May 5, 2023

#110: Jordana Confino - Lawyer Well-being & Positive Lawyering Expert, Assistant Dean of Professionalism at Fordham Law

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In honor of Well-being Week in Law I speak with Jordana Alter Confino. Jordana plays many different roles but what they all share is a focus on the skills, well-being, empowerment, mental health, and growth of lawyers & law students. She is the Assistant Dean of Professionalism at Fordham Law where she oversees all aspects of the Professionalism Office’s work including the Law School’s wellness, professionalism, and peer mentorship offerings. Jordana also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law, teaching Positive Lawyering and Peer Mentoring & Leadership. She was voted Fordham Law Adjunct Professor of the Year in 2021. She also has her own consulting and coaching business where she works with individuals and groups on topics related to building connections, living your values, dealign with perfectionism by cultivating a growth mindset, and using positive psychology to boost well-being, resilience, performance, and happiness. She serves as a leader of number of academic and professional organizations focused on balance and attorney well-being. Prior to joining Fordham, Jordana served as the Assistant Director of Academic Counseling, Acting Clerkship Advisor, and a Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law and before that started her career as a law clerk to judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Southern District of New York. She is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School (Go Bulldogs) and she holds a certification in applied Positive Psychology from the New York Open Center.


In our conversation we discuss her personal challenges and how they led her current career, her decision to study and then teach positive psychology to law students and lawyers, her techniques to help lawyers deeper and more fulfilling professional and personal lives, perfectionism in our profession, the importance of identifying and living your values, and more.

You can learn more about Jordana and her work at the following links:

Time Stamps

[00:02:18] "Why I Went to Law School for the Wrong Reasons"
[00:05:50] "Law Schools Failing Students' Career Exploration Needs"
[00:09:38] "The Disturbing Shift in Law Students' Motivation"
[00:12:52] "Making Decisions Based on Values, Not Fear"
[00:20:46] "Small Steps for Lawyers' Well-Being & Success"
[00:25:57] The Perils of Perfectionism: Why Letting Go Matters
[00:30:16] "Unlocking Mental Strength & Success: Positive Psychology Insights"
[00:37:00] "Maximizing Performance through Mindfulness and Connection"
[00:44:34] "Unlocking self-compassion: The key to success"
[00:51:45] "Breaking Free from Self Criticism and Perfectionism"

This episode is sponsored, edited, and engineered by LawPods, a professional podcast production company for busy attorneys.

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Jonah Perlin [00:00:00]:

Welcome to How I Lawyer, a podcast where I talk to attorneys from throughout the profession about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it well. I'm your host, Jonah Perlin, a law professor in Washington, DC. This episode is sponsored, edited, and engineered by my friends at Law Pods. Law Pods is a professional podcast production company focused solely on attorney podcasting. I absolutely love working with them, and if you're considering becoming a legal podcaster or just want to learn more, check them And now let's get started.

Jonah Perlin [00:00:35]:

Hello and welcome back. In today's episode, I'm so excited to speak with Jordana Altercanfino. Jordana plays many different roles, which we'll discuss on the show, but what they all share is a focus on the skills, well being, empowerment, mental health, and growth of lawyers and law students. She's the Assistant Dean of Professionalism at Fordham, where she oversees all aspects of the professionalism's offices work, including the law school's wellness, Professionalism, and peer mentorship offerings. She's also an Adjunct Professor of Law, where she teaches positive lawyering and peer mentoring and leadership, two fascinating sounding classes. I hope we can talk about that as well. She was voted Fordham Law's Adjunct Professor of the Year in 2021. She also has her own consulting and coaching business, where she works with individuals and groups on topics related to building connections, living your values, dealing with perfectionism by cultivating a growth mindset, and using positive psychology to boost wellbeing resilience performance and happiness. She serves as a leader of a number of academic and professional organizations focused on balance and attorney well being. Prior to joining Fordham, she served as the Assistant Director of Academic Counseling at Columbia Law, and before that, started her career as a law clerk to a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and another judge on the Southern.

Jonah Perlin [00:01:42]:

District of New York.

Jonah Perlin [00:01:43]:

She's a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School. Go, Bulldogs. And holds a certificate, a certification in Applied Positive psychology from the New York Open Center. Welcome to the podcast, Jordan. So glad we got to do this.

Jordana Confino [00:01:55]:

Well, thank you so much, Jonah. What an introduction. The Bulldogs are pleased, and I am delighted to be here.

Jonah Perlin [00:02:02]:

Fantastic. Well, look, I'm excited to talk about all the things that you teach in all the different forums you teach it, but I want to start by talking about you and your story. So let's start from the beginning, at least from the perspective of the legal career. When and why did you decide to become a lawyer?

Jordana Confino [00:02:18]:

Well, I don't know if this is a good thing to admit on this podcast, but I am all about authenticity, so I went to law school for all of the wrong reasons. Basically, I had been a social psychology major at Yale College, and I was really interested in psychology and teaching. And for whatever reason, when I was a junior, it felt like going into psychology counseling or teaching just wasn't really prestigious enough. All of my friends were going into banking or consulting, things like that, and I was like, oh, well, I just need to do something more. And what do a lot of college students who happen to be good at taking tests and detail oriented and type A and perfectionist, what do they do? If they don't know what they want to do, they go to law school. And so honestly, that was how I ended up going, deciding to go to law school. And once I made that decision, though, I had to really come up with a better story than that, a story even to tell myself as well as everyone else, because that wasn't really a good motivating, inspiring one that I wanted to brag about. And so I had been involved with human rights work from an advocacy perspective for a long time, really since middle school even. And I had gotten very involved with anti sex trafficking advocacy work in that capacity. And so my summer before my senior year, when I was applying to law school, I ended up working as an RA for a criminal law professor. And I discovered that there is a federal statute, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, that governs the prosecution of people who engage in sex trafficking. And I also learned that being a federal criminal prosecutor is an extremely prestigious role. So I had always been a really raging, intense overachiever. So I said, this makes total sense. I am going to go to law school, and I'm going to become a federal criminal prosecutor focused on sex trafficking. And so I went into law school with that was my story. That's why I was going to law school. And I was determined to make that happen.

