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Thinking Your Way To Building Resilience

1024 679 Stewart Brown

ThinkingResilienceImage

I had recently set up business on my own. I had been networking furiously to build awareness that I was open for business. This involved plenty of travel to meet with various contacts, some of whom I hoped would be interested in becoming a client.

One day I had set off a little late for a meeting about 30 miles away. The route there was a fast road and I was sure that I would make up the time. But, disaster struck halfway along my journey. Two lorries had collided and the road was completely blocked. Traffic had backed up. The road was too narrow to do a u-turn. In any event, the alternative route was way too long and I would definitely arrive late. To make matters worse, I didn’t have any phone reception.

My heart started pumping. My mind raced ahead. This was a really important meeting. If I gave the wrong impression by turning up late, any chance of business would be gone. My mind started transforming what had been a speculative meeting with no guarantee of work into the make or break meeting of my fledgling business. I imagined myself unable to pay the mortgage. You get the picture. I was in full panic mode.

In some ways, how I was feeling was not my fault. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution of the human brain and body was to blame. I had gone into full on fight or flight survival mode. But the problem was that I couldn’t flee anywhere and there wasn’t anything obvious that I could fight!

“My heart started pumping. My mind raced ahead. This was a really important meeting. If I gave the wrong impression by turning up late, any chance of business would be gone.”

Our ability to think logically and strategically and to employ advanced emotions like empathy are all severely curtailed when we are experiencing stress symptoms.

So, What’s The Answer?

Resilience is how we respond to stress, how we bounce back or overcome adversity. The good news is that resilience can be taught. But it requires understanding on how and why we each respond to difficult events.

So, why doesn’t everyone descend into road rage at the first sign of a traffic jam? Why do some people seem to handle stress better than others? To answer this, we need to dig a little deeper, into the psychological perspective.

Many people believe that the event or stressor is the cause of the consequence. How often have you heard people say, “That guy really wound me up!” or “The deadline is really stressing me out!”

An alternative way of looking at the situation grew out of work by the eminent behavioural psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis. His A-B-C model suggests that the consequence is not caused by the event itself, but it comes about as a result of the beliefs that we hold about the event, which are often irrational beliefs.

In Ellis’s model, A is the activating event, B is the belief we hold (which causes the perception that the activating event is stressful) and C is the Consequence, how we respond. Perception is key here. If we perceive an event to be stressful, then we will start experiencing the biological responses to a stressful event.

What Influences Our Perception?

There are many factors that influence our perception, from attachments we form as children to defence mechanisms we adopt to protect ourselves from anxiety.

To explore the role that perception plays, let’s go back to my journey to that important meeting, which I told you about earlier. The accident between two lorries did not cause my tension. There was an important, albeit rapid, intervening step going on. And that step was my perception or belief about the entire situation. My thoughts about being late for the meeting, being unable to control the situation and what I thought the person who was meeting me would think as a result caused an unhealthy response in my brain. It triggered a stressful response. My emotional amygdala started dominating my thinking and overruling my rational frontal cortex. As cortisol and adrenaline flooded into my system, my thinking became more fuzzy and I imagined ever-worsening crises – such as becoming homeless. All as a result of the blocked road.

Now, unfortunately, to make matters more complicated, a number of our beliefs at the B stage of this A-B-C process are unconscious beliefs. I spend a large part of my time as an executive coach helping people to become aware of such unconscious beliefs, sometimes also known as cognitive distortions or ‘thinking errors’. Because if you are aware of something, you have the opportunity to make a choice. And that choice is whether to allow that thinking error to activate the response – ie. to allow stress to arise – or not; to choose a different response.

My experience is that lawyers are particularly prone to certain thinking errors, such as (and there are many more…):

• All or nothing: Thinking is black and white rather than shades of grey. “I have to get this 100% perfect. I always make this mistake. I’ll never get the hang of it.”
• I should/must/can’t: This is a big one. It refers to when we set unrealistic standards for ourselves. It can be really damaging. Examples include: “I should be able to cope with all this work.” “I must not make any mistakes.” “I can’t handle this.”
• Magnification: This involves blowing things out of all proportion. “I failed my promotion interview. My career is in ruins.” “We made a mistake. This is terrible.”

