This morning I woke up to happy children, a freshly brewed coffee waiting for me and no bedhead. And then my alarm went off. I quickly realized I overslept, the kids were extra cranky and no surprise, my car needs gas. The truth is my mornings begin with some variation of that quite regularly. Despite the morning rush, I have found that there is one thing that I can do to get myself back on track and set my day up to be a productive one. It does not cost anything and fits in your pocket.
At the height of a particularly stressful part of 2018 (I laugh now as it pales in comparison to 2020), I stumbled across an article touting the importance of starting the morning on a positive note. With just enough free space on my iPhone, I downloaded the free version of “Unique Daily Affirmations,” on the App Store. It had a little tie-dye vibe to it and the text and fonts are simple and straightforward. Certainly, this app would be the first to go once storage got tight, but nevertheless I set up my account and decided to give it a shot for a week. The concept is simple, every morning a positive message appears by holding down a button. Then you record yourself repeating the affirmation and play it back. At first, I laughed at the sound of my morning voice which was less than inspiring and bordered on manly. But, if we are being honest, by the third time I heard myself saying “I have the power to rise above what is expected of me,” I almost believed it. And then I saw the time and realized the kids would be eating granola bars because we were now extra late to school.
Day 2: I avoided playing with the settings and ignored my scary morning voice and told myself, “my possibilities are endless,” three times.
Day 3: Forgot all about the app and remembered midday, right about the time I was looking for a good excuse to stop working on discovery responses. What do you know, had to tell myself “I challenge, I work hard, I persevere,” three times? Discovery responses (mostly) completed.
And so, it has been since. Most mornings, right after I curse the alarm, I reach for my phone and go to the affirmations app. It takes me less than a minute to read the short phrase and play it back. When it is a particularly inspiring phrase, I save it to the favorites tab and hope it will find its way back to me when I most need it. There have been days when I feel like I am failing at just about everything and I question if I am capable of being a good advocate for my clients. On these days, I have found that returning to my morning routine can be quite helpful. I sit at my desk, close my door, and repeat the words of the day to myself three times. Pro tip: a few deep breaths at the end really drive it home.
On a particularly damaging day of testimony during my last trial, I skipped the restroom break and pulled out my phone for some words of encouragement. I ignored all the text messages waiting for me, umpteen emails screaming about the work I was behind on, and went straight for the affirmations app. “Today I will be proud of who I am,” popped up on my screen. In that moment, I was most definitely not proud of who I was. I felt like I was failing my client and his punishment would be life in prison. I had missed some good shots with the last witness and my cross failed to produce anything helpful to our defense. I was tired and hungry. And now, I had skipped my bathroom break to tell myself something I did not believe in that moment. I put my phone down and slumped into my chair, defeated and with a full bladder. A few seconds ticked by painfully slow and then I compulsively reached for the phone again. The app was still open, and the words stared back at me: Today I will be proud of who I am. In the empty courtroom, I whispered the words to myself three times. Then another three just for good luck.
The Bailiff returned, asked if I was ready and then sent for my client and the jurors. The next witness took the stand and then another. I can not say that I had a brilliant cross examination or that the State’s witnesses were slaughtered for being self-serving hypocrites, but I did get in a few zingers. I had gotten into my own head and convinced myself that I was not good enough, but with a few simple words, I had found just enough something in the privacy of my phone to pull me through and get back to defending my guy.
It sounds cheesy, I know. And if you are still reading this article, it is probably because you forgot to bring your phone into the restroom. But hear me out, the loudest voice you will hear is your own. It is the one that tells us we are either good enough or not. Too many times, we use our words to undermine ourselves. How often do you make a careless mistake and then proceed to follow up with, “I’m such an idiot”? I spilled some coffee on my shirt right before Zoom court today and then called myself a dumbass. Salt, meet Wound. These mishaps are human. Missing a deadline is bound to happen. The point is that hearing yourself say hurtful things afterwards only magnifies the mistake and makes it harder to get back on track. We are often very quick to criticize ourselves but slow to praise.
There are lots of free apps available that promote mindfulness and positive thinking. Whether you start your day with repeating an affirmation, or repeat a phrase as needed, reminding yourself that you believe in you can have a lasting effect. Taking a few minutes to say something positive to myself has changed the way I approach my inner conversations. I find it harder to say, “I’m so stupid,” after making a mistake now. I am more aware of my own voice.
I encourage you to turn up the volume on your own voice and speak kinder to yourself. In the courtroom and in life, you are capable and worthy. Now say it three times.