Jonah Perlin [00:04:24]:

Wow, it's so true for so many people that there's the story they tell the world and the story they tell themselves, and then there's the real story, which and those could be three different things. And first of all, I think it's fantastic that you're willing to share that, because I think the more people who share that, our paths to law school may have been a lot less like the story we told everybody else when we were in law school, that honesty is so huge. The follow up to that is now you've spent your professional life in law schools. So in some way, right, your story says, I probably shouldn't have been here necessarily in the first place, but you've then responded by not only staying, but like, practicing at that exact place. So does your story connect to why you're still in law schools today?

Jordana Confino [00:05:12]:

Absolutely. And it's interesting because if I could go back to the beginning and decide whether or not to go to law school, I would still go back because I love the work that I'm doing now so much. There's no way that I would be doing the work that I'm doing now and I think that the work I'm doing now is deeply important. That being said, if someone told me that they wanted to go to law school for the reasons that I shared, I would say don't go, don't go just because you don't know what to do. Law school is really hard and it's really expensive and there are other things that you can do. I would say do more really self reflection and exploration about what it is that you want to do.

Jonah Perlin [00:05:49]:


Jordana Confino [00:05:50]:

That being said, the reason that I do what I'm doing now in law schools and the reason that I think it's so important is because I think that there are tons of students who I would say the majority, if not the vast majority. I'm thinking carefully here because it's not true of all students arrive in law school either not knowing what they want to do or believing they know what they want to do, but not really basing that on what I think we'll discuss more later, which is a really in depth exploration of their values, their strengths, their interests, and have a really authentic, deep understanding of why it is that they want to do the thing that they want to do. A lot of students either arrive in law school wanting to do something because they believe that other people think it's important or prestigious or lucrative or even if they don't arrive in law school feeling that way they quickly get sucked up into that within the first year and there's actually data showing that that happens. And then I think that what law schools generally are very good at, career services offices are very good at is helping students get the things that they think that they want at least in terms of lining up those positions. But virtually no law schools are really helping students at least until very very recently and still it's few and far between are helping students really assess what is it that I want and why and I think that that is a critical first step. And then the other thing that most schools don't do at all or do quite poorly and which I focus on is even once you figure out what it is that you want, what is the best way to get that in terms of your relationship with yourself and how you're treating yourself along the way. Because I think that even for students that really do figure out what they truly want, many of them have limiting beliefs about how they should be caring for themselves or not along the way, how they should be treating and speaking to themselves along the way and other things like that that really relate to their well being and their self talk and their mindset which they think is driving them towards success whatever that means to them but actually is holding them back from really ever enjoying the satisfaction or sustainable success that they can and deserve to have. And so that is the work that I'm now doing in law schools. And I found myself basically people sometimes will seem like, oh, well, Jordana is now teaching positive lawyering and values based lawyering and well being based lawyering because she's so good at those things naturally. And actually the truth is the opposite. I was so horrible at these things and I saw the effects of that and that is what motivated me to come equip students with those insights and tools at the outset. They can do better than I did and come to this from a place of strength and preparation rather than burnout and despair.

Jonah Perlin [00:08:49]:

Wow. Yeah, I mean, that is just so spot on with the experience that I see with my first year students every single day is many of them come to law school for the right reasons, and they don't yet have the vocabulary, the experience, the judgment, the view of the world to understand what the potential careers they could have. And so they try to find the thing that looks closest to the thing that they know. That's a fundamental principle on which this entire podcast project is based is the more stories you hear about, the more facets of our profession you hear and the more paths you hear, something might resonate that actually helps you figure out what you didn't even know you wanted to do because you just didn't know. And that's okay. That's part of the game. That's part of the process.

Jordana Confino [00:09:38]:

Absolutely. And I think there's two things that happen. One is exactly what you said is that they come to law school and they say, oh, well, there's five things you can do with your law degree, and they have no idea what else there even is. And so they don't even know where to start because they don't even know what types of people to talk to to learn more about what they don't know that they don't know. The other thing, though, that I think is really even more disturbing than that is even if they think they know and they have an idea, the research actually shows and there's a study by Larry Krieger and Ken Sheldon, that over the course of the One l year law students experience a market shift from intrinsic to extrinsic values as well as a shift in their motivation for becoming lawyers from intrinsic things. So wanting to give back to society, wanting to promote justice, to extrinsic things, so wanting prestige, wanting money, wanting to impress others. And that shift is actually correlated with the decline in well being that's observed over the One l year. And the scary thing is that so many of them don't even know that it's happening. They come in thinking they want one thing which they don't need to go into all of these competitive processes for, these other things for, and the next thing they know, they're obsessed with getting those other things. And the reason is because there's some force or pressure happens that once you get into law school, there are certain things that are viewed as being prestigious and viewed as being good and worth getting. And all of a sudden their students self worth, even if they didn't care about these things to begin with and recognize that these things in no way are furthering the reason that they came to law school and what's most important to them. Their ability to get those things then becomes a determinant of their self worth. And so then they become so obsessed with getting them even really jeopardizing their well being and even also their ability to do the things that they actually really care about professionally in order to preserve their self worth in that way. And so I think just even shining a light on the fact that this happens is enough to create some awareness. And then they can consciously choose to do things to stay connected to whatever it was that drove them to show up in the first place and check in with themselves to assess to what extent they are feeling this pull away from those things.

