Therapist & Lawyer Rich Lombino: How We Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness
Engage in positive self-talk. It’s common to get caught up in things that didn’t go well during the day. You can be hard on yourself about it because maybe you feel you could have done better. Instead, starting when you wake up and periodically throughout the day, say one or more positive mantras that resonate with you. This will lead to being thankful for the positive things that happen throughout the day rather than focusing solely on negative ones.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness ” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rich Lombino, therapist and lawyer.
Rich Lombino, Esq, LCSW is a therapist and lawyer and provides counseling to adult individuals, couples and groups regarding stress, anxiety, depression, alcohol/drug use, couples concerns, career decisions and other related issues, with a specialty of helping lawyers. Rich practiced law in New York City and also directed nonprofit programs there assisting those experiencing homelessness and mental health issues. He publishes articles in journals and other print and digital media, hosts his own podcast “Amplify Insight” and a podcast sponsored by the Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program, presents continuing professional education and other trainings, and provides consulting for wellness programs, social media, crisis management and other areas. Learn more at richlombino.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
My journey to being a therapist is not your typical career path. I went to law school right out of college and began practicing law in my early 20’s in New York City for a large law firm (“BigLaw”). While I was heading towards 30, I developed a need to help people in a different way. I began my exploration of my “true self” in the hopes of finding out what would really make me happy and fulfilled. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to help those I considered one of the most vulnerable populations: adults living with mental health issues who are homeless and living in extreme poverty. At 30, I quit my job at the firm and became a full time volunteer at various nonprofits and networking. After about 6 months, I achieved my goal and accepted a position directing a program helping the population that inspired me. During these years, I enjoyed working with people one-on-one so I went back to school and earned my Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, with a clinical focus on therapy. I spent time counseling clients of state government and a nonprofit and decided after several years to open my own practice. I find the work incredibly fulfilling and express gratitude every day for the opportunities I have to help people feel better.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Nearly all of my clients are professionals, with a large percentage being lawyers. Most are experiencing extreme work-related stress typically stemming from the volume and intensity of their assignments. Self-care becomes less and less a priority because they “don’t have time for it.” Through our work together, they see that if they take time for self-care and start feeling better, they are actually more productive and provide a better work product. Home life improves as well. This leads to gratitude for what they have, and also for developing the ability to better manage internal emotions from the external stressors they face. I find this interesting because it’s such a universal concept that can impact anyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
A mantra I recommend is: “Doing something is better than doing nothing.” We all can sometimes be susceptible to all or nothing thinking, and this often can negatively affect our mental and physical health. For example, research has shown that in addition to benefiting physical health, exercise can benefit mental health as well. When we get busy in our work and home lives, it’s normal to feel something has to give. Often it’s self-care. If your usual exercise routine is for an hour Monday, Wednesday and Friday and you’re feeling tired one day, it’s easy to say you’re not going to exercise because if you can’t do your full workout, “what’s the point?” This is a missed opportunity. Instead exercise for 15 minutes. If you exercised on Monday and skip Wednesday, you’ll have a 4 day gap between Monday and Friday sessions. Instead, although 15 minutes on Wednesday won’t be the same as an hour, you get your muscles stimulated, heart rate up, and let out some stress. And what sometimes happens is you’ll exercise longer than 15 minutes, and maybe for the entire hour. Often the real barrier is getting started.
This life lesson quote resonates with me because it can be applicable to anything, such as that work report you’re procrastinating on, reading for book club, meditating and others. There’s certainly been many times in my life that I’ve used this approach and I’ve always had a positive outcome. It’s a perspective shift.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
Of all the books I’ve read, Gandhi’s autobiography has had the biggest impact on my life. As I mentioned earlier, in my late 20’s I was on my journey of self-discovery. Reading this book led me to question my definition of success. Prior to this book, success had been defined as working at a large and prestigious law firm in Manhattan at a great salary. Not very long after achieving this goal, I realized that I wasn’t truly happy or fulfilled. This book helped me to find out what career would make me happy.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m very excited about the podcast I started during the Summer of 2020. I explore topics for maintaining good mental health through expanding your knowledge and coping skills, developing insight and creating and sustaining behavior change, with the goal of improving the quality of your personal and professional lives. This podcast helps people by giving them another medium through which I can provide support and information.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I know you’re asking for only one but I can’t! My wife has been an incredible support in all areas of my life. Most recently professionally, she was the inspiration for starting and growing my own practice. She’s also helped me with business strategy, building my website and other business-related matters. Every day I’m grateful to have her in my life.
Among many other things, my parents have helped to shape my world view, work ethic and how I truly care about the things I do. They were both public school teachers and that was inspiring to see.
Additionally, there are three clinical supervisors in various jobs that I admire for many reasons: Tim, Wynne and Joe. The biggest reason is their clinical ability to connect with the clients they serve. I remember many times nearly being in awe at how comfortable someone coming in the door experiencing homelessness became after some caring support even for just a short period of time. My supervisors’ pure expression of empathy. I’ve taken that with me in every client session.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Gratitude is the recognition and emotional self-expression of the people, experiences and things we have and have had in our lives. We’re thankful and appreciative, don’t take anything for granted no matter how small, and don’t feel what we have is because we deserve it. We can express gratitude to ourselves and to others in our life.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
Most people are very busy in their lives with personal and work responsibilities, moving from one urgent task to the next. Smart phones always nearby, there’s the constant barrage of social media, news and other things, and these can make it feel like it’s impossible to slow down and take a breath. They may feel that they’ve expressed gratitude in the past and it only needs to happen when some major event happens. The bonus earned at work is used to buy a new guitar and you’re so thankful for it. After a month maybe don’t think about how you got it: How fortunate you are to be working in a job that gives a bonus and you were able to do the work necessary to receive the bonus.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
If we express gratitude every day, we’ll appreciate what we have rather than take it for granted. We’ll feel good about ourselves because we’re validating our life decisions and also recognizing some of the things that got us here were not in our control. For example, growing up in a wealthy family rather than one living in poverty provided us with vast more opportunities and this was partially responsible for the success we’ve achieved.
