Chalkboard encouraging changePsychologists have been studying why people work so hard to avoid change, even when it is in their best interest, for centuries. Our team at SEO for Lawyers has repeatedly watched as attorneys with failing businesses ignore all advice and double down, continuing to do more of the same strategies that have clearly not been working. When a person continues to behave in a way that seemly makes no sense, emotion is often driving the irrational behavior. My last post discussed why attorneys who perceive problems as within their control are more likely to make active changes to their business strategy. Today I will be discussing why negative-driven emotions directly affect your business decisions and prevent you from making changes.

Feelings and behaviors are interlinked and can result in either positive or negative business actions for your law firm

Attorneys are not thought of as highly emotional creatures. As a group, they pride themselves on their analytical abilities and prowess for staying cool under pressure. So the idea that something as trivial as one’s emotions might be impacting your business may be hard to swallow. However, like it or not, you have emotions just like everyone else and those pesky feelings will impact your business decisions.

The idea that feelings impact behavior is explained by a simple feedback loop, which can be either positive or negative in nature. Psychologists believe that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interrelated and cause a chain reaction effect that can either drive motivation or a downward spiral. Positive emotions produce thoughts that encourage us to push ourselves harder and explore new avenues. For example, if you are feeling satisfied, proud, and, happy, you are more likely to view business problems as manageable, see yourself as capable, and think that risks and changes are possible. These positive emotions coupled with action oriented thoughts lead to business decisions that are productive and drive your practice forward.

However, if you are feeling fearful, anxious, or depressed, it may become difficult to talk yourself into doing anything more than the bare minimum your business requires. Feelings of inadequacy and lethargy create doubt, and soon you may hold very real feeling beliefs that change is not possible and there is no tangible solution to your business issues. These negative thoughts and irrational beliefs can hold attorneys back from taking the steps necessary to fix their business.

Negative emotions lead to irrational business behaviors for attorneys

Irrational business decisions are often born out of severe and crippling emotions. As mentioned above, fear, anxiety, and depression are the emotions that most often contribute to a lack of change. Fear is a huge contributor in hesitating to make changes that would otherwise seem obvious. We most frequently see fear come up when it comes to investing money into your law firm. Many attorneys want to upgrade their marketing, sign up for services, or hire a new employee. However, the fear that the investment will not work and cost them money is so great that they spend months putting the decision off. There is always a chance that a business investment or change will not work, but when there is an obvious problem and you are so afraid that you choose inaction, your fear has gotten the best of you.

Anxiety is the cousin of fear, and often presents itself in the form of indecisiveness. Anxious lawyers often have difficulties making both big and small decisions, and will avoid committing to decisions in order to keep their anxiety at bay. There is some irony in that those who worry the most often contribute to the problems they are most worried about. We have seen attorneys fret for months- months- over relatively simple decisions related to their marketing. Many attorneys get so hung up over making sure the wording, graphics, or other small details are “just right” that they seriously delay the launch of their website, causing them to lose thousands of dollars in business. Many people attempt to justify their indecisiveness as being akin to perfectionism, but there is nothing perfect or functional about failing to get important projects out of the way. This irrational behavior is caused by a worry of making the wrong decision to the point where no decision is made. Refusing to make a choice is a choice in itself, and it is never a good one.

Finally, depression can have a huge effect on attorneys who are running their own business and worried about their profit margins. In January 2014, CNN wrote an article reporting that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer depression than the average American.[1] The article cites a number of explanations for this phenomenon including the 2008 economic downturn which resulted in a large number of firms being forced into layoffs and pay cuts. Depression causes low energy, lethargy, makes situations feel hopeless and saps all motivation for change. If you are experiencing depression, then business setbacks that would normally be easily handled can feel impossible. An attorney suffering depression will feel hopeless, and as I discussed in my last article, will not perceive his business’s success as within the realm of his control. Tasks such as retraining employees, looking into marketing opportunities, and implementing case management systems may feel overwhelming, and will never get accomplished. Attorneys who are able to identify depression as a contributing factor to their business problems should seriously consider seeking professional help- both for the sake of their business and their personal well-being.

It is a fact that our emotional state of mind will directly impact our behavior, and thus play a role in our law firm’s success or failure. The emotions that we have discussed today can range from normal, mild trepidation, to paralyzing fear. Severe anxiety or depression that is making both work and personal tasks feel unmanageable may require the treatment of a mental health professional. However, many attorneys who are new to being their own boss are experiencing common feelings and can easily make lasting improvements to their firm by implementing a few tweaks to how they approach problems. My next post will discuss ways attorneys can change their bad habit of avoiding problems and prepare themselves to make lasting decisions.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/19/us/lawyer-suicides/index.html?iref=allsearch