After I started practicing law in January 1983, one of the things that I did on a regular basis was go to the courthouse and watch other lawyers try cases in front of juries. Because I started my law practice from scratch, during the first several months I had extra time on my hands to observe other lawyers in action.
Whenever I watched other lawyers try cases, I took notes, which I later assembled into a binder that I used as a resource when I began trying my own cases.
One of the lawyers I enjoyed watching — I’ll call him James — was a veteran criminal defense attorney. He was smart, articulate, and animated. In addition to being skilled at cross-examining witnesses, he also did a masterful job of arguing his clients’ cases to the juries. He was very entertaining to watch. None of the jurors ever fell asleep during his closing arguments.
James has been retired for several years now. He was forced into retirement after he got into trouble with some of his clients. He had two addictions he was never able to overcome that finally did him in: alcohol and gambling.
I thought about James last month when I ran into another lawyer I’ll call Steve. I met Steve shortly after I opened my law practice. When I met him, he was sharing office space with another lawyer, who had hired me to do some legal research and writing.
Steve is 10 years older than I am. When I ran into him last month, we discussed our families and what we’ve been up to. While we were talking, I couldn’t help but notice how great he looked. Steve is 69 years old, but he looks like he’s in his early-to-mid-50s. He’s tall, thin, and energetic. I asked him the obvious question: How do you stay so thin?
He immediately answered my question without taking any time to think about it. He said that the primary reason he’s able to stay thin and enjoy good health is because he recognizes how important it is to do the things that are necessary to relieve stress. He told me that when a lawyer doesn’t have an effective way to relieve stress, the lawyer eventually crashes and burns.
To emphasize his point, Steve said, “You know as well as I do how hard it is to deal with clients, judges, employees, and everything else you have to do to keep your practice going. It’s extremely stressful. The problem with stress is that it’s cumulative. One day builds on another. If you don’t have a way to effectively deal with it, you’re in big trouble.”
I followed up by asking Steve the next obvious question: What do you do to relieve stress? His answer was simple and to the point: “I exercise every day.” He emphasized the words “every day.” When I asked him what type of exercise he does, he said that he gets on a treadmill for one hour each day.
My immediate thought was: One hour? That’s a lot of time.
Without thinking, I asked in a disbelieving tone of voice: You spend an hour every day on the treadmill? He immediately shot back, “Yes, I have to. I don’t have a choice. That’s the only way I can deal with the stress that comes along with practicing law.”
Later, as I was thinking about my conversation with Steve, I thought about James, the criminal defense attorney who dealt with his stress by gambling and abusing alcohol. I also thought about all the people I know who use prescription and over-the-counter medications to deal with the symptoms that are caused by stress.
About 10 years ago, I met a man — I’ll call him Matt — who owned a health club in California. When we met, Matt was in his early 40s. He had won a national wrestling championship while he was in college and had won a world championship in martial arts after he graduated from college. He was well-known in the city where his business was located for being a personal trainer for people who were in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Matt told me that it was his belief that regardless of a person’s health or limitations, everyone should engage in physical exercise on a daily basis. He told me that he had several clients who were confined to wheelchairs. Although he had to be creative with the exercises he taught them, he pushed all of them to exercise every day. He refused to allow them to get away with making excuses.
Matt told me about a client who was in his late 80s. One of the exercises Matt assigned to the client was to start in a standing position and then lower himself to the floor, lie down on the floor, and then return to a standing position. The client was not able to perform the exercise on the first day, but Matt instructed him to work at it until he could do the exercise 10 times in one day. Matt told me that within a month, the man was able to work up to performing the exercise 10 times each day.
Matt was a very forceful individual who refused to take no for an answer. He told me that he earned a lot of money teaching something that should have been obvious to everyone.
While we devout Catholics know that the best way to deal with stress is to engage in prayer on a daily basis, we often fail to push ourselves to utilize the second best way to deal with stress, which is to exercise on a daily basis. It’s not enough to take care of our spiritual needs. We know from the Bible that Jesus sometimes walked for hours at a time, which is one of the easiest and best forms of physical exercise that is available to us.
Do you need an effective way to deal with the daily stress that wears you down physically, mentally, and emotionally? Why not do what you know you should be doing — commit to a time and place where you will exercise every day.
If you fail to exercise on a daily basis, you should confess laziness the next time you go to confession. There’s really no excuse for failing to exercise every day.