Share article:

EXJ Conversations: Dr. Chloe Carmichael, USA Today bestselling author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety

Word Association: Lawyers!

dr. chloe carmichael
Dr. Chloe Carmichael                                                 

BA Columbia University
MA and Ph.D. Long Island University

ex judicata recently sat down with Dr. Chloe to talk tips and techniques, to help JDs who want to leave law use their anxiety to help successfully launch a new career.

Dr. Chloe on a good starting point when selecting a coach

Dr. Chloe on creating a ‘to do list’ with emotion versus the basic ‘to do list’

Dr. Chloe on protecting one’s ego in a Biglaw firm culture

Dr. Chloe on overcoming maladaptive thoughts when leaving law for a new career

Listen to conversation:

ex judicata:  With us today is Doctor Chloe Carmichael.  Doctor Chloe is a clinical psychologist and USA Today bestselling author. She’s a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Columbia University in psychology. She has a master’s and Ph. D in clinical psychology from Long Island University.  Her latest book, Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, was endorsed by no less than Deepak Chopra and called a ‘game-changer’ by Jim McCann, founder of 1-800 flowers. My partner Kim loved the book, which is how Doctor Chloe came to our attention. The reason that ex judicata is interviewing Doctor Chloe today is because she’s very familiar with the workings of Biglaw, counseling both lawyers as private patients and giving presentations to law firms on topics like stress management and positive goal attainment. Thank you for being here, Doctor Chloe.

Dr. Chloe: It’s a pleasure to be with you. Thanks so much for having me.

ex judicata:  Since so many users of ex judicata are endeavoring to make a huge change in their life, namely leaving law for new careers, it’s not surprising that a fair number seek out coaches. But there are so many out there. How do you choose among the coaches?  What are some of the key questions to ask a potential coach?

Dr. Chloe: I work with lawyers in office settings and in private settings. And I always do encourage them to use a coach where appropriate.  One of the things I suggest starting with is promising yourself, in advance, that you will speak to at least three coaches before you choose one.  Because sometimes it can just feel so good to sit down and talk to someone who asks you questions, who listens well, who even provides a few constructive ideas.  It’s perfectly normal for many people to just say ‘You know what? I met with this one person and it just felt great. So, I decided to go with them’.

And sometimes that’s the best solution.  But I encourage people to shop around a little bit so that they really know that they’re making an educated choice.  And as far as some questions that you can ask at those sessions (and by the way, the same goes whether you are hiring a coach or hiring a therapist), one of the questions that can be helpful

is asking: ’Will you start each session by discussing my homework from last session, and will you be cuing me to review it with you?  Or is that something that I am personally expected to have known, managed myself and brought to the session?’

In that situation if I don’t bring up the homework from last week, then it may not get brought up at all.  Personally, I think this is an important question because a lot of the reason that people are going for this type of support in the first place is maybe there’s something in life that they’re avoiding a little bit. We don’t go to coaches and therapists to work on the stuff that’s easy for us. And so consciously or unconsciously, we might tend to not be as aggressive and accountable for that homework. So, it can be really helpful to have a therapist or a coach that is proactively bringing the homework up with you. You might be surprised how often a coach, or a therapist will kind of try to slide that back onto you.

Dr. Chloe: If ever this happens, I encourage you to run the other way. If they try to psychoanalyze your question and say, ‘Do you have an issue taking responsibility for things or they might say ‘If it’s important to you, I would assume you would bring it up to me.’  That’s the person trying to wiggle out of the responsibility of keeping track and actually coaching you, or actually monitoring and actively trying to stay on top of your progress.

Another question I would consider asking is if they offer a` la carte sessions’  Coaches, in particular, will try to lock you into monthly programs and therapists, in particular, will try to lock people into ongoing weekly meetings. Appointments with no end in sight.  And to be perfectly frank with you, I think a lot of times that really is to serve the business model of the coach or of the therapist, more so than it is to help the client. Now they may make an argument ‘It’s best if we have a sense of continuity and good that we have a sense of what to expect.’

Dr. Chloe:  All of that is true. But to me, it doesn’t necessarily mean therefore you must have a monthly ongoing contract, or therefore you must have a standing weekly appointment. There’s nothing wrong with just saying, ‘I think for me it might be better to just see you once a month, or every other week or for me to schedule my own sessions, as I move along and as I see the need. Is there any way that I could do that with you?