“Develop self-awareness of when you are starting to get stressed. For me, I started to lose my sense of humour, taking things too seriously and becoming snappy with others.”

How To Go About Building Resilience

Stress occurs when pressure exceeds our perceived ability to cope: This definition suggests that stress is caused by external factors, such as work pressures and deadlines. And internal factors, such as the attitudes that we have to deadlines, have a role to play that hinder our ability to cope.

1. Notice

Develop self-awareness of when you are starting to get stressed. For me, I started to lose my sense of humour, taking things too seriously and becoming snappy with others.

Notice it in your colleagues and offer to help them out. My former PA always used to say that if I had eaten a chocolate bar before 11am, then it was bad sign! And she would ask me if she could help with anything, move a meeting or delegate work to a team member.

2. Practice Better thinking

It may not always be practical or wise (from a career progression standpoint) to avoid activating events, like making presentations, altogether. Albert Ellis and Windy Dryden later (1987) extended the A-B-C model by adding two additional stages, D and E. And in their excellent and practical book How to Deal with Stress (Kogan Page: 2007), Stephen Palmer and Cary Cooper describe a further stage: F.

D: is to dispute the belief – in other words to alleviate stress by noticing and challenging your thinking. E: is creating an effective new strategy to deal with the activating event. And F is the Future Focus: what am I going to do differently going forwards based on what I have learnt about myself?

Now, I’m not underestimating how difficult it is to challenge stories in our head that we’ve held for some time – decades even! But there is always a way forward. Going back to my interrupted car journey to that ever-so-important meeting, I noticed that my thinking was skewed. So, I started to breathe slowly and deeply. I realised that I had been guilty of two massive thinking errors: I had obsessed about the importance of punctuality and how a professional ‘should’ behave and magnification: missing the meeting would not be the end of the world.

Clarity of thinking emerged as my cortisol levels dropped. I remembered that there was a pub close by. So, I parked my car on the verge, walked to the pub and used their landline to call my contact. He was running late and lived close to where we were due to meet. We came up with an alternative plan that I would call him when I was on the move again.

And with that, I returned to my car, turned on some music and chose to relax whilst I waited.

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Working With Stress

1024 682 Vita Burton-Davey, Working to be better each day

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Law is one of the toughest professions with one of the highest rates of stress of any sector. Amanda Noble-Simmons acknowledged the need to do something about stress for legal professionals; with a 2012 Law Society survey finding that ‘95% of respondents reported negative stress in their working lives.’ Lifestyles4Lawyers was set up in 2012 in order to help legal professionals achieve a better work-life balance and promote good wellbeing in law firms.

The Law Society Gazette recently discussed what wellbeing and stress being brought out into the open and going mainstream means for pragmatic lawyers who don’t really encompass the whole ‘Hippy Trail’ thing and even those who do.

Lawyers have huge responsibilities and the pressures of large caseloads and the importance of the work they undertake, mean it’s hard to prioritise their own health and wellbeing. But the age old question ‘Who takes care of the carer?’ springs to mind!

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Legal professionals need to act for themselves. If lawyers and law firms do not recognise and act to improve their own wellbeing and that of their staff, to reduce stress; ever more excellent lawyers will leave, or be forced to leave the profession.

Joining Lifestyles4Lawyers is free and stress free! We provide articles about wellbeing, nutrition,fitness and tips for getting out of the office and incorporating time for reflection into your working week. Our Spotlight On Lawyers articles share what lawyers are doing outside the office to improve their work-life balance and our On The Job articles share tips for getting the most out of work.

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Even lawyers need a hug and Lifestyles4Lawyers recognises that! There is also more help and support available through the Law Society helplines. Opening up discussions around stress and the physical and mental health problems suffered in silence by a high percentage of legal professionals and other professionals working under huge pressure, means that the pathways to help become visible and the door to action is thrown wide.

 

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Brexit – How Could It Effect Rates Of Currency Exchange? And What Could This Mean For Your Business?

