Positive affirmations for first-year law students

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[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

When I first started law school, one of the things that surprised me the most was how pervasive negative self-talk is in the law student community. As my own insecurities and imposter syndrome grew, my self-talk grew more and more negative as well. The more negative my self-talk got, the more I believed it.  What’s worse is that because I was a high-achieving perfectionist, in a culture full of other high-achieving perfectionists, I began to view my negative self-talk as some sort of badge of honor or mark of my ascension into the profession.

It wasn’t until after some of the things I told myself solidified to the point that I believed them unquestioningly that I realized how detrimental my self-talk patterns had become. Let me tell you, working yourself out of those negative patterns is much more difficult than working yourself into those negative patterns.

Studies have shown that talking out loud to yourself in the third person is one of the most effective ways to change your thought patterns. In my personal experience, this has proven to be true. It helps me to think about what I would say to my best friend if she was feeling the same way I am feeling and then say that to myself.

Here is a case study:

Today, as I am writing this, the number of things on my to-do list is so large that I am genuinely convinced that it is not possible to get them all done. As I have gotten more stressed about it, my self-talk has moved from “I am overwhelmed,” to “there is no way I can do all of this,” to “maybe I’m not cut out for law school or the legal profession, so I should just quit,” to “maybe I should also just quit life and go live in a cave because clearly there I wouldn’t fail at everything.” (It gets dark real quick).

If someone came to me and said those same things, my response would immediately, without hesitation be: “What. Look at everything you have accomplished. (List of accomplishments ranging from remembering to floss to making it through a semester of law school, etc.). You are kind and intelligent. You are very capable. Your feelings of failure are partially your insecurity and partially a result of a system that attracts and enables high-achieving perfectionists. Remember why you are here doing this thing that is really difficult and remind yourself that you are capable of doing it.” This is a verbatim quote from a conversation I had literally minutes ago.

As proof that I am still learning and working on this, here is also a screenshot of another conversation I had literally minutes ago.

The really difficult step here is taking those affirmations and saying them to yourself. It feels awkward and maybe egotistical at first, but as studies show, it changes the way you interact with yourself.

If you’re not sure where to start with the positive self-talk, here’s a list of affirmations I am trying to adopt for myself:

  1. You should feel good about your skills and abilities. (Or, if you need something more basic: You have many skills and abilities. Then list your skills and abilities. Out loud. To yourself. Or, better yet, write them down in the front of your planner and refer back to them frequently.)
  2. You are smart. (If I am saying this to other people, I generally say “you are brilliant,” or “you are a genius,” but I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel capable of saying that to myself yet.)
  3. You are capable of succeeding. You are capable of getting a job. You are capable of finishing the things on your list. You are capable of being happy. (You are capable of saying these things to yourself and believing them.)
  4. You are learning. (This one is especially helpful if I feel like I am failing at everything. You are learning what to prioritize. You are learning how to be in this community. You are learning the language of the law. You are learning how to be a leader. You are learning how to have boundaries.)
  5. You are not defined by the things you perceive as failures. You are not defined by standards of perfectionism.
  6. You are doing very difficult things and not being crushed by them.
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