And if the person is not open to it, I’m not saying it’s entirely a red flag, but again, if they try to push it back on you, that you are wrong for somehow asking that question, I’d say seek another coach. 

Another question that I think is good to ask is ‘How soon could I expect to see results?  What kinds of people in my situation have you worked with before?  And how did their progress unfold?’  Now, obviously, the person can respond by saying ‘You know, the results kind of depend on you’ and that is a valid answer.

But don’t let it end there. The coach should be taking some kind of ownership by giving some kind of a response that says ‘Well, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, if you’re doing your homework and you’re showing up, I would expect that even within a couple of weeks, you’re going to start seeing things a little differently.’  Kind of like when you go to a personal trainer, if you asked how soon before you’d see results, they would say everybody is different.  Diet, exercise, there’s a lot of factors involved. But if your coach just kind of talks in circles and it feels like they’re refusing to provide any kind of accountability really, I would be concerned about that. I don’t mean to sound as if I’m sour on coaches and therapists. Obviously, I’m both, you just have to be careful.

Dr. Chloe: Another thing I’d mention is the sad truth that among therapists and coaches, it’s almost the Wild West in terms of credentials.  I’ll close then with one more question to ask which is simply ‘What are your qualifications?’  And, be prepared that they’re going to rattle off some list of academy of this and such and such of that and a bunch of letters.  And they know that you don’t know what those letters mean. So, I would encourage you to say that ‘Well, that sounds great. Obviously. I don’t really know what that means. Can you tell me how many years, weeks or months of training that was required for you to obtain those credentials?’ If the person bristles or doesn’t really want to give you a straight answer, again, I’d be concerned.

ex judicata: That all makes a lot of sense. Just real quick on qualifying a coach. If they are a true professional, should they be charging you for an initial consultation or instead providing you with a complimentary 30 minutes?

Dr. Chloe: You know everyone’s different in that regard.  For example, we would never expect to go to a cardiologist and not be charged for the initial evaluation. I will say that, I actually coach therapists and coaches in their businesses as well.  So, I have a little bit

of experience on both sides of this issue.  I think it largely depends on how much the therapist needs business.  I tell therapists who are just starting out, ‘Sure, why not offer the first session free?  And, then as you get successful, maybe you then stop providing free initial appointments.’  I don’t personally offer any free appointments.  But for people who want to see a therapist or coach that works for me, we offer a free 15-minute phone call after the person has submitted certain qualifying paperwork. So, every office is going to be a little bit different.  And to me, there’s nothing wrong with that. I would definitely not sign up with anyone who requires you to commit to say a month long program before you’ve even had any individual time with them.

ex judicata: That makes a lot of sense. I have so many other questions just on coaching, but we’ve got some other things to cover. In your work you mention something called a ‘to do list with emotions’ Can you tell us about that?

Dr. Chloe:   Absolutely. So obviously we all know what a ‘to do’ list is.  And as a clinical psychologist working with very driven, very high functioning people, I would often find they would be doing everything on their ‘to do’ list, but they had a feeling of emptiness. They feel almost like a hamster on a wheel.  Just knocking out a bunch of tasks, to be able to cross them off the list, feeling no connection to them.  And so, what we started to do in my office is to look at that ‘to do’ list and then think about the emotion that comes up for each thing on that list.  And then layer in a self-care plan. So, for example, let’s just suppose that it was on your ‘to do’ list that you need to revise your resume, make a list of references, all that kind of stuff.

Dr. Chloe:  And let’s just suppose that the emotion you connect with that is boredom. You find the whole thing very tedious. So, you would label that as the emotion. And then the self-care plan might be that you say to yourself ‘You know what, I’m going to do that task. But I’m going to take my laptop to my absolute favorite restaurant and I’m going to go over this task in a really exciting, cool place which will help me overcome the boredom’.

Or maybe it’s on your ‘to do’ list that you have a big interview coming up and the feeling is apprehension.  So, then you might layer in a self-care plan of saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to schedule some mock interviews. I’m going to make sure I meet with my coach right before that interview and that is going to make me feel more relaxed before my interview.’  The ‘to do’ list with emotions can also be used to maximize life’s positive emotions.