1000 1000 Nick Hyde

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Following the recent falls in the value of the Pound it seems appropriate to look at the possible impact of the Brexit on Sterling exchange rates. With the EU referendum looming on the 23rd June 2016, being prepared for the result, either way, can mean the difference between profit and loss.

Political uncertainty is one of the key drivers of exchange rates and there is nothing more politically uncertain than the UK’s decision about its future relationship with the European Union. One of the main concerns for businesses is the uncertainty over how the Pound will react and how this will directly impact their profit margins. Businesses with a heavy reliance on import and export will of course be impacted by strong currency movements.

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What is Brexit and how will it affect small businesses?
‘Brexit’ refers to Great Britain exiting the European Union, of which it has been a member since 1973. Over the years what started as loose agreements on trade between European nations has developed and evolved into a very deep and close economic, political and legal union. While its proponents argue that this relationship is crucial to the UK’s global standing and influence, its critics claim it is out of date and costs the UK more than it is worth.

The UK is seen as a gateway to Europe both geographically and because of the widespread use of the English language around the world. Like or loathe the UK’s close relationship with the EU, it is now very much a part of the UK economy, and just like any long-term relationship, breaking up has consequences. Many believe the UK would be ‘stronger’ after the break up, but with so many new relationships to form there would likely be a negative impact in the short term. It is not just the result of the referendum that is a cause for concern though. The most volatile time might be in the run up to the referendum.

Uncertainty from overseas clients might prevent them from placing orders.
Approximately 40% of UK trade is with the Eurozone, so uncertainty from overseas clients and suppliers as to how the Pound will react may prevent them from placing orders or even entering into dialogues until the Brexit question is dealt with. Who wants to place an order for delivery in the next 6-12 months when there is no guarantee the UK will still be in the EU? By then the business landscape may have completely changed. The GBP/EUR exchange rate has dropped 10 per cent since November, which will be creating headaches for many UK businesses who import from overseas and sell into the UK.

Many businesses conducting overseas trade will use an exchange rate clause in their contracts, for example a renegotiation on price if the exchange rate moves by more than 5 per cent. This allows suppliers flexibility in re-quoting if, for example, they buy their goods in Euros but sell in Pounds. Considering the amount the Pound has dropped against the Euro many small businesses who want to purchase from overseas are seeing their cost base rise. The worry of a Brexit will be causing delay and adding an extra level of strategy in planning for the future. Small businesses’ reliance on a narrower base makes them more susceptible to changes around them, and the wider negative impact on the UK and Sterling could hurt smaller businesses more because they can be more vulnerable to sharp shocks.

Pound Sterling weakness is not necessarily a bad thing.
There are always winners and losers on exchange rates. Predictions from large investment banks have been that a leave vote could see the pound drop as much as 15% to 20% against other currencies.

But is that a bad thing?

There are potentially positive implications of a lower currency; for example, export growth. A country’s exports can gain market share as its goods get cheaper relative to goods priced in stronger currencies. The resulting increases in sales can boost economic growth and jobs, as well as increase corporate profits for companies that do business in foreign markets.

Inflation can climb when economies import goods from countries with stronger currencies, since it takes more of a weak currency to buy the same amount of goods priced in a stronger currency. Currently, low economic growth has resulted in deflation, or falling prices, which is becoming a bigger risk than inflation in many countries. Many of the countries in the EU have been combating this issue for years. A deflationary mindset is undesirable because once consumers begin to expect regular price declines, they may start to postpone spending and businesses may begin to delay investment, resulting in a cycle of slowing economic activity.

An opportunity to tap into new overseas markets does arise for business during times of GBP weakness too, as businesses looking to gain new overseas clients can use the weaker Pound to provide very competitive quotes. Previously inaccessible markets or clients could now be sought out. Sterling weakness also offers overseas investors the opportunity to invest in the UK. Despite the initial shock of a possible ‘Leave’ vote in the EU referendum the UK is unlikely to just wither away from its place in the world. Some canny overseas investors who can spot an opportunity will likely seize on this to buy or invest in the UK.

