Pacing your way to happiness

Pacing your way to happiness

Although I now spend most of my time working as a positive psychology coach at The Happiness Institute ( as some of you may already know I began my professional career as a clinical psychologist. For those of you who’re not familiar with the different types of psychologists, clinical psychologists are those who spend most of their time helping people with problems such as depression, grief, stress, anxiety, relationship difficulties and other behavioural and emotional troubles.

Specifically, much of my early career was working with people in chronic pain (many of whom had experienced work related injuries like back strains, had been in motor vehicle accidents and suffered “whiplash”, or had unfortunately developed degenerative complaints such as arthritis). My clinical psychology practice ( still treats people struggling to overcome these types of problems and we still use many of the practical and effective strategies I learned all those years ago.

For those with chronic pain problems, one of the more common challenges was keeping active (which we knew was helpful as a distraction and source of satisfaction, as well as a way to avoid physical deterioration) without overdoing (which simple exacerbated the pain and often lead to more distress and sometimes, the use of more pain medicines which had their own problems).

To balance this, we used to teach our clients a strategy we called “pacing”. In very simple terms, pacing involved finding that balance between doing and resting; between keeping active but not overactive; between taking appropriate breaks without becoming lazy and overly inactive. Among other things, we recommended strategies such as breaking tasks down into small, achievable chunks; taking regular, short breaks; alternating tasks to ensure use of different muscles and to avoid extended periods of time in one position.

Although these all sound relatively simple they are also extremely effective. Appropriate use of these (and other) pacing strategies would often change people’s lives and our clients would often tell us that they could now do many of the activities they want to do (even if they need to complete them in a slightly different way).

And having seen the success of this strategy for people with chronic pain it wasn’t hard to then see its utility in other areas of life. These days, I often recommend a modified version of pacing for those who’re busy and stressed. Who wouldn’t benefit, for example, from breaking down complex tasks into smaller and simple component parts; and who wouldn’t benefit, for example, from taking more regular breaks.

Achieving happiness and success in life requires having the energy to do what you want to do. It’s hard to be happy if you’re literally sick and tired all the time; and the unfortunate reality is that many of us are tired much of the time. One solution to this is to ensure you gain adequate and good quality sleep (which also happens to be a pet interest of mine) but the other thing we can do is to ensure we get enough rest throughout the day, the week and the year.

So whether you have pain or not, try the following pacing strategies to maximise your energy and performance, to get the most out of life and to ensure you’re as happy and healthy as you possibly can be.

– Break down your tasks

– Take regular short breaks

– Relax often (30 minutes a day unless you’re busy, in which case 60 minutes each day!)

– Alternate tasks

– Be flexible when thinking about how you do things

– Don’t over-do or over-extend yourself

– Remember that life’s a marathon, not a sprint

I’m sure you stop to fill up your car with petrol every now and then and this is not differentê¢__‘Ô_it’s a way to stop and fill up your energy tank every now and then. When you’re working, work; but when you’re resting, rest!