Expressing gratitude will cause us to see the world through a different lens. We’ll take time and slow down to notice the little victories along the way, rather than just the long term goal. This leads to positive momentum towards achieving the long term goal, together with increased self-esteem.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Gratitude can reduce the stress we’re experiencing because we look at the big picture of our lives, rather than being stuck in the minutia of what’s going on a particular day. For example, it could be a really difficult day at work with long hours, but being grateful for the job and opportunities it provides in general can remind you of why you’re working those long hours and how fortunate you are to even be in that situation.
Another example is if frustration is building with your significant other based on every day minor things. If not addressed, this can become a much more complicated and serious concern. Expressing gratitude for the relationship can put in perspective how insignificant the things are that are causing you frustration, thus reducing it.
Also, some of us who are healthy may take it for granted. It’s not a given that we’ll all be healthy all the time. Unexpected illnesses and injuries can happen. Taking the time to appreciate and prioritize your physical health can also benefit your mental health.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Express gratitude to others.
Tell your spouse how much you appreciate her. Thank your supervisor for the opportunity to grow in your job. Text a friend and remind him how much you appreciate the time you’ve spent together. Bringing joy to others will also make you feel good. And this will reinforce the gratitude you feel for having them in your life.
2. Celebrate the small victories.
Life is busy. We’re jumping from one task to another and barely have time to relax. This can lead to missing opportunities to really see the positive progress we’re making towards whatever goals we have. Recognizing and being grateful for the steps we take towards achieving the larger goal can enrich our lives along the way and make achieving the goal more fulfilling. For example, or order to be promoted, it involves providing excellent work product, successfully managing interpersonal relations through direct and thoughtful communication and many other factors. When you do well on that presentation, take a little time to celebrate and be thankful.
3. Avoid taking things for granted.
We don’t deserve anything. We earn it and appreciate it. It’s not a given that we’ll be successful at work, have a good home life or be healthy. When something positive happens, be grateful how fortunate you are. If you get accepted to your top choice graduate school, even if you had outstanding grades in college, getting in is not a given. There’s almost always better qualified candidates. Take the time to be thankful.
4. Welcome challenges as opportunities.
If you’re having a difficult time, this can be an opportunity to build your resilience. This will also have the long term effect of improving your ability to handle stressors in the future. If you view the challenges as opportunities, you’ll be grateful when you get through them, and appreciative of the effort used to move on. For example, if work gets incredibly busy and you feel overwhelmed, when things slow down it’s normal to just relax and recharge. It’s important to also remind yourself to be grateful you had the strength to get through this difficult time.
5. Engage in positive self-talk.
It’s common to get caught up in things that didn’t go well during the day. You can be hard on yourself about it because maybe you feel you could have done better. Instead, starting when you wake up and periodically throughout the day, say one or more positive mantras that resonate with you. This will lead to being thankful for the positive things that happen throughout the day rather than focusing solely on negative ones.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
It’s important to let out negative emotions in a safe and positive way. Holding them in only builds them up and they can come out in an unhealthy way in the future. One example is with anger. If a person is holding anger in over time, at some point when a small frustrating thing happens the person can explode and overreact.
There are many ways to let out negative emotions. One that can be powerful is journaling. This can be done through writing, typing or verbally through dictating on your phone. Journaling can be broken down into two general categories: venting and analyzing. The first is just getting out emotions you’re currently experiencing. Don’t worry about grammar, complete sentences or whether it has a narrative theme. These are barriers to your flow. Just blast it out. You’ll feel better after the moment.
The other modality is journaling as an analysis of your progress. Tracking how things have been going since the last time you wrote, what positive or negative events have happened and how did they affect you, and rating yourself that day on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being very good and 5 being very bad to see how these numbers improve over time. You can look back at these journal entries to put your progress in perspective. Since change usually happens slowly, it can be more difficult to see. Journaling helps.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
Since it had such a profound positive effect on me as I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend Gandhi’s autobiography. Beyond social justice issues, there are changes to his lifestyle that, while extreme in many instances, can be thought provoking in a search for truth, meaning and gratitude. It’s a little dense at times, so another way to connect with his story is to watch the powerful film “Gandhi.”
Another book that resonated with me during my time of self-discovery is Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World by Lama Surya Das. Although I’m not a practicing Buddhist, many of the strategies detailed in the book are calming and reflective and can help with recognizing gratitude.
My podcast “Amplify Insight” explores topics for maintaining good mental health through expanding your knowledge and coping skills, developing insight and creating and sustaining behavior change, with the goal of improving the quality of your personal and professional lives.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
One of the most important emotions is empathy. I believe if we all had empathy towards each other, many of the world’s systemic problems could be solved. I know that sounds a little over the top, but I believe it. If we care more for each other’s livelihood with no one left behind, maybe we move towards achieving equality, ending poverty, solving climate change, and so much more. We can ALL live fulfilling lives and achieve our personal and professional goals.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Visit my website to learn more about my practice and experience, read blog posts and articles, listen to my podcast and much more. Call, text or email me if you’d like to have a free consultation for therapy. In partnership with law firms and companies, I also provide confidential therapy “drop in hours” for staff who need some support during the work day.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!