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Business needs clarity and simplicity.
Ultimately a business wants to know what the future holds! Confidence is key and with the possible decoupling from the EU, which comprises such a large portion of UK trade, there is tremendous uncertainty which is not good news for business. The Pound has been performing well in recent years and the UK economy growing at a slow but steady pace. Unemployment has been falling and the UK economy has been coughing and spluttering into life from the dark days of recession. This referendum, and the concerns leading up to it, may not necessarily be good for the Pound, but as for some businesses this might not be a bad thing and longer term, whatever the outcome, the UK will remain one of the world’s leading economies with great influence.

The impact on Pound Sterling exchange rates.
To work out what might happen it is usually a good idea to look at what has happened in the past. The Pound was sharply sold off in September 2014 ahead of the Scottish referendum, and Sterling suffered again in May 2015 in the build-up to the UK General Election. Both of these events saw the Pound sold off in the weeks close to the decision before surprise results saw Sterling strengthen against most currencies, back to the levels seen before the uncertainty and higher in some cases.

The Pound has already experienced some big selling pressures since the beginning of 2016; this is in part down to the worries over Brexit. This uncertainty is likely to linger and cause unexpected movements as investors react to the news. There is very little known at this stage and the Sterling’s value will fluctuate as we learn more.

Can we trust the polls?
When looking for news to influence decisions to buy or sell Sterling the polls will undoubtedly play a significant role in determining GBP strength or weakness. Essentially, signs of the UK remaining part of the EU should strengthen the Pound, while signs of the UK leaving should weaken it. As we’ve said previously, both scenarios have their advantages.

Will it be that simple in practice? It’s unlikely. One of the most notable points about the 2015 General Election was just how wrong the pollsters got it. Right up until the exit polls, all the polls pointed to a hung parliament with most supporting a Labour minority government. While all of the polls will be treated with a little more caution, they do offer the best information available and will therefore play an important role in in the movement of the Pound.

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So, what should we expect?
Preparing for Pound Sterling weakness should be the overall position, but markets will react to the key events and news as it develops; expect volatility around polls and announcements on the renegotiation and the referendum date. The Euro may also come under pressure, but not as much as the Pound.

A ‘Stay’ result should see the Pound rise, while a ‘Leave’ result will most likely see the Pound weaken, but perhaps not too dramatically if this has been predicted in polls. The shock factor and surprise is what usually moves the market in such a way and the EU referendum is likely to contain plenty of both. This referendum is not ideal, but armed with good information businesses can plan for most eventualities and ensure they are best placed to drive their business forward for the future.

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Building Resilience – Overcoming Our Thinking Traps

1024 682 Nick Clench

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In a previous article, we discussed some of the thinking traps we can fall into when we’re under pressure or stress. These included internalising or personalising conflicts (‘me, me, me’), externalising or blaming the world (‘life’s not fair’), thinking that something is the end of the world (‘Armageddon’) or that whatever you try nothing will change (‘all or nothing’). Perhaps you recognised some of these behaviours or thoughts in yourself?

In this article, we will look at some of the ways you can overcome these thinking traps and look to build resilience so that you feel the impact less and bounce back quicker – which is essentially what resilience is all about.

Me, me, me. If you tend to think “this is all my fault” or “I must have done something wrong”, then you need to seek a different perspective. The best thing to do in this situation is talk to someone who knows you but isn’t directly involved and ask them for an objective opinion. Hopefully they will help you see the facts of the circumstances and that, possibly, it isn’t all your fault or maybe not your fault at all. People in this thinking trap find it difficult to accept they might not be to blame – in case they are! But often there are other factors and considerations, and you need a different perspective to see them.

Life’s not fair. Perhaps you tend to feel a sense of helplessness, that the world is against you and bad things were bound to happen. This type of externalising can be overcome by looking at the evidence. Ask yourself some questions like “when has this happened before?”, “what specifically has led you this conclusion?”, “in what ways could this not be true?” Start by building your case in favour of your belief – that this does happen all the time, and the world is against you – what evidence do you have? Then look at evidence against this belief – in what ways could this not be true? What successes have you had in the past, what else has influenced these circumstances?