We can sometimes feel so driven to focus on the stuff that’s a problem that we forget to really soak up and enjoy life’s positive moments. So, let’s say it’s on your ‘to do’ list take your elderly mom grocery shopping.  And when you really stop and think about it, the emotion for that may be a sense of pride and fulfillment that you’re in a position that you can help your mom with this. So, your self-care plan could be to say, ‘I’m going to stop and have lunch with my mom and tell her how much it means to me that we can do these things together.’ High functioning people are very good at putting their emotions aside and getting the job done. To the point that they often forget to reconnect with the energy that these emotions can actually bring.

ex judicata:  So interesting. Let me give you another phrase that resonates with me from your work, ‘thought replacement technique’. Can you share that with us?

Dr. Chloe: Thought replacement is a technique that I did not make up. It’s a known technique from the cognitive behavioral therapy literature.  But it has proven so popular that I wanted to talk about it in my book.  With thought replacement, the first thing we have to notice is if we have certain thoughts that are what psychologists call ‘maladaptive’ meaning they’re not true or they’re not productive.

Let’s suppose that somebody is going to be leaving law for an entirely new career. They have this thought that says, ‘I can’t believe I wasted all this time and money on law school, and now I’m changing things, I’m doomed.’ So that would be the maladaptive thought. It’s not true. It’s not productive. It’s not getting the person anywhere. So, what we want to do is change it. To have a scripted thought that we’re going to say instead.  An example of that would be something like ‘A law degree and legal experience can be a great springboard for many careers.  And my track record of graduation from law school, passing the bar, and working in the legal field does show that I’m clearly intelligent and capable.’

Here’s the thing about thought replacement. You must have it memorized; you have to workshop it. You have to actually write everything down on a sheet of paper. The left side has the maladaptive thoughts and on the right side you put down your counter thoughts.

It’s important to note that your counter thought must be 100% true.  There’s a big difference between thought replacements and affirmations, general positive thoughts. Like for example, ‘I am capable, and my career is overflowing into positive city’ or something like that.  Studies have shown that when we go for these affirmations that are more aspirational, that are more subjective and that aren’t even currently true, they actually create more insecurity because your brain knows that you’re saying something that’s not true. And that you’re operating on statements that are not true.

Dr. Chloe:  We want to make sure that we craft a thought replacement that is 100% true, objective and airtight.  Now sometimes people say ‘You know, Doctor Chloe, I tried doing my thought replacement and it didn’t really feel natural.  And I say, ‘You know what? That’s perfectly normal.’  If a person’s been slouching for 20 years and then they put their shoulders back, that doesn’t feel natural to them either, but it’s just all the more a sign that they need to do it.

Practice your thought replacement.  Keep saying it. It’s a lot easier to do that when, indeed, you know that your thought replacement is 100% true and accurate. And if you’re having trouble coming up with your thought replacement you can ask your coach, your therapist, or even a good friend to work on those with you.

ex judicata:  Okay. Terrific advice. And now, to the heart of things. There is so much anxiety in our day-to-day lives. You talk all about turning anxiety into energy in your latest book. How can we do this?  Everyone has a superpower. Can we harness this to help here?

Dr. Chloe:  Yes. The good news is that anxiety automatically turns into energy. The question is, just what are we going to point that energy at?  Because the healthy function of anxiety is to stimulate preparation behaviors. So, a person, for example, with anxiety knows to look both ways before they cross the street. Anxiety is here for a healthy purpose which is to stimulate preparation behaviors. And it turns into energy naturally.

That’s why, for example, people when they get anxious, they’ll say, ‘Oh, I have sweaty palms. I have a racing heart. My thoughts are going a million miles an hour’, right? The good news is that Mother Nature zings us with energy when we get anxious. The trick is to make sure that we are harnessing and pointing that energy at the right target. So, in the example we just discussed with thought replacement, if a person is anxious about changing careers, which is perfectly normal, again, are they going to put that energy into repeating the maladaptive doom script? Or are they going to put that energy into positive thought replacement and a list of constructive preparation behaviors that they can do.

ex judicata: So valuable. The ex judicata user base is lawyers. Mainly lawyers on the cusp. Those who know that law is perhaps not the best use of their abilities and are seeking to make a change. Is this another place where they can apply their own superpower to help zero in on a new career?

