We are not machines, and being resilient doesn’t mean keeping going until you drop. Suzy Reading explores the art of pacing yourself
Ever found yourself thinking, ‘I should be more resilient’? You’re not alone. It’s a common theme in my therapy room: people feeling they should be stronger, coping better, when in fact they’re experiencing a normal and natural response to life. Rather than judging and pushing harder, we need to rejig our perceptions of resilience. We need to give ourselves permission to be human, and adjust our pace and expectations of self. Easier said than done? I hear you, so let’s break it down.
When you think about resilience, what does it mean to you? Do images come to mind? Often our concept of resilience gets in our way – or, worse, adds to our burden. If the word conjures an image of someone in a superhero stance, cape billowing, chest broad and impenetrable, life’s challenges just pinging from a Teflon surface, I invite you to think again. Resilience does not mean that we’re unaffected by life. It does not make us immune from pain, unpleasant emotions, energy depletion or struggle. No one – even the most resilient of us – is immune from stress, anxiety, depression, grief or feeling overwhelmed.
Let’s be clear: the normal response to tough times is to struggle. We don’t always have to hold it together. In fact, for us to process and move through our experiences, we need to express emotions. It can look messy, but it’s essential for our mental and emotional health.
Resilience is our ability to bounce back. It doesn’t mean we don’t get knocked for six; it just means we get back up sooner. Let’s revisit the image. Rather than someone impervious to challenges, it might be someone curled up in a ball, allowing tears to fall. Because it takes great courage to bear witness to our emotions, to acknowledge our losses and to carve the time and space to heal – and this is what lies at the heart of resilience: meeting ourselves where we are and having the compassion to pace ourselves accordingly.
We still feel a deep collective fatigue in the wake of the pandemic. We’re in the midst of global uncertainty and we’re facing the pressure of a rise in the cost of living. Resilience doesn’t mean we plough on regardless. It requires us to check in, allow ourselves to feel as we do, and do what we can to tend to our human needs.
Human needs are interesting things. We tend to treat ourselves like machines, expecting to function consistently despite the circumstances we find ourselves in; demanding that we pitch up, focus and perform; often denying ourselves the right to rest. But we diligently recharge our phones and don’t begrudge our car needing fuel. If only we held our own health in such regard. No one has infinite capacity, and we can’t always muscle our way
Pacing ourselves is a skill that we can cultivate using three simple steps:
1 Reality check
You are human, not a robot. And you are just one human being; you don’t have the resources of a dozen. Try the mantra, ‘Every day I have a different capacity and that is okay.’
2 Know yourself
This is as simple as asking yourself, ‘Where am I at today?’ The key is to observe without judgement. Notice your body, your breathing, your emotions, your energy levels, your mood. Choose a time of day to check in and stick with it. You will soon develop the habit of checking in throughout your day: self-awareness and compassion are skills we build with practice.
3 Adjust your pace and meet your needs
There is nothing indulgent about this. Treating yourself with the same care that you give your devices is basic self-respect. It’s okay to take time out to restore. And tweak your to-do list. Don’t equate your capacity with your capability: just because a task is possible doesn’t mean you have to say yes. It’s okay to delegate, to dump things, or to park them for a day when
your reserves are greater.
Simple practices help us pace ourselves
Keep white space in your day to manage extra things that inevitably crop up.
And schedule time for rest: a break isn’t a distraction, it’s a chance to refresh and refocus your mind. Look for ways to reduce the number of choices you have to make in a day, to boost your decision-making power for the important ones. What can you do on autopilot? Can you exercise at the same time each day, identify three breakfast choices or five work outfits, set boundaries about your hours of availability for work or decide tech health boundaries?
Above all, give yourself grace. Pacing yourself is an art form. We won’t get it right every time. Focus on what you learn about yourself and what you might do differently next time. Beautiful things come from gentle, coaxing self-talk.