Armageddon. Many people fall into this trap of thinking the smallest setback is going to lead to complete and utter disaster. They will lose their job, the world will end. To overcome this, take it to the extreme and think what the worst that could happen really is. You might lose your job, what else, what would happen then – lose the house, the car, the cat will move out, your partner will leave you? Maybe. What about thinking about the best that could happen? You could take a holiday, find a new job, or change careers to something you love? Now think about what is most likely to happen

– very few setbacks lead to job loss or anything quite so bad. Rationalise for a second, gain some perspective, what is really likely to happen? It’s probably not that bad.

All or nothing. Having a fixed mindset means you accept that things can’t change, you can’t change, and nor can other people. People with a fixed mindset don’t like challenges in case they fail and don’t believe they can improve by trying anyway. To encourage moving to a growth mindset, try changing the way you think from “I can’t” or “I never will” to “I’m not great at it, yet, but with practice I could get better”. Then focus on making small, incremental changes which move you towards improvement. Taking huge bold steps could well lead to failure (which is no bad thing by the way!), but taking regular baby steps to improvement may feel more comfortable.

If you recognise any of these thinking traps in yourself, then try some of these tactics. With the right mindset and a little time and practice, you can change the way you perceive setbacks and start to build your resilience.

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Pressure To Be Perfect

1024 627 Stewart Brown

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It started out as being a fun game. Spotting typo’s on menus. My friends would laugh with me at some of the amusing mistakes. But my tutting at unnecessary double-spacing soon got on their nerves.

I couldn’t help it. Nine months in to my training contract at a Magic Circle Firm and the mantra “attention to detail” followed me wherever I went, including when I had left the office. Perpetual proof-reading had turned me into a pedant.

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I guess it all started when my supervisor gave me some advice at the start of my first seat. “The way to keep me happy,” he intoned with a stern look on his face, “Is to ensure that the staple is at a right angle to the top edge in the top left corner of the paper. Stapling at an angle just will not do.” I added this requirement to the growing list of requirements of how to be the ‘Perfect Lawyer’.

And perfection was what I was aiming for. My work was examined in minute detail by my supervisors. I longed for the day when a two-line email was returned to me without corrections. As my responsibility grew, so did the pressure to get everything just right. Triple checking became the norm. I would start early and finish late to ensure attainment of the standards that I thought signified success.

Looking back, the pressure to be perfect warped my perspective and eroded my confidence; suggestions from senior lawyers became criticisms; minor errors became major mishaps in my head.

Fortunately, I learnt a valuable lesson towards the end of my training contract. It was Monday morning and I had worked all weekend with a senior lawyer (let’s call him Michael) on a financing deal, which had to launch by 2pm that afternoon. Lack of sleep started to impact my work. Errors started creeping in. Michael spotted my growing irritation. “You are doing a great job.” he assured me. “Let’s look at the big picture. We have documented the important detail. We have a limited amount of time to get the rest into shape. And that will be good enough. Just do the best you can.”

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Nearly 20 years later, I can still picture that moment. Experience had taught Michael that getting stuff done for your client sometimes means that everything might not be perfect. He had reminded me to focus on what really matters, namely, understanding and correctly documenting the commercial intention of the deal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, when I worked as an in-house lawyer years later, sloppy drafting, incorrect numbering and frequent spelling errors did more to undermine my confidence in the content than anything else. And we can all think of cases where minutiae have mattered; where cases have been won or lost on single words and phrases. But, my point is this: Michael’s wise words prompted me to give myself permission to make mistakes and to redirect my attention to the detail that really mattered.

People have an amazing ability to beat ourselves up. We treat ourselves like a lodger rather than a friend. We criticise, complain and outright attack ourselves in a way that we would never do to another person. We construct a model of the ideal person we wish we were and then beat ourselves up for failing to match up to those impossible requirements.

My experience is that lawyers have a particular problem with this type of self-abuse, which often stems from that self-imposed pressure to be perfect. Unhelpful training and unnecessary client pressure can compound the situation.

So, my advice is focus on what really matters. Understand where that pressure to be perfect comes from and give yourself permission to make mistakes. Your health and relationships depend on it.