Stephen Snyder has been member of CA bar since 1987, the MI bar since 2018, and meditation teacher since 2007. Stephen began practicing daily meditation in 1976. Since then, he has studied Buddhism extensively–investigating and engaging in Zen, Tibetan, and Western nondual traditions. Stephen was authorized to teach in 2007 by the Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw, a Burmese meditation master and renowned scholar. Stephen is also author of Stress Reduction for Lawyers, Law Students, and Legal Professionals: Learning to Relax.
Book: Stress Reduction for Lawyers, Law Students, and Legal Professionals: Learning to Relax
3:38 meditation and mindfulness
5:25 ways to disconnect
7:05 no training on stress management
9:00 mistakes when starting meditation
12:58 attention to breaths
18:30 emotional recognition
Jim’s Hack: Changing the way you breathe can make you more present.
Stephen’s Tip: Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson
Tyson’s Tip: Book: The Daily StoicListen to the podcast here.
Watch the interview here.
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Transcript: Stress Reduction for Lawyers w/ Stephen Snyder
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Hey, Tyson. How are you doing, man?
Tyson: I am doing well. What’s going on with you?
Jim: I am in San Diego. We’ve had a great couple of days on the beach. The sun finally came out yesterday and it was great. As you can see, I’m a little sunburned. But we’ve been having a great time with the kids. For two of the kids, it’s their first time in California so they’re really having fun.
Tyson: Oh, that’s surprising to me. I figured they all would’ve been out there by now.
Tell people why you are in San Diego because I’m sure that most know but not everybody knows. Like, you are in an office right now, right? You’re in your office? Okay.
Jim: Yeah. I’m in my San Diego office. Yep, that’s right.
Tyson: Almost everybody knows by now that you’ve got a San Diego office.
Jim: Oh, really? I talk about it all the time. I don’t know why they wouldn’t know about it.
But yeah, so the last two vacations I’ve had have been no vacations at all. One time I was studying for the California Bar which I ultimately didn’t end up taking. And the other time I was working on that deal to get our Washington D.C. office.
But the San Diego office is sort of a labor of love. My goal is to spend half my time in San Diego and half my time in St. Louis. So, we’re trying to get this one up off the ground. And so, I’m taking the whole week off except for today. I’m doing all my work in one day and trying to keep work and play separate.
Tyson: Nice. All right. Well, let’s jump in with our guest.
Jim: Well, I’m excited to have him. Stephen’s a longtime attorney and he’s an expert on reducing stress for lawyers. He’s done a lot of meditation practice, a lot of Zen practice. And we’re really excited to have him here.
His name’s Stephen Snyder.
Stephen, welcome to the show.
Stephen: Thanks so much, Jim. Nice to be here with you and Tyson.
Tyson: So, Steven, I was kind of torn where I want to start here because I want to start with the meditation stuff but, I guess, I probably should step back and just get your background. So, tell people a little bit about your journey and how you got to where you are now.
Well, I started meditating first when I was about 19 and really found it to be a fit for me and just kind of a grounding. So, that’s something I’ve done for the last 45 years, daily. I’ve done lots of retreats. Spent about 20 years in the Zen tradition, doing at least four retreats a year.
And then, I’ve also studied in different other Buddhist traditions and some other what we call Western non-dual traditions, so they’re outside religion, but there are teachers that have something helpful to say. And, personally, I kept the two separate. I thought, if I combine the two, I would be too sensitive, too agreeable, that I wouldn’t be a good advocate for my clients. And at some point, just the stress level was enough that I began to really break down that barrier and found I was happier, more productive, opposing counsel and my clients liked me better. So, I was just bringing all of myself.
And I think that’s really what sort of turned on the light bulb about how this could be beneficial to lawyers, and law students, and paralegals as well and, you know, legal workers as well. I’ve got a paralegal who did these practices and found it really helpful with her stress levels as well.
Jim: This is so great that we’re talking about this because this is one of the few days in a long time where I have not done my morning meditation because I had to get up so early to get ready for the show. I will attend to that later. I’ve been meditating for about a year–
Jim: –10 minutes every day. And my therapist runs the Shambhala Center in St. Louis.
Stephen: Oh, sure.
Jim: And so, I’ve been hearing about that a lot. And then, my own personal coach is a guy named Marty Janowitz who worked with Chögyam Trungpa for a really long time. So, I’ve been slowly getting into this. And it really is– the mindfulness is the thing for me. It’s just being mindful and trying to be present.
