(This column is dedicated to all my students, teaching colleagues, friends in retail, clergy, and anyone who practices a holiday tradition.)
I’m an avid non-runner. I have a runner friend that thinks this is hilarious—so much so, he even introduces me that way. While I may not run for fun or any other reason, I do know a few things: I know that if you have a goal of some distance and challenge, you need to pace yourself. I know that a marathoner does not tackle a race like a sprinter.
Pace Yourself. It’s probably a good life rule, whether it’s managing a big project, a season of more than normal demands, end-of-the-year deadlines or quotas that have to be met, the end of a semester, or the holidays. Generally speaking, it implies that we have more than is typical on our plate that must be checked off or accomplished.
I know that if you have a goal of some distance and challenge, you need to pace yourself. It’s probably a good life rule.
It also brings to mind the old children’s story of the Tortoise and the Hare. The problem with this well-worn fable is that many of us over-achievers will never view ourselves as Tortoises. Ever. We’re Hares. We get things done. We move through life at a fast pace. We’re winning the race. Or so we think…but really, are we? Especially if we’re totally stressed out? Maybe we can evolve as Hares who have learned the skill of pacing ourselves when life ahead looks messy.
Pacing yourself means looking ahead and creating a plan. Breaking down a large task into smaller, more manageable bites is a strategy for not becoming overwhelmed. It does not necessarily come naturally, but rather, can be taught and learned. It requires utilizing a calendar and creating a manageable map of time and tasks. What are the absolute deadlines? What is the available time? How can we maps these out in a way that creates small, accomplishable goals? In order to stay on pace, creating a real, tangible schedule helps.
Pacing yourself means valuing rest time. “Tapering” is a swimming training concept. It is an elaborate training schedule that includes a reduction in the long, hard training workouts and adds more sprinting work-outs and much more rest. The goal behind tapers is to increase one’s recovery periods to increase performance times at meets—when the final demand counts. Pacing yourself as you look toward a final push should include more rest and all other manners of self-care.
Pacing yourself requires focus. There is little room for luxury of entertaining distractions. I have a saying that I used to offer certain clients who were navigating especially rough times: “Just for now, stay focused on your goals.” That type of focus is intentional—it often requires reminders and practice. And practice. And practice. And reminders….
Pacing yourself is methodical. This suggests there is a watchful eye on the virtue of moderation. It means that there is no room for over-indulgence and the time and energy that consumes. I am a football fan in a conference that is known for its tailgating. Any seasoned tailgater knows about pacing yourself so that you can actually enjoy the 7pm game—because the arrival time rarely changes—whether the game starts at noon or later. Only the rookies never make it in the gate because they’ve been swept away in the spirit of excess. Create a method and stick to it.
Pacing yourself means letting go of extras. This is a skill of prioritizing—the first rule of which is that not everything can be a priority. This an especially difficult challenge for over-committers, over-thinkers, people-pleasers, and perfectionists. I once gave a talk to a group of older women at a church (stereotype warning) about managing stress during the holidays. I had the audacity to suggest that they didn’t need to make a dozen different varieties of holiday cookies—that 6 would probably suffice; or that the banister didn’t REQUIRE lighted garland every year. They took issue with my suggestions and their disapproving, apoplectic expressions were the first clue they would not invite me back. (Remember Skill #26?)
Pacing yourself leaves no room for perfectionism. Let me explain: you should always do your best but perfectionism, by definition, is an ideal. It is unachievable. Perfectionism is going beyond what is required in ways that are over the top, unnecessary, and often beyond the point of diminishing returns. Perfectionism defies efficiency. Pacing yourself implies the goal of efficiency. Sorry to all you perfectionists out there—I’ll challenge this trait again and again. I often say, “Perfectionism keeps me in business.” (Mull on that a while….)
You should always do your best but perfectionism, by definition, is an ideal. It is unachievable.
Pacing yourself leaves some room for error. Any good research statistician will tell you that there is always error in any hypothesis testing. Those of us who are not research statisticians call it “Murphy’s Law”: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. In times of high demand, we often don’t leave ourselves any “wiggle room”, thus increasing the likelihood that we’ll end up frustrated and more stressed. In our everyday world, pacing yourself means expecting the unexpected—long lines, traffic, slow people, inefficiency. (See also Skill # 21.) Know that these moments of error are also opportunities to take more slow, deep breaths.
Pacing yourself allows for small, intermittent rewards. It is not a state of chronic deprivation—that is not sustainable and frankly, just wears us out. Keep your energy up with breaks, some fun (with limits), and those things that nourish your soul and fire up your passion. That is what replenishes our ability to march on. (Skill # 22.)
So I am a case in point on this blog this week: It is late November—the end of my semester. Typically speaking, my house looks like a staging area for student work. The holiday floodgates open as my school work peaks. Other year-end deadlines are in the sights of December. It is a perfect storm. But I’m in pretty good shape this year. Amy asked me how.
I’ve implemented a practiced plan of attack and I now know what are realistic, accomplishable goals over this 6-week period. I get hyper-focused on the task at hand (my response to text inquiries about what I’m doing or my plans is simply, “grading”). I have made mid-course corrections and while I still do my best, I let some things go. This year, I got more rest headed into this demanding stretch. I’ve had to say ‘no’ to some distractions despite the enjoyment that they offer but I also don’t work around the clock—I schedule in some fun and rest. I did host a lovely Thanksgiving gathering but I won’t get my house decorated before the first Sunday in Advent. I get methodical at the risk of losing inspiration—so forgive me if this is not my best blog. But it is now done and I am not going to reread it a thousand times as my over-thinking, perfectionistic nature can nag me to do. I’ve got more papers to grade….
So Pace Yourself because Life is Messy and Life is Marvelous.