Speed check

Date

Linda McSweeny

"We are in control of our own pace."

"We are in control of our own pace." Photo: Getty Images

There's nothing quite like a stint in hospital to throw up a few questions about life and where it's headed. Hooked up to a monitor in the emergency department with my heart in overdrive, I realised I'd been pushing myself too hard and needed to make some adjustments.

It's a common theme of modern life: rushing to keep up, racing against the clock, running out of puff and falling in a heap, only to discover you just don't know how to live any other way.

At Little Athletics, I would start out strong before losing momentum towards the end; at school, I'd top the class in maths one week and only just pass the next. As an adult, I've finally realised I've been struggling with a sporadic pace for decades and need to reboot.

Life coaches are talking about finding our natural pace, or setting rhythms to suit our personal physical needs, rather than lining up our days the way we think other people organise theirs.

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But it can be tough to adopt better routines while feeling depleted, inadequate and entrenched in old habits.

"When you realise you can't change the fact there's only 168 hours in a week, you work around that," says Vanessa Bennett, Australian CEO of coaching group inside80performance.com.

"It's far easier to work with what feels natural for you and to stop comparing yourself to other people. If you can find what works best for you, your productivity and performance increases and your effort level in doing so decreases."

Bennett says she is a fast-paced person with a shorter attention span than most people. "I found I was able to work in bursts of, say, 45 minutes. I'm really present on something for half an hour and then, when I feel concentration waning, I do something else. That was a really effective way for me to work."

Bennett treats her own routine much as elite athletes do – matching daily activities with endurance levels. "I think some people are ... naturally better at sprinting and other people are naturally better at endurance," she says.

"If you're a natural endurance person, don't try to be an Olympic sprinter. You will never get that gold medal, no matter how much you train. If you're naturally a fast-paced person, the amount of effort it would take you to try to operate like a slow-paced person would burn you out."

Executive wellbeing coach Mia Jones says she lived much of her life as a high achiever until a physical ailment and work redundancy stopped her in her tracks and helped her reroute onto a more sustainable, self-nurturing path.

"For many years I had this badge of being a bit of a superwoman, having it all and achieving it all – the great big job and the international holidays. But on the inside I had a build-up of tension and anxiety. I was so wound up."

Long hours and a demanding schedule left Jones in need of medication for chronic pain because she felt "too busy to see a doctor".

"I had known I was a bit addicted to achievement but I didn't realise how bad that had got," says Jones, who decided to take a part-time role as a better fit for herself and her family.

"Now I know we are in control of our own pace. It's about knowing when to pull back on some things and when you need to give a bit more."