You know, I had a good laugh. On Monday, I was sitting up high above the beach, on this little outpost, and I was actually getting ready to do my meditation, and I wanted to check the weather. And so, I typed in Google, you know, “Is San Diego cool in June?” Or I was asking Google all these questions and I said to myself, you know, here I am sitting above the ocean, it’s beautiful out and instead of just being in the moment and looking at the sun and looking at the ocean, I was looking at my phone typing in all these questions to Google instead of just asking myself. So, I got a big kick out of that for myself.
Stephen: Yeah. That’s a great reminder, just really being more present is part of it. Of course, with lawyers and law students, there’s just such tremendous workloads. We’re really trained to be head-only people so we don’t necessarily connect too much heart wise as a general rule. And just the time pressures, and the demands, and lack of feedback. Typically, as a lawyer or a law student, you know when you do poorly but you don’t generally hear when you do well. So, it’s hard to really develop and have some stability. And also, being a win-lose profession, that makes it hard also.
Tyson: So, Stephen, with this cellphone right here, all the electronic, we’re on computers right now and with, I guess, all those stresses, I mean, what are some tips or some tricks that you might be able to give people to be able to disconnect? Because it can be really, really hard. I mean, Jim was– he probably needed to have his cellphone on him. Like, what are some ways that we can disconnect because it can be tough?
Stephen: It can be. And, really, a lot of it requires a certain amount of discipline because they find like, if we’re sitting at a table together and I put my phone on the table face down, they have studies now to show that we all treat that like another person at our table. And if we answer the phone and prioritize the phone over the personal communication, psychologists are calling that phubbing now. It’s phone snubbing. And they’re finding that people really get a dopamine hit, a pleasure hit, from the brain whenever their phone does the little beep or the little reminder that there’s social media or incoming email because we treat it as something that’s good. People want to connect with us. And, of course, the other studies show, the more Facebook friends you have, the greater likelihood that you suffer from depression or anxiety because of thinking it’s sort of a big lake but it’s not very deep.
Jim: I totally get that.
And, you know, one of the things that we have spent a lot of time on this show talking about Stephen, as it relates to lawyers is, you know, at least once every two or three months, we hear a lawyer who has committed suicide. And, in fact, Tyson and I both have a former boss and mentor who has killed himself. And so, I really think that lawyers do a poor job of taking care of themselves and taking care of their mental space. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Once again, I just think that we’re not really trained on how to manage the stress. You know, the studies show, for law students, that before law school they’re pretty well adjusted, pretty content in life. And within the first year of law school, 94% are displaying signs of excessive stress. And medical students, graduate students, in contrast, it’s about 70%. So, somehow, the pressure really starts there and I think it continues. And we just don’t know what to do with it. And so, we do things like we overstimulate and then try to use other methods like drugs or alcohol to also relax. So, people are really excessively using products to try to manage, you know, be very focused at work and relax a lot when they’re off. But that also impacts your interpersonal relationships too. People are going to have a lot of life issues that get affected – their eating, sleep, their moods. All these things can show a sign of stress.
And that’s why doing some simple meditation techniques. You know, one of the ones I have in my book, Stress Reduction for Lawyers, is one called FASR (focused attention stress reduction). And, really, it’s a matter of being with your breath in the area between the nostrils and the upper lip. And that’s it.
So, it’s super simple. You can do it sitting at your desk, at a stoplight, in line at the grocery store. But it helps us to just settle down to something that’s right here always. And by focusing on one thing, it lets the rest of the mind. It invites it to relax. So, we both have a concentration develop. We’re developing concentration on the breath. At the same time, we’re relaxing the rest of the mind.
Tyson: Great because I was actually about to ask you how people can start when it comes to mediation. So, that’s a fantastic tip to get started. And as you were talking, I was doing it. Actually, it’s really good.
Well, tell me this, what are some mistakes that you see people make when it comes to them trying to start with mediation?
Jim: Meditation. You keep saying mediation.
Tyson: Excuse me. Meditate.
Stephen: Well, it works in mediation, too.
The biggest thing, really, Tyson, is to not over commit because what happens and what Jim probably found as he went in saying, “I’m going to do 30 minutes or 60 minutes.” That’s going to lead to a certain amount of meditation burnout because you just can’t do it.