Jonah Perlin [00:12:05]:

It couldn't be more true in my own experience. And it's hard. I think the two things we just talked about sometimes go at crossways, right? You don't know enough to know what you don't know. And so you find these things that are at least shiny and it's like, well, at least it's shiny at the same time. Some of those shiny things might be the perfect thing for you. I mean, I could pick any number of examples, but I'm thinking of like we're in Clerkship season right now. So I think Clerkships is a great example. For some people who did not know what a clerkship was, it is the exact perfect first job. And for others who didn't know what a clerkship was, it is not going to help them at all in their career. And it's really hard for each individual person to sort of figure out one from the other, I guess. How do you deal with that challenge of like the thing that is the best thing for you might also be the worst thing for you and you don't know?

Jordana Confino [00:12:52]:

This is something that I completely still encounter on a daily basis and it's something that I'm really doubling down on trying to do more myself, which is making decisions based on my values rather than by fear. And fear includes the fear of potentially closing doors to something I don't even know about just for the sake of it. So I think that what some students get sucked into is I'm going to do everything to keep every door open. And the reason that doesn't work is one, it leads you to overextending, but also it's impossible. And so by keeping every door open, you're necessarily closing some doors. And so you need to make a choice about the doors that you want to keep open. Also, I think if when you really, really think down on it why do I want to do this thing? And let's talk about the clerkship. And I think the clerkship is actually a great example because I did my clerkships for the wrong reason and at the time there was nothing that gave me more anxiety and I mean truly crippling, crippling anxiety than long solitary writing projects. So a clerkship, which is literally a year of nonstop writing was my worst nightmare. I also in my heart of hearts knew that being a prosecutor, which by the way, going to how some of these things can be completely wrong for one person and completely amazing for another person, I actually of the people that I know that are happiest in their careers, prosecutors love their work for the most part. It is an incredible experience. Also, so many law clerks like over the moon love their experiences for me, wrong. And so the reason that I was doing it though was that purely because I felt like it was something that I should do in order to be able to get some other thing that I thought that I should be doing. And really the fear that was underlying that was that I wouldn't be viewed as being successful enough if I didn't do these things or good enough or worthy enough or admirable or held in esteem or respected by my peers, my family, the general public, whoever I was evaluating myself based on. It's very different if you think about what do and this is something that I actually guide my students through, which is what are your core values? Like, what is most important to you? Because doing some way, finding a way to align your work with your values is very important also. What are your strengths, what are your passions, what are your interests? What type of work do you like doing? And I think this is a place where students get hung up a lot too, is they hear the practice area name or the category of the substance your work. They're like, oh, well, let's keep my example just because it makes sense. Sex trafficking. I feel really strongly that that is a horrible thing and that therefore it makes sense for me to be an anti sex trafficking prosecutor. But just the substance and the mission of the work that you're doing does not determine whether the work is going to be a good fit for you actually the practice of what you're doing on a day to day basis. So you're spending your days doing a lot of research and writing. You're spending your days in a very adversarial setting, arguing in court how do you feel about those things? Because you can love the mission as much as possible. But if you hate the practice of what you're doing every day, if you really don't enjoy it and again, a difference between are you just nervous that are you having imposter syndrome? Are you nervous that you're not going to be perfect? Are you nervous and you're not going to be good enough? That's very different than actually really not liking it, not feeling like it is authentically connected to the type of work that you really enjoy doing and where you feel you're at your best self. And so I think asking yourself those questions and really trying to suss out, am I doing this just to impress other people or because I feel like I should? Or is this something which, even if it scares me, I'm actually really intrinsically excited about and think that I would really be engaged by, is a good starting point for it. Going back to your initial question though, I think that a really important first step is just getting information about what these different things entails. And the best way to do that, and this is why I love your podcast so much, is by speaking with people or listening to the stories of what are they doing and what does that actually look like on a daily basis? My husband always makes fun of me for interrogating our guests because whenever we have people over, I meet them, I say, oh well, what do you do? No, but what do you really do? And I think it's essential.

Jonah Perlin [00:17:34]:

It's so true and it's so important and it's so easy to fall into that trap of hearing the topic and being like, oh, I like that. But if you don't like what you're doing every day, if you're not playing to the things that you either like or are good at, or ideally both, you're setting yourself up for not necessarily failure, but certainly not for success. Yeah, it's so important. And hearing about what people do every day, I mean, just that adversarial posture for some people is as a non starter, I love my clerkships, but I also love sitting in a room and thinking about the same hard problem by myself for as long as humanly possible. And so the exact same task in the exact same courthouse is going to be totally different for two different people.

Jordana Confino [00:18:20]:

Another reason that these things are so important, you just kind of alluded to that is not only will it really impact your happiness, also your health, by the way, sure. But also your success. Because the science shows that when you're tapping into your values and when you're leveraging your top strengths, you are so much more engaged and motivated and infected whatever it is that you do. And so I feel like people are often like, oh, I need to make this decision, honor my values or pursue success. And actually if you can find something that really aligns with those things or even with whatever job you're in. So here now, I'm talking to the lawyer. They're like, okay, I'm in my job. Yes, and I can't switch right now or the student who has committed to a specific job and they are saying, well, it's not honoring my top passion, but I need this job because it repays my loans, which is really important.

Jonah Perlin [00:19:15]:


Jordana Confino [00:19:15]:

Within the context of literally whatever job you're in. You can do something called job crafting, which is basically adjusting your relationship with your job and the types of tasks you do, the way that you relate to those tasks, the way that you construe the meaning of your work, how you deliberately bring your strengths to bear, even if no one's kind of telling you to do it in that way. That will dramatically increase your experience of meaning and engagement and fulfillment. And so I think that's just worth throwing in here because it's well and good to say we'll pick the job that fits best with all these things. But that's really hard. It's not always practical, right. And often even your best educated guests won't get you there. And so doing this even within the scope of wherever you are now, I think is so as critical to, again, both well being and health and your effectiveness professionally.

Jonah Perlin [00:20:06]:

Totally. You sort of walked into one of my questions that I had prepared for later, which is the best kind of interview, which was sort of, what do you say to people who are skeptical of your mission? Or either? Come into your classroom or I'm sure people say, like, look, I would also like to have a positive relationship with lawyering, but either the position I'm in or maybe the job that I actually legitimately do want or have to have, it's not going to be positive. And I'm sorry, I challenge your premise. How do you respond to those people who are skeptical of the premise that lawyering can be healthy and exciting and fulfilling, especially if they may not be able to make a change just yet?

Jordana Confino [00:20:46]:

I tell them that I respectfully disagree and I ask them to take a baby step of faith because they don't need to take a leap. Because even taking a baby step and practicing some of the things that I teach my students and work with my clients on, they will really immediately, and I mean within a day or two start seeing benefits and effects that will then give them evidence that inspires them to move forward. So I know the population I'm dealing with here. We are skeptical, skeptical, cynical bunch. We want proof. And so all that's really necessary is that little step of faith because the truth is and there's different things to think about. So one is the values alignment and how can I align my job with my values when I have all of these other external considerations? And I think I answered that already, but just in terms. Something that I hear a lot is how can I possibly cultivate my well being in the context of this cutthroat legal profession or law school that is basically set up to destroy my well being. And people are often like, Jodana, why are you blaming the victim? Effectively because it's not my fault that this profession is structured in these ways that are so harmful for our mental health and well being. And I say it's really a yes and problem. So I do lots of work both lobbying for reform within legal education law schools, also working with employers to really reshape workplace cultures, to create environments where attorneys and other employees feel valued, stimulated and supportive, which the data shows, again, are necessary in order to enhance law firms or employers bottom lines as well. So institutional changes are necessary, absolutely. But again, within whatever context you're in, there are things that the individual can do to fortify themselves against the stressors and the demands of the professions and actively cultivate their well being. There's differences between those things in ways that will render them happier, healthier and more engaged within whatever context they're in. And so that's what I like to work with people on. People often. Also, another big skeptical thing is well, if I focus on my well being, it's going to make me less effective and professionally and I can't afford that. It's really important for me to be successful. And I see this both in terms of embracing self care and creating time for things that connection, things that just make you happy, rest, restoration, exercise. They say, well, I can't possibly put that in because I need to be effective. And all of the science there shows that these things in moderation, we're not blowing off work to do these things, but incorporating the essential amounts of all of those positive things will make you so much better at your work because they are just essential for optimal cognitive functioning and peak performance. The other area where people are really, really skeptical is when it comes to reigning in that perfectionism and self criticism and the way that they speak to themselves in their heads. This, I think just as much as getting people to embrace a little bit of self care and carve out time for it getting people to recognize and believe me enough to try talking to themselves in a different way. And recognizing that self flagellation is actually not an effective motivator and treating ourselves with compassion, which most people assume will render them weak, lazy and complacent. Actually, the science shows that that will turbocharge their motivation, their endurance and their effectiveness. That is an area where it takes me showing them a lot of science and data before they're even willing to open themselves up to letting me explain how they can try it out themselves. But again, once they do that, I think more so than any other area is the one where I consistently hear the same thing. One, I thought this was completely bogus when he first told me about it. Once they have this is the most powerful thing I've done. I am floored first by my ability to actually change my thinking. Something that we think we're not capable of doing, that we just think that our thoughts are what they are, we can't change them. And also by the effects once I've done so and as I continue to do so, on how it has empowered me and enabled me to do even better work, not the opposite, which I was afraid of.

Jonah Perlin [00:25:16]:

Wow. Just to drill down a little on that perfectionism. Because I know that's something you think a lot about, and it's something I think a lot about. And I'm sure people who are listening to this podcast frankly, probably also largely think a lot about. How do you recognize sort of what what are you telling yourself that you should be sort of able to issue spot? That maybe you're not talking to yourself the way that you could? I think especially early on for law students, they don't even recognize that it's a perfectionist voice that's speaking. What's the frame that someone could recognize and say you know what, I think that everybody's talking to themselves like this, but it doesn't have to be that way. And then maybe how could we sort of flip that script a little bit?

Jordana Confino [00:25:57]:

First of all, I think that if you ask most lawyers and law students if they're a perfectionist, they'll probably say yes. And they'll probably be really proud of that because they think it's a badge of honor. They think it's something that's helping them. They might think like oh well, it makes me a little bit unhappy, but it's driving me forward. And I think that's because people tend to equate perfectionism with positive things commitment to excellence, being meticulous, having high standards, being a really hard worker that is not what I'm talking about when I say perfectionism, right? Perfectionism when I talk about it. It can be all those things. But coupling that with impossibly high standards and I mean that in the sense that either the goals are completely unattainable or we're consistently shifting the goal further, further, further each time that we reach it. So that we never actually can experience this sense of pride and satisfaction. It's basically being on this hamster wheel of striving towards this feeling of enoughness that we can never actually reach. Coupled with a fixed mindset, meaning that any setbacks, failures, disappointments are recognized as a sign of lack of worth, basically and a belief that we can't really improve or learn. So either we can do something or we can't. Which means that we should only try to do things that we know that we can do. Because pushing ourselves, taking risks, venturing a little bit outside of our comfort zone, all it does is subject us to possible failure and therefore everyone out there discovering that we're actually not worth anything. So going in line with perfectionism thinking is often impostor syndrome like. Oh, I'm trying to show people that I'm smart, show people that I'm good, because it's really, actually so deeply rooted in this feeling of I'm not smart, I'm not good enough. And the last aspect of perfectionistic thinking that is perhaps the most damaging of it is this ruthless self criticism. And so saying, you are not good enough. You're not good enough. Work harder. This vicious drill sergeant and critic that thinks that the way to get us to do better work is by telling us that we're not good enough and kind of yelling about all of the awful repercussions if we don't do well enough, trying to stoke us by fear into performing our best. And all of those types of thinking have been shown to dramatically curtail performance and growth and development and creativity and innovation. And so when I say release the perfectionism, I'm not saying release the commitment to excellence, release the high standards you have for yourself, but instead really adopting a growth mindset, recognizing that everyone makes mistakes. The only way to do something exceptional is to fail multiple times in the process so that you can learn and grow. Also, looking at those setbacks and failures as learning opportunities to improve, also treating yourself with kindness along the way and recognizing that that's actually the way to motivate yourself to do better, and also recognizing that the path to what you want is not going to be straight up, there's necessarily going to be detours and setbacks. And also, if you really want to maximize your chances of getting what you want, you need to incorporate and restoration into that process or you're going to burn out.

Jonah Perlin [00:29:38]:

This reminds me a lot. I did an interview last year with Heidi Brown, who I know you know, and actually suggested that I interview on the podcast. She's talked about it a little bit in the context of athletes, right? Athletes, by definition, often have to fail, right? They can't win every game. If you're a hitter and you hit the ball in baseball three times out of ten, you're like, four times out of ten, you're the greatest hitter of all time. And as lawyers, we don't have the same vocabulary, and we need to build that. And I know you've been studying sort of positive psychology and got your certification in that. Talk to me a little bit about positive psychology and how that impacts both what you teach and also sort of how you think about our profession.

Jordana Confino [00:30:16]:

Yes, absolutely. And Heidi is such a rock star, so I'm delighted to be brought up in the same sentence as her. And just on the athlete point. Athletes have to fail. They also need to rest and recharge. And so if you 100% athletes, they recognize that restoration as an essential part of their training. And the same has to be true for lawyers, too. So it's like mental strength training, not giving ourselves appropriate rest and restoration. Like the quickest way to either burn out or just be operating on suboptimal capacity without even knowing it. There's this crazy study that the national or the Department for Health and Human Services suggests that the average adult needs seven to 9 hours of sleep per night. And there's this crazy study by Harvard Medical School showing that even just getting 6 hours per night every night for two weeks is the equivalent of pulling an all nighter which is the equivalent level of cognitive impairment of legal intoxication. And the craziest thing is that when we're sleep deprived we don't even know that we're performing suboptimally because our brains effectively recalibrate and they forget what it feels like to be operating at top capacity. So the restoration is essential. But positive psychology in general, it's the science of human flourishing which basically looks at what helps people go from neutral to really thriving. And so I guess positive psychology is most easily understood in juxtaposition to traditional psychology which has revolved around a disease model which is just diagnosing and treating mental illness. So bringing people from negative ten to zero and positive psychology is how do we bring them from zero to positive ten are really flourishing. And so there's this whole body of research that shows what are the essential elements, the building blocks of human flourishing and then how can we cultivate them? And so what those are, they include things like positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement and then vitality, which relates to the physical health there. And what the research shows is that people that are high in all of these metrics of personal well being are also more successful professionally and the studies actually show this causal relationship. So it's not just being that being happy healthy it's not just being that being wealthy makes us happy. It's that happiness is actually driving these other variables. And so that, I think is itself is just a really shocking revelation for people because we all kind of subscribe to this trope that I'll be happy when I achieve X, Y and Z. And so we're staking these feelings of either we don't deserve or we don't believe that we can feel these internal feelings that we crave until we've achieved these extrinsic things. But the truth is that the science also shows that achieving external things, changes in circumstances actually don't change our well being. They may for like very fleeting we'll have a rise in happiness when we get the promotion but then we acclimate and we go back to our baseline. It's called hedonic adaptation and often the Hedonic treadmill effect because what it does, this is what lends itself to that hamster wheel of endless driving because those external things don't give us the feelings that we crave. So that's the first thing. But then the second is if we can find a way to cultivate those positive feelings that we crave, the ones that we think that we only deserve to feel once we've got the external things. If we can figure out how to cultivate those now, which we can, that will actually help us get the external things, because it'll make us so much more effective in whatever it is that we want to do.

Jonah Perlin [00:34:09]:

And say more about that process. Right. What I love about this framing is even for the sort of and I know your blog is all about the recovering. I'm going to mess up the name, so I'll let you say it, but it's The Recovering A plus Perfectionist.

Jordana Confino [00:34:24]:

Yeah, that's it. Chronicles of a recovering type A plus perfectionist. You got it.

Jonah Perlin [00:34:30]:

Okay. And it almost meets that person where they're at, as opposed to saying stop being a perfectionist. It says, understand that you have this tendency and actually there will be benefits professionally for taking a step back. So even though there's that benefit to it, I guess the hard part for me and it's obviously something that you teach and you can't do in a canned podcast answer. But what are some of those, like, starting habits, routines, mindsets that someone who's hearing this and thinking, that's me.

