Law students and aspiring lawyers' life paths can easily become overcomplicated throughout the year, as you tackle applications and exams (among other things). It's important for individuals dealing with such workloads to slow down and take stock to stay confident, motivated and avoid burnout.
Step one: reflect
Before setting new goals, you should reflect on the past. By doing so, you can appreciate what you have already accomplished and identify areas that need to be focused on. Review your past year and make a note of what you learned, what you are proud of, how you grew, or what you found intriguing, challenging or rewarding.
Step two: categorise
It is useful to split your reflections and subsequent goals into categories. For me, my resolutions for 2021 are set according to four areas:
1. Lifestyle – physical and mental health
4. Community – relationships with family, friends and the wider community
These categories should, of course, be expanded or altered to suit you. Mental health might be a standalone category for some, while ‘university’ may be replaced by ‘finances’ for those out of education. Think of what is most relevant to you this year!
Step three: setting
This is where the previous two steps really come to the fore. You’ve reflected on the past; so how are you going to improve in the upcoming year? I will now cover a few top tips that I stick to when setting my own goals.
Keep them realistic
Rather than setting long-term aspirational goals, I find short-term attainable goals to be the best motivators. Although the former are great when envisaging the overarching 'dream', the latter are the small steps necessary to achieve it. ‘Getting a training contract’ might be your ultimate aim, but how can you hope to achieve this if you don’t know what you need to do to get there? For this reason, passing a Watson Glaser test or being offered your first assessment day can be much more productive and realistic as goals.
Being too broad can present difficulty. I often find that, when falling into the trap of procrastination, my brain can work in amazingly clever ways to find loopholes and justify getting out of work. If you aren’t sufficiently precise about your own goal, you might find yourself justifying not putting in the effort to achieve it.
Establish a timeframe
By keeping your goals attainable, it can help you to set yourself a ‘deadline’ to achieve them. When setting resolutions, it's easy to say something along the lines of “I want to be going to the gym four days a week by 2022”. What is going to keep you motivated to attend the gym in the middle of the year? Why not just wait to start attending the gym until next December? By being specific and establishing a timeframe, you can break the goal down and stay motivated in the longer-term by reaching checkpoints of smaller achievements along the way. If the aforementioned resolution was revised accordingly, it might instead state: “I want to go to the gym at least once a week from January to March, twice a week by April until June, three times from July until September, and four times from October until December.”
Hold yourself accountable
Holding yourself accountable is important to encourage self-discipline. A fantastic way of doing this is by documenting everything! Keep a journal with your resolutions and daily action plans clearly noted, or even create posters for visual aids in your workspace. I find it helpful to create checklists where I can physically 'tick off' things I've accomplished and cannot avoid seeing any outstanding or overdue tasks. In addition to this, sharing your resolutions with peers can be a great way of increasing accountability. Working together to achieve common goals can make the challenge fun, enjoyable and even competitive.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Law is hard. Wherever you are in your journey, give yourself credit for your efforts and treat yourself kindly. Try not to let self-discipline stray into perfectionism and remember that you are a human that makes mistakes but is always deserving of compassion.