The Never-Ending Lesson of Pacing

Every day, I go for a walk. Usually, it’s a casual one. It takes some 30-40 minutes. Yesterday, I was back after 20. The sun was shining, the breeze was soft. Immediately, I felt like running. I took a few paces, then slowed down again. “Pacing, pacing!” It’s hard to not go fast when you feel like you can.

There’s a big staircase along my walk. It’s about 100 steps. I wanted to sprint up, but I decided to try and keep a steady pace. I put on some music and counted the beats. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Then, I took one step after the other. I marched up the stairs.

I could feel my pacing working. My heart settled into a beat. The exertion was steady, but I wasn’t overclocking. “Ahh, this is a pace I can keep.” Somehow, I must have lost that pace afterwards, for I was still home much quicker than usual, but the intention was there.

Earlier this week, something similar happened: I was on a roll at work. I wrote several blog posts and book chapters and just crushed my long to-do list overall. There was only one problem: The next day, I barely did anything. I was exhausted. In Effortless, Greg McKeown suggests the following: “Do not do more today than you can completely recover from today. Do not do more this week than you can completely recover from this week.” It’s a great idea but hard to do.

Pacing is a lesson we have to learn endlessly, like a song that’s on repeat forever. Why? Because even if we fall into the perfect rhythm in one area of life, we’ll likely skip too fast or miss a beat somewhere else. Our work flows smoothly, but we neglect our health for it. We sacrifice family time to exercise more, and so on.

Let’s say you do pull off the miracle of keeping your health, work, me-time, and relationship trains all going at the same speed. What happens next? One of them derails. A relative dies. You need surgery. Boom. Zero beats per minute. One of the trains has stopped dead. Well, that’s life! You’re gonna have to restart it.

Whether it’s your optimism carrying you away or a necessary reaction to what happens, your pacing will never be perfect. It’s a habit you’ll have to work on every day for the rest of your life.

That’s a big task, but it needn’t be daunting – because what pacing also means is focusing on your very next step. You’re not looking for the move eight beats out. You want to find your pace today, and to do that, it’s usually enough to start with a walk around town.