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First personHealth

The untold joy of coasting through life 

By February 2, 2023No Comments



New year, new me? Pah! Victoria Stokes on why always striving and never just being might not be the best route to success


I’ve always known what I’ve wanted in life and it’s rare that you’ll see me without my planner. Every year starts with a predictable list of far-fetched goals and over the course of two decades, I’ve forged an identity as the ‘ambitious’ one in my friendship group. But this year, I’m coasting.

If you were to crack open a dictionary, you’d find that the official definition of ‘coasting’, is the art of moving easily without any power. Some call it ‘winging it’, others ‘doing the bare minimum’. For me, coasting is about shifting your focus from achievement to enjoyment. It’s about throwing out the roadmap for your life, and instead trusting that the road will form in front of you.

There’s a lot to be said for knowing what you want and having the fearless tenacity to go out and get it, but there’s also a certain joy in knowing when to stop and smell the roses. It paves the way for spontaneity and experts say taking a break can be good for us.

“Reducing goal setting can often help us to be more mindful as we are more focused on the present than future aspirations,” says Rachel Vora, psychotherapist and founder of CYP Wellbeing. “There is much research to suggest that being more ‘in the present’ can have a positive impact on our mental health.”

So, how can this enriching, life-affirming, and confidence-boosting habit bring more joy to your days? And, when you’ve spent a lifetime chasing goals, how tricky is it to do? “Coasting can encourage us to recognise small moments in our day and increase our gratitude for what we already have, which can lead to a greater sense of contentment and happiness,” says Vora.

It’s true: free from the pressure of out-of-reach goals I’ve found myself appreciating the small things in life; the sun jutting in through the window on a frosty morning, a moment of quiet in-between work projects, a private joke with a friend.

The trouble with goals is, it’s easy to become too focused on them, and as we do, we lose our focus on everything else. We forget just how good we’ve got it. We take for granted the people and things around us and – perhaps ironically – the goals we’ve already achieved.

We can easily shift from appreciating what we have to obsessing about what we’re lacking. That goes for our sense of self-worth too. Vora points out that sometimes when we’re in pursuit of big goals, we place unnecessary amounts of stress and expectation on ourselves. When you fail, the disappointment and frustration of having fallen short of your expectations can deal a deathly blow. And as much as conventional wisdom encourages you to fall down nine times and get up 10, sometimes we aren’t always ready to stand up and try again.

Often we need time to lick our wounds, and this is when coasting can be particularly handy. Vora says it encourages a greater satisfaction within ourselves. It builds back our self-trust, fosters contentment, and encourages enjoyment at a time when we may be feeling at our most vulnerable. After a year of many failures, I’ve found coasting has helped me reconsider my relationship with success. 2023 is a new era; one where I’ll be looking outside the traditional parameters of success – money, possessions, job title – and considering how fulfilled and happy I feel day to day.

When the bar for a successful day is set at enjoying it or even just surviving it, your success rate rockets. That’s how you know you’ve hit the coasting sweet spot: you’re content without having really accomplished anything.

Of course, there’s a balance to be struck. No one wants to stand still forever, and it’s detrimental to your mental health if you do, but it’s okay to lift your foot off the pedal for a little while.  

You can take the fact that many experts recommend delaying setting your new year goals until February, using January as a month to relax and reset, as a permission slip to coast for as little or as long as you want.

If a self-confessed planner and perfectionist like me can get into the habit of coasting, then so can you. Vora reckons striking the right balance between making progress and being content with where you’re at is about learning to let go of control.

She says we need to bring our focus into the now and to accept that the only thing that’s really within our control is this very moment. Rather than forcing every second of our days to be productive, she recommends scheduling in time to do nothing and using these moments to focus on feeling rather than doing.

It might be getting under the duvet and just sitting silently for a few minutes or staring into space rather than turning on the TV. A culture so focused on achievement has convinced us that moments like these are wasteful – even lazy – but they are essential if we are to thrive.

Whenever I think of coasting, I think of a bike rolling down a hill. You don’t need to pedal to make it move forward; the bike whizzes down the slope all on its own, gaining enough momentum to make it halfway up the next incline. As humans, we’re a little like bikes coasting down a hill. We don’t always have to pedal at full power and we need those moments of rest to build momentum for the next challenge.