Monday, August 5, 2013

Success as a Law Student: Two Mindset Tricks

What do you say to new law students about being successful in law school?

We will welcome our incoming law school class at the end of this week. For the first time in many years, I will play a role in our week-long Introduction to Law course.  At the end of the week, I will give a presentation on test-taking skills and strategies.  I gave this talk for the first time earlier this summer during our LSAT prep course.

This week-end I updated it with several helpful tips based on a couple of blog postings.

The first blog posting -- Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals -- suggests that fundamental changes must happen at our level of identity.  If you seek change by focusing on your appearance or your performance, the change will likely be short-lived. So, for example, if I want to lose 40 pounds by Christmas (as I do), I can focus on how my body looks in the mirror or to my friends. But, as all dieters know, it takes at least 8 weeks before anyone will notice any changes in your appearance. So, you need to find the motivation to stay with your plan for at least 8 weeks (and longer) -- and that is not easy.

Another option is to focus on your performance. So, in my case, I have worked with a trainer for about 12 weeks. Today, I started doing leg extensions at 110 pounds. I probably started that exercise with the machine set at 50 pounds. I do get some satisfaction from knowing I am getting stronger, but will it get me in the gym tomorrow to do deltoid exercises -- which I despise?

The third approach is to change my identity. I can say to myself, "I am the type of person who does not miss a scheduled workout." Or, "I am the type of person who walks 10,000 steps a day." Or, "I am the type of person who makes sure I get meaningful exercise everyday."  Now, I am developing a new belief about myself that makes it easier to sustain the change I seek to make. If I live up to this new identity, I will reach my weight loss and fitness goals with ease.

I have coupled that self-talk with another tool one blogger calls: "Don't break the chain." He describes how comedian Jerry Seinfeld increased the likelihood he would become a big success. He ensured that he wrote jokes everyday -- not necessarily good jokes every day, but enough better jokes that his production far exceeded the joke-writing efforts of other struggling comedians.

Jerry used a year-long calendar system that kept him accountable and motivated. He bought a calendar showing all 12 months of the year, affixed the calendar to a prominent wall, found a red marker, and then marked a big X through every day on which he wrote jokes.

Seinfeld explained: "After a few days you'll have a chain.  Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."

This past week, I bought a 12-month calendar, hung it, and began building a chain. I have committed to do the following every day:

  • Exercise
  • Update my class materials
  • Work to complete several law review articles for publication
  • Blog
  • Build my on-line teaching business, and
  • Forgo alcoholic beverages.
With the exception of the last goal (I attended a wedding on Saturday), I have built a chain of four days. Not very long, but a start. Last night, to be sure I met the exercise goal, I walked my three dogs for 20 minutes, at 9:30 p.m. Then, I marked the X and climbed into bed. I'm just that kind of person right now.  

Law students can develop and pursue their study and well-being goals in a similar way. These mindset techniques can help them be successful law students, and later, successful lawyers. 

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