Jordana Confino [00:35:01]:


Jonah Perlin [00:35:02]:

Like, what can you do today to start developing that positivity that's going to help you be both a better person and also, frankly, a healthier person?

Jordana Confino [00:35:12]:

Yes, absolutely. And I love this because there is no way that I would have gone to a class or even a talk on positive lawyering when I was in law school. And so it was really important for me to be able to find that hook for the law student or the lawyer who's like, I don't care about being happy or healthy, I just want to be successful and be able to show them well, okay, so let's put aside health and happiness for a minute. Doing these things will help you be more successful. And that's what the science shows. And just going back to athletes for a second, there is this paradigm that was coined by a psychologist, Bob Valorand, that basically it's called the dualistic model of passion. So he talks about harmonious passion and obsessive passion. Obsessive passion is one that is driven by really this perfectionistic thinking that we've been talking about, which is our identity is completely bound up in our ability to perform in this one area. So we give 150% of ourselves to it, basically cutting off everything else in our lives because this thing is just so important to us and we can't detach from it, we can't let go because we are just so bound up in it. And so the harmoniously, passionate person, they care just as much, their passion is just as high. But they recognize that it is essential for them to keep that thing in I'm not going to say perfect balance, but in a semblance of balance that the other dimensions of their lives are equally or also important. In that they need to be able to let go and take a break from the object of their passion in order to maintain these other areas of their life, such as their family life, their personal life, their health, in order to kind of keep those things in harmony. Harmony, not balance because perfect balance again, is just really I think it's an unrealistic goal.

Jonah Perlin [00:37:00]:


Jordana Confino [00:37:00]:

But what the research shows is that people who are harmoniously passionate are just as effective in the short term as the people who are obsessively passionate and they're actually far more effective and successful over the long term because they're less susceptible to exhaustion, fatigue and burnout which is almost the inevitable result of obsessive passion. But also even for so putting that aside, a different thing that I think is really important is that something called self determination theory which is like the key basically theory around human motivation shows that we are most engaged. And most motivated, which is then correlated with optimal performance and ability to work harder and longer and more effectively when we are experiencing three things, two of which I think are the most important to focus on here. So one is a feeling of mastery and competence and okay, that makes sense, I don't need to sell anyone on that, right? But the other two are feelings of authenticity. So alignment with values and relatedness or belonging and social connection. And so if we are, as many people feel that they need to do in order to be most effective in their work, walling ourselves off from social connection or anything that gives us a sense of meaning or purpose, we're actually holding ourselves back from doing our best work. And similarly, the same is true with what I was saying before. If we're leaning into that self criticism because we think that we have to. So I would say what can anyone listening to this start doing now? One, I would say just going back to what you're talking about, sleep, sleep and at least a moderate amount of exercise are truly biological necessities. We need not just to be physically healthy and so if we don't care about that sign but also just to perform cognitively. And without cognitive functioning lawyers and law students are virtually worthless. So don't give that short shrift kind of for the sake of your work because you're not doing yourself a service. That's one thing. Similarly with relationships, oh my gosh, when I was in law school I was so lonely it physically hurt. Going back to values, connection is my top value and I had virtually none and I thought that was necessary in order to be able again to do my best work. And all of the science shows that even short micro moments of connection throughout the day turbocharge our energy and our cognitive functioning and also that social support. So having strong supportive relationships with people that we know that we can count on and who love us, that is one of the top resilience factors that enables us to endure stress. And I mean law school, the legal profession, anything if not stressful enable us to not only endure but optimally perform in the face of stress. So I would say even taking teeny moments, little moments, chunks of time in your day, every day to cultivate your connections, I'm not saying go spend 5 hours every night hanging out, even just prioritizing that in little ways so that you can feel you have these relationships will be so essential to your performance. And then going back to what I was talking about earlier with the mindset, start just by monitoring the way that you talk to yourself in your head. Because like you pointed out earlier, so many of us, we just assume that the thoughts that go through our head, either facts or they're just us and there's nothing that we can do about them. So actually, taking one step back, cultivating mindfulness I think is an essential skill. Even if you don't like meditating, you don't need to meditate in order to cultivate mindfulness. I'll tell you in a second another way you can do it. But I think that practicing mindfulness is so important, not just because it provides stress relief in the moment which it can, but more importantly, that when you cultivate mindfulness, what it does is it trains your brain in a way that enables you to just create this teeny bit of distance from your thoughts so that you see your thoughts when they arise and can then choose how you want to respond to them. And this is important because I don't know if it's possible for anyone, it hasn't been possible for me to just extinguish my inner critic. So traditionally I had this scathing, ruthless inner critic drill sergeant and that voice is still there, it still pops up. I haven't been able to get rid of it entirely. But what I was able to do is cultivate this mindfulness that enabled me to recognize it when it popped up and decide that I recognize where that voice is coming from. And I recognize that it is trying to protect me, it's trying to help me do better. But I know that it's not serving me and I know that it's actually just holding me back. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to kind of acknowledge it, thank it, and I'm going to replace that thought with a much more empowering thought that is kinder, but also sets me up to actually enhance my learning and enhance my performance and be much more likely to get the outcome that I want. But in able to be able to do that, you need to be able to have that little space between you and your thought. And the way that you cultivate that is by practicing mindfulness and the way that you can practice mindfulness. One, you could do a guided meditation or just a breathing meditation where you focus on your breath and you redirect your attention to your breath every time your mind inevitably wanders and it will, you just bring it back again. Or if you really hate even just the thought of doing a 1 minute self guided breath meditation like that and truly start with 1 minute a day when you're first starting to practice, that is what I would recommend to anyone. And only increase that once you've successfully done it. 1 minute a day for one week, two weeks, whatever your goal is. You can also practice self mindfulness throughout the day, which is just bringing your attention to the sensations in your body as you do tasks that you would do anyway, but you typically do on autopilot. So focusing on the sensations while you're brushing your teeth or when you're walking the dog or taking a shower, rather than just allowing yourself to either get totally lost in thoughts or scrolling on your phone, whatever it may be. And if you commit to doing training, your awareness and your ability to redirect your focus to whatever the anchor is when it escapes into thoughts, that alone will help you build this muscle. That will then enable you to spot your self critical thoughts. And I encourage you then to replace them with something that's more helpful for you.

