Mindfulness Moment: The Four Agreements

In my legal communication and analysis course, every class begins with a mindfulness moment. Law professors and law students hear about the need to have mindfulness, but we’re not quite there with teaching it. I am committed to making sure that at least my section of students walks away with a better concept for mindfulness and some techniques to develop mindfulness.

For the second class this semester, we discussed The Four Agreements. TFA is a life philosophy (not a religion) to help us find calm and peace towards ourselves and others. The advice has helped me tremendously, and I think it could help every lawyer. Law school and practice are rough. It’s easy to beat-up on each other and ourselves. I wish someone had introduced me to these concepts when I was a 1-L.

Mindfulness aside, I think these suggestions are very useful in persuasive writing. Win-win.

The Four Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your words. This includes how we talk to and about ourselves, not just to or about others.
  2. Don’t take anything personally. You never know what is motivating another persons’s words or behavior. It’s probably not about you.
  3. Don’t make assumptions. Similar to not taking things personally, we can’t assume that we know things about another person or situation if we haven’t asked questions, and we can’t assume that others magically know what we’re dealing with or need.
  4. Always do your best. Self-explanatory.

To illustrate TFA in class, we went through the following exercises:

Be impeccable with your words.

Have students first list two negative statements that they made about or to someone else in the past week. After discussing those, ask them to write two negative statements that they’ve said about or to themselves. The discussion should consider: (a) the impact the statements had on others; (b) the impact the statements had on themselves; (c) was the statement true; (d) was the statement helpful; and (e) how might the statement be rephrased to diminish conflict or negative impacts.

Then have them do the same thing with positive statements. We want to illustrate the intrinsic and extrinsic power of words.

Be impeccable with your words. In class exercise.

Don’t take anything personally.

Show students a photo of an angry customer service encounter. Ask the students to put themselves in CSR’s shoes and figure out what they did wrong. Then show the second photo with the aggressor in a negative personal situation that has nothing to do with the store/restaurant.

For example, the “Karen would like to speak to your manager” meme.

If we stop to wonder what may be motivating Karen’s incredulous offense at the restaurant or store and why she needs that level of control over the manager, we might learn that she lacks a sense of control in her personal life.

Understanding that someone’s behavior towards us is rarely about us can bring an incredible sigh of relief. It also allows us to remain level headed and possibly ameliorate a bad situation into kindness that the aggressor needs.

You could use any number of examples from memes, but I chose the Karen meme because I worked retail through high school and undergrad. My apologies, if your name is Karen or you have that haircut!

Don’t Make Assumptions

“Don’t take things personally” and “don’t make assumptions” kind of go together, but assumptions are more of an internal view. We assume that someone brings certain qualities or knowledge to our interactions with them. We also assume that other people know how we feel and what we need. No one is a mind-reader. We have to let go of the egotistical view that everyone understands us. What we think is obvious about our emotions simply is not.

For this exercise, I ask students to pair up. They ask each other a series of questions and write down what the other would answer. They must also include why they think their partner would answer that way. This is very similar to the Newlywed game.

In discussion, students should realize that they ‘ve made assumptions about someone else, but then in hearing how they were described, they realize that their partner could not possibly have known the accurate answer because they’ve never told them. Questions can be as simple as favorite food, color, music, hobbies, etc.

Always do your best.

For this exercise, you’ll need two tokens, like a fake gold coin, fake $100 bill, or a deadline extension. One of the tokens must be negative.

Introduce the first token as a reward for completing an in-class competition. For example, for whoever finds x citation first wins the gold coin. The citation can be random. Have them post their answer in your learning management system (TopHat, Canvas, TWEN, etc.). Announce the winner and discuss why they worked so hard to win.

Repeat the task, but this time, the reward is to take notes for the entire class for a week. The citation should be a key citation from the current assignment that, without it, would have a disastrous impact on the client’s case. Although the cite is important, no one wants to take notes for everyone else, so the effort will be minimal.

This illustrates the point that doing your best is not always about winning. We must do our best because our actions impact other people, and less than our best, in legal practice, can create serious consequences for our clients. So even when a work assignment is laborious and the rewards small, we must do our best for ourselves and our clients.

Clients won’t be that nice when we are less than our best. However, when we do our best, even if its a negative outcome, we can rest easy, and our clients will recognize the effort. The gratitude they show will sustain us for the next challenging task.

If these are helpful or inspire you, I hope you’ll share that good news with me. I’m always open to suggestions.

Mindfulness Moment: Boxed Breathing

In my legal communication and analysis course, every class begins with a mindfulness moment. Law professors and law students hear about the need to have mindfulness, but we’re not quite there with teaching it. I am committed to making sure that at least my section of students will walk away with a better concept for mindfulness and some techniques.

Class 1: Boxed Breathing

Boxed breathing is nothing new. We’ve used it in music education, many sports, and the military for ages. The concept is very simple – visualize a box. Trace up on the left side while breathing in, hold for two seconds at the corner, exhale across, hold for two seconds at the corner, trace down while breathing in, hold for two seconds at the corner, and trace across while exhaling, hold at the first corner, repeat. The number of counts per side and the pauses may vary. Tempo may vary, but generally, it’s best to use a walking tempo or about 60 beats per minute.

It’s easy for cynical students to dismiss these sorts of exercises as silly, but give it a shot, and you’ll get it. When we are mindful of our own breath, we can learn a lot about our state of mind and change that state of mind if we take a moment to breathe deliberately and calmly.

Here’s an example:

Document Accessibility

My latest research and scholarship considers document design for accessibility – not just for the visually impaired but as a matter of universal design for learning.

Check out my presentation, from the New England Consortium of Legal Writing Professors annual conference and the Iowa University College of Law’s One Day Legal Writing Conference:

Final Legal Memo Workshop

If you’d like to fall asleep, here’s a recording of the workshop I conducted today to help students with the final memo. They really appreciated that we walked through my work in progress on an issue related to their assignment. I left some parts unfinished with notes to myself, as I typically do when I write. It was a successful strategy.