Cultivating a habit takes thought, choice, time, energy, and practice-–‘bandwidth’, as we call it. This is true for the entire spectrum of habits, good, bad, and great.
Building some new habits can also be a costly affair—golfing, anyone?—as is maintaining some. This cost seems particularly high for ‘bad’ habits.
Oftentimes, we must clear the bandwidth from one habit for another one. This substitution is as challenging as it is satisfying.
A time-tested technique to get onto the bumpy, and often solitary, road to better habits is to clearly, loudly, unashamedly announce your intention towards your chosen habit amongst family and friends to enlist their support; in some instances, politely indicate that they make way.
As you do this, it can also happen that you find yourself a ‘pacer’, a common word in the world of running. Popular health website livestrong.com defines a pacer as someone who “helps you to finish a race in a specific time”.
Habit-making is a marathon or at least a half-marathon, and as Livestrong says, pacers “set and maintain a specific pace, but you must choose a pace that aligns with your training and experience”.
I have found and been a pacer on several occasions. Most memorable of these is when, on July 1 two years ago, I, an occasional drinker, decided to become a teetotaler for a month.
My Dry January was a July of nimbu pani—no, not even that ‘innocent’ cocktail or that celebratory glass of wine. In doing so, I hoped to test my willpower and free my bandwidth to make way for a regimen of exercise and reading.
When I announced this to my friends and family, there were many questions, mostly around whether this was triggered by a medical condition (no, it wasn’t), and some shock and awe.
While I held my ground, a former colleague who was part of my professional network but who I hadn’t been directly in touch with for years, called me to ask if he could join me in his attempt towards sobriety. He became my pacer.
A daily exchange of messages on how it was going, a phone call every now and then, kept both him and I walking in the same direction, towards July 31. We made it, and we celebrated it with a Rooh Afza!
Could I have met my goal without a pacer? Yes, of course. Did it feel easier to do this with someone alongside? Absolutely.
Have I gone back to being an occasional drinker? Interestingly, no. Is that because I had a pacer? I don’t know but I won’t say a flat ‘No’.
In fact, since I discovered the power of pacers, I have one for my exercise goals, and in this instance, we are in two different cities, with two very different lives, even two entirely different climates.
An exchange of our modest achievements in distance, time, and duration even creates some healthy competition between us besides giving each of us a moment of connection and judgment-free space to share our aches and pains. Another instance of the power of pacing is when I recently volunteered for a local charity with a pacer.
With many of us now working from home which can feel lonely, could it be an idea to enlist a pacer for yourself to keep you quiet company and also on the straight and narrow of achieving your work and study goals?
This needn’t even be a member of your team. In fact, getting a pacer from an unrelated part of your company could open new vistas for learning and growth for both of you.
It should be someone whose company, and work and communication styles you like, and who is a peer, or a near peer in seniority. Timed spurts of individual focus on your separate tasks punctuated by quick calls to share news on which of your to-dos you struck off, and voila, you’ll both be well on your own two parallel ways.
One company Focusmate has even made a business of it! It offers a free virtual coworking service that helps you stop procrastinating by connecting you with a stranger to work side-by-side, remotely over video, in structured 50-minute sessions.
I’m certainly making it my business to find a work pacer for myself in the hope that they will also compel me to end my workday on time!
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Indu Anand is an Associate Director with the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. A career corporate communicator and content creator, she is enjoying finding her Hero Habit.
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