Jonah Perlin [00:44:16]:

Yeah, that's such a challenge, like self disclosure. That's a challenge for me and it's been a challenge for a long time. And I think just the way you're talking about it, of just being able to create that cognitive distance, that alone seems like the first step and something that almost anybody can do if they really focus on doing it.

Jordana Confino [00:44:34]:

Yeah, and I think I'm curious which part has been the challenge for you, because I think it's so challenging. But I will say that this is one of those things where I was so far off the deep end in the other direction. And honestly, there was years when my therapist was suggesting that I adopt self compassion and I wouldn't even listen to her. I didn't even want to hear about it. It wasn't until I burned out so hard that I had literally nothing to lose, where I even opened up to the possibility of it, because I was like, all right, well, I'm not really functional as it is, so let's give this a try. And honestly, within just a couple of weeks of doing this, of noticing the critical thought and responding to it and replacing it with a thought, a more compassionate thought, which at the time felt totally bogus and ridiculous to me. And it will. It will. When you start doing this and so many people, it's no point because I don't believe this thought at all. But the trick is keep doing it anyways. Because the reason that our self critical thoughts are so strong and so powerful and just feel like they are this immutable facts is because we have been thinking them repeatedly for years and years and years. And every time we think a thought, the neural synapses that connect the neurons that fire when we have that thought, they get stronger. And so those are really strong, sticky thoughts. But even when we are forcing ourselves to think a thought that we don't believe, the act of doing that strengthens those neural connections. And so the more that we repeat these thoughts, that voice will get stronger slowly over time. But it'll get to the point where at first you are literally racking your brain for the compassionate thought. And what I encourage you to do when you are racking the brain for the compassionate thought is imagine what you would say to someone you love if they were in your shoes or imagine what you would say to your inner child. So when I look at a picture of myself when I was three, it's so interesting. I wonder what the age cut off is when I started hating and torturing myself. But when I look at three year old Jordana, it is easy for me to show her compassion like she and to believe that her worth doesn't hinge on her ability to achieve something external. And so imagine that when you're coming up with these thoughts and then just keep practicing them even when you don't believe them. Because what you'll notice is that then slowly, eventually, those thoughts start to pop up as slightly plausible alternatives. You still don't believe them. Like you're not racking your brain to think of what they are, then they'll start popping up as more plausible alternatives and then eventually they'll start popping up, period. And as that self, compassionate voice grows stronger, and I swear to God it will, sure, the self critical voice grows weaker. It's like they're operating on the same wave. And so when one grows, the other shrinks. And then it's kind of like a angel devil's thing where you probably still will have to make the choice to go with one and choose it over the other. But that actually becomes possible in a way that you can do. And then also pay attention when you choose to listen to that self, compassionate voice. Pay attention to how it feels in your body and how you show up differently. Because once you notice that, once you realize like, oh, when I'm not beating myself to a pulp, I actually show up with far greater confidence and energy and I am so much more effective.

Jonah Perlin [00:48:09]:


Jordana Confino [00:48:09]:

Then that's where that step of faith turns into kind of a reinforcing thing because then you have the evidence and the proof that this is actually worth its salt. And I will say I am someone that cares a lot about the results and my performance. If this didn't work, I would not be doing it anymore and I certainly wouldn't be proselytizing it to others in the way that I am.

Jonah Perlin [00:48:32]:

Yeah, I mean, I think back, right? Like, again, self disclosure. I think back of the moment that I think I realized I had gone too far. And it was really when I was pretty young, I remember going to my parents basically in tears as a 7th grader, saying to them, I hate playing the cello. I had played the cello for, like, two or three years. I was awful at it. I have no hand eye coordination. It was the absolute worst thing for me to try to get into. And I was like, and if I don't get into college because I don't play the cello, that's okay? That is such an absurd statement to make. But in my brain, that was what I had decided. I was like, you need to play an instrument to get into college. If you choose to stop playing that instrument, therefore you're not going to get into college. Of course that didn't happen, right?

Jonah Perlin [00:49:11]:

Of course.

Jonah Perlin [00:49:11]:

That was a completely, like, self constructed thought before my brain was fully developed to the extent it is fully developed now. And for me, the technique that I've often used is forcing myself to think about the worst case scenario because it's often a lot less problematic. I love thinking about things in small bets. Like, I'll try this, and if it doesn't work, it lost, to use the billable hour reference, like it lost six minutes of my time. Whoop do you do? So as I hear this, I'm thinking, these are easy thoughts to get in your brain, but there are ways to fight back.