When I started meditating, I was 19. I had the stresses of a teenager but no life stresses. And I could only meditate for five minutes at a time before I was ready to jump out of my skin. So, it takes time to build up that muscle of concentration and relaxation. So, don’t overcommit. That’s one thing lawyers tend to do.
And also, try to do it– like Jim was saying, try and do it daily. If you do 10 minutes in the morning or 10 minutes morning and evening, in three weeks or four weeks, you’re going to see a big difference and probably sooner. I just don’t want to over promise. But it really helps a lot to do it.
And people report their relationships improve. Their spouse or partner likes them better. So, it really has a lot of beneficial effect in all areas of our life.
Tyson: So, I got a quick follow up, Jimmy. Sorry.
But like I’ve got to tell you, I’ve tried it before and I just get so freakin’ anxious. And maybe I’ve not committed enough to it. I get so anxious, I want to get up, I want to go do something else. So, do you have a tip for me that’ll keep my butt on that chair, on the floor, or on the couch, or whatever is comfortable for me so I can stay because I’m always wanting to get up and do something else?
Well, it’s a matter of prioritizing. If you treat meditation like brushing your teeth each day rather than like cleaning out the garage, then you’re more likely to do it. And you will have to remind yourself, Tyson, of all the benefits of it. The fact that you’re slowing down, you’re turning into your interiority which is really interesting and complex. And we also have to pull away from what you’re talking about which I call compulsive doing. And for so many of us, our doing is how we’ve been recognized in life. You know, teachers, bosses, parents, when you do something they approve of, they sure let you know or they can let you know.
But the problem with that is, we never get a sense that it’s actually about us. It’s about our performance. And so, this is where another meditation I have in the book called innate goodness meditation. That helps us get in touch with our innate goodness that isn’t dependent on doing. And there’s a buoyancy that develops in our spirit by doing this. It’s really beneficial. And it counteracts a lot of the negative self-talk that most people participate in these days.
Jim: Yeah, for me, you know, I might sit there for– and you only meditate for 10 minutes. And it’s interesting. If you do it every day, you can see how different your meditation is each day. Sometimes your breaths come very quickly. Sometimes your breaths are slow and drawn out. Sometimes you’re like itching in your skin and trying to get done. I know that, a couple of times last week, I would open my eyes even during the meditation which is very unusual. So, it’s really, to me, like a bellwether to check in where I’m at.
And focusing on the breath for me, Tyson, has been the best thing. It’s just focusing on the breath. And I thought it was all about the inhale. You know, in through the nose and out through the mouth. But, for me, when I started studying the exhale and like how I get my breath out, that’s really helped me sort of focus. And you might sit there for 10 whole minutes and you might feel like you only have like three of all the breaths in all those 10 minutes that really hit the right spot. And that’s been really helpful to me. And it takes out that judgment thing. It’s more just like, ”Where am I at?” – using it to see where I’m at and letting the chips fall where they may.
Stephen: Well, if you notice, too, Jim, that whenever we get anxious, or we get overexcited, if you track your breathing, you’ll be panting. You’re not doing deep lung breaths. So, one of the ways we can counteract that, say, we’ve got a mediation or some important legal event we’re going to, start by just taking some really nice slow deep breaths, really expand your lungs, your belly. Feel your feet on the ground. Feel the support of the building supporting you right now. And just a few minutes of that and you’re going to feel more embodied, more grounded, and more present for what you’re doing.
Tyson: This is just coming from a total noob that knows nothing about it. Jim, you just mentioned a couple of people that you work with. So, Stephen, are there like meditation coaches? And I know they’re not called coaches but what are they called and how do you start to work with people like that?
Stephen: You know, typically, meditation teachers. For example, I’m a meditation teacher. I was authorized to teach by one of my teachers in 2007. And I work with people on the meditations I’ve mentioned where I do a little coaching. And also, the impact. So, it’s not just the technique of meditation. It’s how they’re being affected and helping to process that. And, typically, anytime you’re doing something like this, you’re changing behavior, you’re going to see issues and aspects of your life that need adjustment.
The other thing that I have is I’m launching a new video that’ll be available this week on my website, awakeningdharma.org. And it’s a video Stress Reduction for Lawyers. I go through talking about the stresses, what they look like, and then going through guiding each of the meditations. So, this is something somebody could also purchase. Then, they could go in and do the meditations with me leading them in the meditation to learn how to do them.
