When I think about our neurological levels (detailed in the pyramid below) as lawyers, it becomes clear to me why so many of us are misaligned.
It is so common that I meet lawyers whose core identity has become synonymous with their job title.
What do you do? “I AM a lawyer” does not just describe what we do for a living but who we are.
So what are neurological levels? This work was adapted by Robert Dilts from the work of an anthropologist Gregory Bateson. The basis of this work describes how our experience manifests by different levels and layers of how we operate, that make up our reality.
Albert Einstein – “you can not solve a problem on the same level it was created, you have to go to a higher level”
The levels describe our experience of a situation or a reality at six different levels that climb up in hierarchy as shown here.
At the bottom of the pyramid is our environment – the concrete where and when of our experience. This is the first level and is the most tangible of all levels as it describes the physical environment and the context, in which our experience takes place.
It is often blamed for when we are unhappy, “I need to change jobs”, “I need to get out of this house or relationship”; “I need to move countries in order for my experience to change”. What then happens is that we realise that we have taken ourselves with us!
Behaviour – The next level is our behaviour – the what of our experience in each context of our lives. This is the level that describes what we do and how we behave when we are in that environment. The way you behave in certain environments would differ. If the issues lie in the way that you behave then you need to look at your capabilities and skills to address whether you need to upskill in order to behave or do differently.
This brings us to the next level of the pyramid – Capabilities/skills – this is the how of our pyramid and are very much driven by what we believe we are capable of. This level affects our behaviour as it dictates How we do what we do based on our level of skill in that environment. So when the issue lies on this level, upskilling alone may not be the answer, we may need to look a little higher and change beliefs about what we can be capable of.
We then move to the level of beliefs and values. This is where we are guided by what matters to us and what we believe about our capabilities. This is our why. What happens at this level very much affects what we are capable of and therefore what we do in the environment.
The higher level is our identity. This is who we are when we believe what we believe, are using what we are capable of, to do what we do in the environment.
Robert Dilts took the levels to an extra platform that is described as the Greater Whole, or sometimes referred to as what else, where we are a part of something outside of us that is bigger than us that we somehow belong to. This could be our family, our professions, our community, our world, our universe, our spirituality, our higher purpose or our bigger picture.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, when I think of being a lawyer and the difficulties and challenges that this profession presents, I can’t help but feel that one of the main issues is a misalignment in our levels. Our identity as lawyers tends to infiltrate every other experience in our lives. I speak to lawyers who tell me that they can’t stop being a lawyer, that they work such long hours and are consumed by compulsive thinking and overthinking about their work that they feel like they never stop working. That even when we are not lawyering, we behave and believe as though we are. The substance and alcohol abuse for some lawyers, seems to be one of the only ways they can switch off – only when they are numb!
It is no wonder then that many lawyers suffer from ill mental health. When our identity as lawyers is constantly present, then our beliefs and values about who we are and what is important to us becomes confused when we are not at work. The misalignment happens because no matter what our environment, our identity at the top which feeds from the greater whole – the mother ship of the legal profession with all its, tradition, history and expectations, does not align.
We are more than lawyers. Law is what we do not who we are. Who we are in different environments may call for different behaviours, skills, beliefs and values. When we carry the lawyer pyramid with us where ever we are, we become misaligned.
Each of those contexts will require a different pyramid that have the relevant identity at the top. Sure there are some core beliefs and values that exist in all your pyramids, but there will be some specific beliefs and values about who you are in that pyramid, specific skills and capabilities that allow you to play the role and certain behaviours and things you do in that environment.
So here we can start to see how operating out of your lawyer pyramid all the time may cause some issues. It may cause frustration when for example you deal with people in the community who don’t equate time with money or when your children don’t value perfectionism and are not aiming high, when you are constantly on the look out for what could go wrong in your relationships, or when you are generally negative or pessimistic. What about when your friends don’t accept your advice when you have the solution for their problem and you find yourself saying ‘that’s just the lawyer in me’!!
When we are parenting, we are parents, when we are socialising we are friends, when we are participating in our community we are community members, when we play a sport we are team members, when we breath and exist we are simply human beings!!