identify the essentials to work/life balance and (b) learn how to implement what they had identified.

Time and time again, the attorneys heard that the essentials to work/life balance consisted of time and priority management. "This sounds familiar," Attorney #1 stated. "I believe that I read it in the MSBA's Bar Bulletin."

"Just give me more hours in the day," Attorney #2 moaned. "I'll find wellness!"

Attorney #3 started to sigh softly: "It's the same old song…"

Conversely, Attorney #4 posed the following question: "If burnout is the result of bad habits, do good habits then result in work/life balance?"

The dictionary defines "habit" as a disposition or condition of the body or mind acquired by custom or a usual repetition of the same act or function. A habit can be good or bad, positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy. As humans, many purport that we tend to make our habits, and then our habits make us.

According to Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt – authors of The Power of Focus – "Up to 90 percent of our normal behavior is based on habits." Furthermore, they write:

From the time you get up in the morning until you retire at night, there are hundreds of things you do the same way. These include the way you dress, get ready for the day, eat breakfast, read the newspaper, brush your teeth, drive to the office, greet people, arrange your desk, set up appointments, work on projects, attend meetings, answer the phone and so on. If you've been doing these same activities for years, you have a set of firmly-entrenched habits. They involve every area of your life, including your work, family, income, health, relationships and many more. The sum total of these habits determines how your life operates. Simply stated, this is your normal behavior."

Accordingly, we can identify and implement those habits that may be preventing us from obtaining work/life balance. For example, lawyers are notorious for working hard. If and when directed towards the wrong activity, however, that hard work might simply leave one busy rather than productive. In this area alone, the difference between work/life balance may be the discipline in forming good habits versus changing bad habits.

Stop for a minute and define (as our four attorneys did) the "waste" in your life. Think about your habits, especially how you spend your time, talents, energy and resources. Be honest. Is there room for a change of habit? If so, make a written list of good versus bad habits. Look at the habits that need to be changed and how you intend to change them. Again, the authors of The Power of Focus suggest a three-step plan, which they refer to as "The Successful Habits Formula":

  • Clearly identify your bad or unproductive habits
  • Define your new successful habit
  • Create a three-party action plan

"You must take action," they add. "Start with one habit that you really want to change. Focus on your three immediate action steps and put them into practice. Do it now. Remember, nothing will change until you do."

More suggestions on obtaining work/life balance are offered in Burn Brightly Without Burning Out: Balancing Your Career with the Rest of Your Life by Dick Biggs:

  • Monitor your professional life and your personal life and the time you spend on each of them.
  • Anchor your actions with integrity. To be truthful with others, you must be true to yourself.
  • Define your priorities. Free up time to plan and act on the important matters of your life.
  • Maintain the right attitude. Instead of dwelling on problems and conflicts, let the power of a positive attitude keep you focused on your life's purpose.
  • Avoid the plight of procrastination. Be decisive in how you invest your time. Celebrate your good decisions and learn from your mistakes.
  • Reflect on the turning points of your life. You will be surprised how much you have grown from past milestones and how powerful these insights can be in planning your future.
  • Understand that professional success is a part of your personal happiness, but no amount of career achievement can atone for failure in your personal life.

Now take a look in the mirror (as did our four attorneys) and change a habit. Examine and list your habits. Sort through and identify them. Keep the good ones; eliminate the bad ones. Remember, changing a habit is difficult; but with consistency it can be done.

For more information about this article or other issues that may be affecting your quality of life and work, contact Carol P Waldhauser, Assistant Director, MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program, at (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964, ext. 3041, or e-mail Also, plan to attend our workshop, "How to Practice Law Without Feeling Like Your Head is Going to Explode", at the MSBA Annual Meeting in June.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April 2006

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