Jim: Running your own practice can be scary. Whether you’re worried about where the next case will come from, feeling like you’re losing control over your growing firm, or frustrated from being out of touch with everyone working under your license, the stress can be overwhelming. We will show you how to turn that fear into a driving force of clarity, focus, stability, and confidence that eliminates the rollercoaster of guilt-ridden second guessing and mistake making to get you off that hamster wheel for good.
Tyson: Maximum Lawyer in Minimum Time is a step-by-step playbook that shows you how to identify what your firm needs and how to proactively get it at every stage of the game so you’re prepped and excited for the inevitable growth that will follow. Name the lifestyle that you want and we’ll show you how to become a maximum lawyer in minimum time. Find out more by going to maximumlawyer.com/course.
Jim: You’re listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. We’re talking today to Stephen Snyder. He’s an attorney. He has been a member of the California Bar for many years and the Michigan Bar. And he’s the author of Stress Reduction for Lawyers, Law Students and Legal Professionals: Learning To Relax.
Outside of the meditation space, Stephen, what about during the day? Like I’m Mr. Golden Sunshine from like 5:00 in the morning till 7:00. And then, the day starts. And I have a really hard time sort of reconnecting to that morning spot. I’m happy to have my morning space. And I do sometimes carry that throughout the day. But I do have a hard time, once I’m on the hamster wheel of the day, of checking back out. Do you have any suggestions for that?
Stephen: Right. Well, probably what you’re sharing, Jim, is that 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. hour is when nobody else is there. There’s no phone calls coming in. So, that’s a matter of budgeting time. And some of the successful lawyers by successful people who are managing their stress well that I’ve seen is they do things like they have an hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon when they manage phone calls. Otherwise, they don’t take phone calls. So, they do time management.
And in terms of work, they finish what they’re working on. They have times when they close their door. They’re not to be interrupted.
But if you’re constantly interrupted, the idea that we can multitask – the scientists are showing that that’s actually false or, actually, our attention drops dramatically when we’re trying to type an email and talk on the phone to someone else at the same time. So, we really need to do one thing at a time. That’s one of the big secrets to staying more relaxed and more productive, too.
Tyson: So, I’m curious. Like, for me, like getting started with meditation is like the really basic thing. I’ve got to start basic. Are there like advanced levels? Like, for you. Like, are you trying to achieve like another level of meditation? That may seem like a total naive question but I’m curious if there’s like multiple levels of this.
Stephen: There absolutely are. This level is really about stress reduction and improving your life. But these meditations, particularly the innate goodness meditation, can really lead to some we might call heart openings in Buddhism. And the FASR meditation, the focused attention stress reduction, that meditation can lead to some really amazing states and even I’ll say, visiting other realms. There’s really an experience of being in another universe with the meditations.
My next book is coming out. I’ve got another book out called Buddha’s Heart which is all about the heart meditations of Buddhism which are really, they’re 2600 years old, but still extremely relevant for today.
And then, my next book is on spiritual awakening and realization, it’d be out next year.
So, there is. There’s a potential. Like in the Zen tradition, awakening is something that’s really desired. And the whole system is set up to try to focus people in that direction, to wake up from thinking “I’m just a personality” into knowing that “I’m an expression of the universe,” let’s say.
Jim: A lot of us work in adversarial situations where there’s usually an opposing party on the other side and we’re basically trying to get them to bend to our will. You know, we’re either fighting with insurance companies or, for me, I’m fighting with the Immigration Service. As we find ourselves more centered and trying to live a life of loving kindness, what advice do you have as far as the interaction with others who might not be so grounded at the moment?
Well, two of the things I recommend in the book. One is developing emotional recognition. One of the things I found with lawyers is that we’re really not good at reading other people in terms of emotions.
And some of the experts on reading faces have said that, regardless of country or language, there are seven emotions that everyone displays the same way. And this includes blind people. So, this means this is hardwired into our DNA. It’s not something that’s learned.
And so, I have a real simple exercise in the book which is simply go by yourself into the bathroom and, using the bathroom mirror, make the face for each of these emotions so you start recognizing what it looks like. And then, start trying to recognize them in your life. And it makes a huge difference.
