by Helen Ling
Paying Attention to Your Body
and Brain to Improve the
Quality of Your Work
Ihave been involved with the WSBA Alternative Dispute Reso- lution (ADR) Section for three years now. I enjoy my colleagues tremendously, not just for their intel- ligence, skill, and experience, but also for their humor, candor, and creativity.
They dare to think outside of the proverbial
box where many of us find ourselves in today’s
legal profession. Over time, I have started to
see lawyering in a different light. In addition
to promoting informed use and best practices
of ADR, the section promotes lawyering from
a human perspective. What does that mean?
Mindfulness, empathetic listening, and holistic
lawyering are some words that come to mind.
Entire seminars are dedicated to each of these,
but I am talking about “human,” as in biologically human. What do we know about how our
brains and bodies function that impacts our
productivity, efficiency, and the quality of our
legal work and overall life?
Every year, the ADR Section sponsors the
Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference, a national conference held in Seattle. At our last conference, John Medina was the keynote speaker.
He is the author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles
for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and
School, and, by trade, a developmental molecular biologist. 1 His book makes for a fascinating
read, but a few features have really impacted the
way that I view lawyering.
In our profession, our brain is our most precious and valuable asset. I may not be able to
lift 100 pounds without seriously pulling something, but I have argued before the Washington
Court of Appeals. What have I done to cultivate
and nourish this precious organ? Not too much,
it turns out.
Exercise: “Physical activity is
cognitive candy.” 2
Medina takes us back hundreds of thousands
of years. Our ancient ancestors covered a lot
of ground; scientists estimate they covered up
to 12 miles on a daily basis. All the while, the
modern human brain was developing, not while
they were sedentary, but while they were moving. 3 This makes sense on a physiological level.
Medina points out we can live for 30 days or so
without food and a week or so without water, but
we cannot go more than five minutes without
oxygen to our brains without risking serious
and permanent damage. 4 That is an astonishing statistic. When we exercise, we increase our
brain’s access to oxygen, keep existing neurons
healthy, and encourage the formation of new
brain cells. 5 All these wonderful biological processes are not happening nearly as often while