Your Most Important Law School Conversations
Many important conversations take place during law school. Conversations with your teachers (hello, Socratic Method), classmates (study group, anyone?), and administrators (counselling services, I need a job!) are all elements essentials of the law school experience. But the most important conversations are the ones you have with yourself. Your internal dialogue — the words you say to yourself throughout the day — can impact every aspect of your law school life. These internal conversations create your mood, affect your health, and influence your study sessions.
“Spirit energy is the essence of life.” – Aristotle
At any time, you have the option of choosing between a depressing or uplifting inner dialogue. Take, for example, this short story:
A man fell on a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first: “What are you doing?” and the man replied, “I’m laying bricks.” He asked the second: “What are you doing?” and the man replied, “I’m building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard the man humming a tune as he worked and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood up, looked up at the sky and smiled: “I’m building a cathedral!”
Your internal dialogue – or the story you tell yourself – creates a physiological response in your body, which affects your emotional state at that time. Ultimately, these internal conversations create your perception of who you are as a student and how law school treats you. So, what story do you tell yourself throughout the day? By taking classes, studying, drawing or preparing for exams, are you laying bricks or building a cathedral?
You are the director of your own script
“Every cell listens to your internal dialogue.” – Deepak Chopra
When your internal dialogue is going on, you may feel like you’re having a conversation with “someone else.” In a way, it’s true – you’re actually having a conversation with the cells inside your body. Every thought you have sends information to your cells, which then interpret that information and produce a corresponding chemical reaction in your body and brain. If your internal dialogue is largely negative, it will create a “negative” biochemical reaction (e.g. stress-inducing release of cortisol).
On the other hand, directing more positive self-talk will produce a more “positive” biochemical response (e.g. mood-enhancing endorphins), resulting in a better mood, beneficial to your overall health, and allowing your brain to work more efficiently.
The great thing about your internal dialogue is that you have a choice: you can Listen to these automatic thoughts and react to them, or you can direct those thoughts and respond in a way that best serves your overall well-being. If you have negative thoughts about a particular topic, you have the ability to redirect those thoughts. You are the writer, director and star of both sides of your internal dialogue; write the script that works best for you in your mind, body, and spirit to give you the energy and determination you need to navigate the rigors of law school.
Small changes in your dialogue can lead to big changes in your experience
It’s important to monitor your self-talk, but even more important is to learn how to make your self-talk work for you. Neuroplasticity tells us that your brain is like a muscle, so if you want it to be more positive, you need to train your brain. Learn to harness awareness of negative self-talk and develop the discipline to make those thoughts more positive. The end result: you’ll feel better about yourself and about your law school experience.
To train your brain to be more positive, choose the words you say to yourself carefully. Even changing a word can have a big impact on how you feel. Constantly remind yourself that you to have to study for law school, you get to study for law school. Don’t tell yourself that you are expenses a lot of time to study; tell yourself that you are invest time to be more successful. Consider how the following two sentences make you feel:
- I have to spend a lot of time studying tonight.
- I can invest time in my goal of being a lawyer.
The first sentence tells you that what you are doing is a burden – and the more similar thoughts you have, the more stress you are going to create for yourself. Alternatively, choosing the second sentence creates a more positive emotional state, better preparing your mind to process and assimilate the information you are about to study. Directing your thoughts may seem difficult at first, but consistency is key to positive change. It takes time to build an amazing cathedral, but this discipline will always be better than just laying down a pile of bricks every day.
A final note on your internal dialogue: Much of the stress of law school comes from one or two topics that you simply don’t “get”. If you’re struggling with a topic, try adding the word “again” to your vocabulary. So, rather than saying you’re not “getting ownership,” start saying you’re not “getting ownership.” Again.” This small tweak in your dialogue can make a big, positive difference in your overall mindset. In every obstacle, there is an opportunity.
The more you catch yourself in moments of negative self-talk and subsequently change the narrative, the easier it will become to choose a better storyline. If you are aware of negative self-talk and cultivate the discipline to change it into more positive self-talk, you will soon say that you “can” do almost anything and feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally. .
Like any good law school class, I’m going to recap our big takeaways. First, the words you choose to say to yourself can either energize or exhaust you, so choose them wisely. Second, if you are lucky enough to be among the select group of people who are preparing to become lawyers, try to remember that you to have to studying, describing and preparing for exams; you get to discover all that the law school offers. Attending law school is an honor and a privilege, and you have worked very hard for this tremendous opportunity. Good construction of the cathedral!
“Every thought we have creates our future.” –Louise Hay
Chad Noreuil is a clinical professor of law at Arizona State University and author of several books, including The zen of academic success in law and The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam.
 Siobhan Kukolic, Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral?Huff Post, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/are-you-laying-bricks-or-_b_12387634 (updated October 19, 2017).
 Chris P. Neck and Charles C. Manz, Thinking Self-Leadership: The Influence of Self-Talk and Mental Imagery on Performance: Summary, 13 J. Org. Behavior 681 (1992); Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis et al., Self-conversation and competitive athletic performance, 26 J. Applied Sport Psych. 82, 87 (2014).
 Kimberly Holland, Positive self-talk: how talking to yourself is a good thingHealthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/positive-self-talk (updated June 26, 2020).
 Chai M. Tyng et al., The influences of emotion on learning and memory, 8 Psych. 1454. (2017); Kimberly Holland, Positive self-talk: how talking to yourself is a good thingHealthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/positive-self-talk (updated June 26, 2020).
 John J. Ratey, Brain User’s Guide: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain 17 (2002).
 Briggs Saga, 25 ways to develop a growth mindsetInformed: Features (February 10, 2015), https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/develop-a-growth-mindset/.