You know, if I say to you, “Tyson, you look really happy right now, you know. Is that true?”
Tyson: [inaudible 00:19:46] myself actually doing these faces. That’s why.
Stephen: Right. But the point is, when you recognize or you ask about someone’s emotion, you’re connecting with something that may be important to them and about them personally so there’s some interaction. I mean, I got to use it when I was doing depositions and trials, where I would see a micro expression from somebody where, all of a sudden, there’s a look of disgust. Well, what’s that? What’s that about? Or there’s something that’s evasive looking in some way. So, it really helps in terms of work also.
And the other is listening. I have, in the book, I talk about attentive and inattentive listening. And really this simple exercise that, if we’re speaking right now, and if you look away and start looking at your phone, how that makes me feel. And then, we switch the roles, and you do it, and you start seeing, “Well, if I’m doing something else, that person doesn’t feel that I’m present and that I’m attentive to what they’re doing, or I’m listening.” So, improving listening skills makes a big difference too because it helps the relationships when people feel heard.
Tyson: So, Stephen, the name of that book is Stress Reduction for Lawyers, Law Students And Legal Professionals: Learning To Relax. How do they get that book?
Stephen: Amazon is a good way. It’s both available as an ebook and also paperback. And then, again, there’s the video in my website, awakeningdharma.org, which is $49. And you can go through it all, step-by-step, self-paced. Again, I lead to the meditation which is– it’s really helpful to have someone lead you rather than to just read it in the book and do it.
Tyson: Perfect. And before we wrap things up, if people want to reach out to you, how do they get in touch with you?
Stephen: Through the website, awakeningdharma.org. There’s some clicks on there. Or, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
All right. We do need to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the Facebook group. Get involved. There’s a lot of great activity.
If you want to get a ticket to the conference, go to MaxLawCon 2021. You might want to hurry up because we are getting close to selling out.
And then, if you’re interested in joining us in the Guild, go to maxlawguild.com.
Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: Well, I’m sure that, for some of our listeners, the stuff that we’ve been talking about with Stephen is sort of intimidating. And I know that that can be a turnoff and that it just seems so insurmountable. But just give yourself a break. And just take small steps, real small steps. I think breathing– I mean, I did it during the episode. I do it all the time where I’ll be in a contentious meeting, often with my wife at the office, and I’ll just breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. And breathing out through the mouth. And if you picture yourself like blowing out a straw, I mean, slowing down the breath as it goes out of your body really does it. And like Stephen said, just doing three at the beginning, three in and out at the beginning of a meeting, it can really change the way that you are present.
Tyson: Yeah. I do something very similar with the stuff that Jason Selk teaches where, you know, I’ve got this whole thing that I go through. And I’ve talked about it before [inaudible 00:22:50] long breath in, you know, long breath out kind of thing. And then, the identity statement and everything. And it’s really effective for me. So, I know what you’re talking about.
All right, Stephen, so we always ask our guests to give a tip or hack the week. It could be a podcast. It could be a book. It could be really anything. Do you have a tip or a hack for us?
Stephen: Well, I’m particularly favorably inclined– a friend of mine, Rick Hanson, has a podcast called Being Well, he does with his son. And they interview different people, different leaders, and talk about various benefits we can do in terms of life. So, I really recommend his podcast for that reason.
Tyson: Very good.
And my tip of the week is actually– it’s perfect for this episode. And I pulled up– I’m one day in in reading this, by the way. But a good friend of mine, Scott, she recommended it. Terry Clancy, in The Guild, recommended it because she saw that I had it. She saw it on our Zoom call yesterday. And it’s called The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. I’d kind of flipped through it before, whenever Scott showed it to me, about a month ago. And then, I finally ordered it. It’s really cool. So, it’s just something that I kind of ponder. So, it’s called The Daily Stoic.
Stephen, I’ve got to say like you’ve got a very calming presence which is kind of cool. I don’t know if that’s–
Jim: For sure.
Tyson: I don’t know if that’s the [inaudible 00:24:03] but you’re very calm. There’s something about you. I like it. So, thank you so much for coming on.
Stephen: My pleasure. It was really a lot of fun being with you guys.
Jim: Thanks, Stephen.
Stephen: Thanks. Be well and be kind to yourself.
Tyson: Same to you, Stephen.
Tyson: See ya.
Stephen: Bye now.
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