Dr. Chloe: Absolutely. This is the perfect place for them to do that.  And taking it a step further, the ex judicata website is a great place to start. Take, for example, someone who is feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and spun around as they confront the idea of changing careers. They can just sit there, twiddle their thumbs and think negative thoughts about themselves. Or they can put their fingers on their keyboard and get onto the ex judicata website and at least start looking at the resources, information and content you have all geared towards helping lawyers move to new careers.

ex judicata: Thank you for the kind words.  Doctor Chloe, in your work there’s a lot of discussion about reducing anxiety, and you have an approach boiled down to nine cognitive therapy techniques that can help to reduce anxiety. Can you touch on these?

Dr. Chloe: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I made a slide here to show you guys.

screenshot 2024 02 21 at 12.06.00 pm

You’ll see eight techniques specified here on the screen. And then above it all is the  handle ‘mindful self-observation’. Because the first thing that we need to do whenever we are anxious is to observe the anxiety and understand what could be the constructive action that this anxiety is stimulating me to take.  And so, again, if it’s I’m anxious about an interview coming up, that would be what I call a lean in situation. There are obviously things that I can do specifically about that issue to help me.

There might be other situations where we are anxious about things that are truly beyond our control.  And in those situations, we don’t want to waste that anxious energy. We still want to use it but for something else.  And these are the techniques that fall under the ‘pivot away’ column. 

ex judicata: Dr. Chloe goes into detail on these ‘pivot away’ techniques in the book we’ve been discussing, Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety.  Available on Amazon.  Pick it up.  You’ll be glad you did.

ex judicata: While most users on ex judicata are going to be leaving law for careers more in line with their true passions and interests, some will come to the conclusion: ‘You know what, I’m actually best positioned where I am right now practicing law. My current workplace just isn’t the right fit for me’.  Staying with this, last question, Dr. Chloe. And it is one what that comes up an awful lot: ‘How can I preserve my ego in a

Biglaw culture which is rough and tumble in the best of times and can often be abusive?’

Dr. Chloe: I will be glad to address how to protect one’s ego.  First, it’s important to remember that if you’re in a Biglaw firm you probably had great success in high school, college and law school and you’re good in interviews.  So, you’re used to being a stand out person from the group around you. Not everybody in your cohort ended up at a great law firm, right?  But when you find yourself at that Biglaw firm, suddenly you’re surrounded with actual peers. You’re no longer the smartest person in the room.         That can be a little bit of a blow to the ego.

I encourage you to try to flip it around and say to yourself, ‘I am here in a room full of, winners, go getters and intelligent people because that’s who I am.  And this is an incredible opportunity for me to learn from other very smart people and be part of a vibrant community. I’ve earned my way to be here.’

Dr. Chloe:  Another thing that I suggest people do is actually to create a little bit of a syllabus for themselves.  One of the things that I hear from a lot of associates that are starting out at these firms and actually older ones as well is something like, ‘I miss the structure of school where there was a syllabus, certain things that I knew I had to do. and if I just did those things that I was going to do well. And now I don’t have that syllabus anymore.’  This can be overwhelming.

So, making a syllabus for yourself helps you to stay focused on what it is that you need to do and what it is that you want to learn so that you don’t lose track. It normalizes things for you. If you find yourself drowning in work, make yourself that syllabus and keep it handy. In fact, you can share your syllabus with your coach or a mentor.

Ask them if this looks like the right track for personal growth. Are you correctly forecasting?  Always return to the syllabus.

ex judicata:  Wow, that’s a lot to think about. I’m a lawyer who left the practice of law a long time ago, but I’m thinking now of your syllabus idea as something that can help me with my current work challenges like building ex judicata along with Kim.

Doctor Chloe, thank you so much. So interesting. So valuable.

Dr. Chloe: And it’s such a pleasure to be with you. And thank you. These are great questions. I really enjoyed it.


Share article:

EXJ Conversations: Jordana Confino on coaching the chronic perfectionist, people-pleaser, and overachiever.

ex judicata recently sat down with Jordana Confino, Founder of JC Coaching & Consulting, Yale Law School graduate, and self-described "recovering lawyering and type A+ perfectionist" to discuss: how googling "How to be happy" inspired Jordana's career pivot, values alignment, perfectionism recovery, and how to successfully transition to a nonlegal career.


Courage to Change

On April 23 of 1910 Teddy Roosevelt delivered a speech entitled “Citizenship in a Republic.” This came to be known as the man in the arena speech.


Impostor Syndrome: What It Is, Its Impact, and Solutions

As if it were not hard enough transitioning from law to business a certain percentage of attorneys find themselves suffering from impostor syndrome…