How To Cultivate A Positive Mindset In Law School
When preparing for law school, most people immediately think about study habits, class participation, and managing final exams. While it is important to focus on those aspects of law school, this post focuses on something equally as important—how to cultivate a positive mindset in law school. In the midst of academic pressure, competitive personalities, and let’s face it, the bar exam always lurking in the background, law school can present some pretty significant challenges to staying upbeat. To help set you on the right path, we’ve provided you with five ways to cultivate a positive mindset in law school.
How To Cultivate A Positive Mindset In Law School
1. Practice Gratitude
No. Really. Practice gratitude. While it may seem trite, practicing gratitude can help you to move your thinking away from the day-to-day endless demands of law school. You may consider getting a journal and making a commitment to yourself to starting and ending your day, with one thing for which you are grateful. It could be as simple as “I talked to my friend,” or “it’s Saturday.” It could be something more in-depth, such as, “I am grateful that another student offered to share her Torts outline with me because I had no idea how to write an outline.” At the end of the week, you will find that you had seven (or fourteen) things for which you are truly grateful! Indeed, reflection on those things only serves to further cement a positive mindset.
By recognizing the good in your life, you are acknowledging that despite the difficulties you are facing, there still remains more to life than just law school. If writing isn’t interesting to you, then practicing gratitude may take the form of actually formally thanking someone via text, over the phone, or (gasp!), in person. You might even consider enlisting a “gratitude buddy,” someone who is just as determined to get through the ups and downs of law school in a healthy, positive way. On that note, surrounding yourself with positive people who inspire and help you, is a good also good way to position yourself for success. The more supportive people you can enlist, the easier practicing gratitude can be, and the easier it will be to cultivate a positive mindset.
2. Create Many Small Goals
Law school is nothing but a series of continual actions. Read the case, take notes, go to class, take notes, put the notes in your outline…read the case, take notes, you get the point. One way to mitigate the seemingly never-ending endless action-taking is to pause, find that gratitude journal, and then write out some daily healthy small goals that are totally achievable. You may consider setting out to do three daily goals: go to gym, go to class, go to library. Here’s another idea: update outline, read cases, go to sleep at 11:00pm. And another: write three things I am grateful for, go to class, and have dinner with my roommate. (See what I did there?)
The small idea behind small goal setting is relatively simple. By setting goals that are achievable, that serve your end goal (graduating law school), and that are created by and for only you, you are planning for your success. By planning for your success, you are taking actions that will help you to cultivate a positive mindset.
Reviewing your goals and, importantly, how you approached those goals, is also critical to developing a positive mindset. What were the goals? Were they written in an affirmative way or were they more fear based? Think, “I will go to the library to study because it’s a quiet space where I can think” versus “I will go to the library because I am terrified of failing out of law school.” Did you meet your goals? If not, why not? Were you too ambitious? Were they goals that really just didn’t match well, you? The answers to those questions will help to determine what direction you need to go to get you on track, and it will also help you to self-assess just where exactly your mindset is.
You may also consider a goal of incorporating your seemingly non-law school passions and interests into your legal studies. Love art? Take an art and the law class. Want to help in the community? Find a way to do pro bono work that aligns with your personal interests. By combining that which you love with that which is a bit challenging, you are able to put yourself in a position to cultivate a positive mindset because you actually like what you’re doing—and you’re learning (or doing) law at the same time.
3. Make Yourself Known
While cultivating a positive mindset can be done by yourself, it’s not recommended (and it’s likely much harder!) Although law school can be isolating, the reality is, no matter what you think, you are not an island. Professors, Deans, and other members of the law school are there to help students succeed! In fact, many of those individuals have had professional training on ways to navigate the ins and outs of law school and can offer invaluable tips on how to cultivate a positive mindset. Law schools may also employ therapists on site who are there to work with students on issues exactly like these. However, to get the most benefit of the above, it is incumbent upon you to take the initiative to introduce yourself, to access those resources, and to make yourself known.
Seek out positive role models, look for those who motivate you, and stay open to meeting new people. Another way to create a positive mindset is to engage in discussions about mindset with other classmates and professors. By building strong relationships with those in law school, you are also developing opportunities for guidance, support, and potentially lifelong mentorship. You also get the added advantage of hearing someone else’s perspective, and in so doing, have an opportunity to leave your own echo chamber. If in-person stuff isn’t your strong suit, don’t forget there is a world of resources online. Blog posts, videos, and articles (just like this one) can be found all over the internet.
4. Define Your Values
During times of significant stress, it is easy lose sight of what truly matters. Perspective is lost, the ground beneath you shakes, and soon all things are seemingly equal. The problem is, though, that’s just not true! While often unnerving and painful, those moments tend to be temporary. However, by defining your values, and returning to those values on a daily basis, you are far more likely to stay grounded and able to stay in a positive mindset.
To help solidify that which is important to you, you may consider drafting your own personal statement or ethos that clearly defines your personal values. It may be something like “I work as hard as I can every day. I value my family, my friends, and my commitment to justice.” Or, it could be something like “I am dedicated to serving those who need my assistance.” So take a minute (right now!) and write up some values. Family? Humor? Integrity? Justice? What matters the most is that when negative thoughts do creep in, you have something—personal and important—to reference that will counter those negative thoughts.
Defining your values, living by those values, and continuing to practice those values in the face of controversy, is a means to test your positive mindset. Find the words that work, then commit those words to paper—and perhaps even memory. You might consider using those papered words to create your very own positive affirmations that you speak aloud daily, or you might hang said affirmations on your bathroom mirror. This is a way to make sure that while you trudge through law school, one small day at a time, you are staying true to that which makes you, you.
5. Stay Solution Oriented
Part of being in law school is always looking for the problem. Identify the issue. Apply the rule. Argue why the rule does/doesn’t apply. Look for liability and culpability. The entire process can be rather daunting, perhaps even a bit negative. However, deciding how you are going to look at it can greatly influence your mindset. While everything I mentioned can be seen as adversarial and confrontational, it can also be seen as solution seeking. Problems are not necessarily good or bad. Rather they are simply things to be solved.
This frame of thinking can be applied to all problems, including those faced in law school. Didn’t do too well on the mid-term? What’s the solution? Maybe it’s setting a goal to see a faculty advisor. Perhaps it’s talking the Dean of Students. Maybe it’s finding a therapist or a counselor. Or maybe it means that instead of just reading the cases and the notes you took, next time you’ll take a practice exam. By shifting out of the problem and into the solution (or solutions), you are focusing on what you can change. Messy? Get organized. Poor time management? Download any of the hundreds of apps that provide templates for keeping you on track.
Another way to cultivate a positive mindset is to optimize your body so that it can be positive. Consider ways to get daily movement such as a yoga or meditation practice. Make “Self-care Sunday” an actual thing. The better shape you are in mentally, the easier it is to cultivate a positive mindset. Think of it this way—if you don’t focus on a solution, then you can, very easily, get stuck in the problem. Find opportunities to develop a growth mindset and see mistakes as opportunities for learning. Solution oriented thinking, based on a clearly defined problem, is a condition precedent for cultivating a positive mindset.
Remember, cultivating a positive mindset in law school may not come naturally. Or easily. However, with a bit of (extended) effort, a positive mindset is well within your grasp!