Jordana Confino [00:49:41]:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the hallmarks of perfectionism, too, is the fear of failure we are talking about. And so, so many perfectionists hold themselves back from doing cool things because they're so scared of what happens if they fail. And I think asking yourself, what's the worst case scenario there? So what is the worst case scenario if you go out for this thing that you really, really want and you don't get it? It's like, oh, well, I don't get it. Maybe I'm a little bit embarrassed. Well, what's the outcome if you don't even go out for it? Well, you're certainly not going to get it, right? And then you have to deal with kind of stagnant mediocrity of staying wherever you are and never excelling.

Jonah Perlin [00:50:21]:

You can't grow. Yeah, 100%.

Jordana Confino [00:50:24]:

Totally. Is alarming that you thought that you wouldn't get into college, but good for you for testing that and saying it is not worth it to commit to doing something I hate because I think I'm going to need to get into college one day. And it seems like it worked out.

Jonah Perlin [00:50:38]:

It worked out. It worked out. Okay. And we all find our strengths, and it all works out. I just think it's important to tell these stories because think of the example, right? That fits you, because everybody's going to have their own example at a different point in life. And that's the one that for whatever reason, has always stuck with me. There's so much there we could go on for another 2 hours and keep going. And I'll ask you right before we close, sort of where people can find you so they can hear more about you. But I do want to ask sort of one last question before we sort of start to wrap up, which is the question I always ask, but I'm going to ask you in a different way. I always ask for a piece of advice.

Jordana Confino [00:51:09]:


Jonah Perlin [00:51:10]:

This episode, frankly, has been mostly advice, which is great. Those are my favorite episodes, frankly, in a lot of ways. I want to read something back that you recently wrote on LinkedIn and I want you to give advice to your past self, if you don't mind. So on LinkedIn you wrote if you asked my friends and classmates to describe me in law school, they'd almost certainly tell you that I was extremely intense. But what they almost certainly would not tell you is that I was also painfully lonely, unhappy and unhealthy. What's the advice you would give or you ended up giving to the Jordana that felt like that? Because there are plenty of people who feel like that right now. What's the advice you'd give that person?

Jordana Confino [00:51:45]:

So my advice is don't be afraid to let go of the things that you know are really destroying you personally. And so I'm thinking again about here specifically, I'm thinking about myself. I'm thinking about the ruthless self criticism and blocking out anything that might give you a sense of joy, meaning or connection. I thought that the shame, the excessive self discipline and the ruthless self criticism, I knew they were hurting me. I thought that they were necessary for my success. I thought that the reason I got to Yale Law School was because of all of those things, because I was really just willing to give all of those positive feelings up and to tear myself up and beat myself into getting these things. The truth is that you have gotten to where you are today. All of your success today. You have got there, notwithstanding everything that I've just mentioned and those things that I just mentioned, walling yourself off from connection, walling yourself off from meanings of purpose and joy, self criticism, those have effectively been these really kind of massive weighty shackles around your ankles that are actually holding you back. And if you can let go of those things, you will retain your drive for excellence, you will retain your high standards. But if you can release those negative aspects of your perfectionism and replace them with compassion and really nourishing yourself and doing things that will give you the energy that you need to do your best work, you will soar higher than you could have imagined possible. And so just take a step of faith and start trying that even in the most micro way, like, what can you do to allow yourself to feel a sense of connection and belonging tomorrow? What is one tiny thing that you can do to better honor your values? If you're like, what are my values? I have a values discovery exercise for you that will help you identify what your values are. Because if you would have asked me in law school what my values are, I had no freaking clue. So start there and then also really try what we just with Jonah and I have been talking about kind of replace seeing and acknowledging that self critical voice in your head, recognizing it thinks it's helping, it's trying to help, but the science shows that it's not and it's not serving you. And try to notice it when it comes up and try to start replacing it with a more compassionate voice. And you can do all of those things together in less than an hour a day, and you could do it in 20 minutes a day, all in. It doesn't have to take a lot of time, but what it takes is intentionality and willingness to try. And so that is the advice that I would say, I would say hang in there, too. It's going to get better. And especially if you kind of listen to yourself and honor what you're feeling on the inside and try to focus a little bit less on all of these messages that are pouring out in from the outside.

Jonah Perlin [00:54:43]:

Well, look, I'll make sure to include a link to that values finder in the show notes. And just thank you, Jordana, for being here and for being so open. We'll have to do this again and then we can hear about the classes you're teaching at Fordham and your coaching business and all those other things. But I think this is a really sort of great brass tax introduction to a lot of the things you've been thinking about and writing and teaching. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Jordana Confino [00:55:07]:

Well, they can find me on LinkedIn, Jordanacinfino. I'm on there. And then also my website is there. You can subscribe if you want to. My blog chronicles of a recovering type A plus perfectionist. I'm always sending out additional resources and insights and strategies through that to my newsletter. And so either of those ways, I love to hear from people, I love to work with people who are dealing with this stuff. And so please don't hesitate to reach out. And thank you, Jonah. This was such a pleasure and I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation.

Jonah Perlin [00:55:44]:

Fantastic. Me too. All right, well, be well and we'll just consider it goodbye for now, but not goodbye forever. Thank you so much, Jordana, and hope.

Jonah Perlin [00:55:53]:

You enjoyed the podcast again. I am Jonah Perlin and this is the How I Lawyer podcast. Thanks to podcast sponsor Law Pods for their expert editing. If you're a lawyer considering starting your own podcast, definitely check them And thanks to you for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, I hope you'll consider sharing it with friends and colleagues or on social media. And of course, if you haven't already done so, please sign up for the email or subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts. As always, if you have comments, suggestions or ideas for the show, please reach out to me at how or at Jonah Perlin on Twitter. Thanks again for listening and have a great week.

Jordana ConfinoProfile Photo

Jordana Confino

Assistant Dean, Coach