Pacing is a technique I often recommend to my clients that experience symptoms of burnout. As the term implies, pacing involves setting manageable goals to avoid over-doing it.
Learning how to “pace” one’s activities requires behavioural changes. Doing more physical activity than a person is capable of will lead to a flare-up for individuals with chronic pain. Similarly, working flat out to achieve a goal or meet a deadline can lead to burnout for individuals that are prone to overworking themselves, which happens frequently to clients I see. Professionals who take on too much require a recovery period, which means a reduction in productivity and usually frustration.
Pacing involves learning to accept limitations and to adjust expectations accordingly. The following are three different ways that pacing can be successfully applied to any goal. They can be used one at a time, or in combination.
- Reduce the level of ambition or size of the project being undertaken until it can be completed, given available resources.
- Delegate responsibilities to others until the project being undertaken can be completed if the level of ambition or size of the project cannot be reduced.
- Increase the timeframe for the project being undertaken if the level of ambition or size of the project cannot be reduced and if others cannot be brought into the project.
For example, pacing for someone with chronic pain that is responsible for vacuuming their house might look like this:
- Vacuum only those areas on the main floor of the house that have high traffic, and neglect all other areas.
- Hire someone to come to the house to vacuum the entire house once every two or three weeks.
- Vacuum the entire house only once a month rather than once a week, cleaning the floors in only one quarter of the house in any given week.
“Pacing” is explained in detail for people suffering from chronic pain in an excellent book called Explain Pain by David Butler. This book is a specialty book that must be ordered online. It is not available in bookstores.
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Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta