Sunday, 26 February 2012

Setting Realistic Goals

Before you start, if you haven't read Flo's response to my post on Pacing (over at do it now - it's great!

Now, back to the point...

One of the things that I've been learning recently is how to set goals for myself.

This is how it used to go:
Jo: I don't do enough exercise. I'm going to go and spend an hour working out at the gym.
Jo goes to the gym, gets dizzy after 5 minutes, goes home and spends the rest of the day in pain and dizzy, trying to sleep.

This, clearly, was not a good way to go about achieving my goal.

It's very easy, when living with a chronic illness, to get discouraged because there are so many things that we can't do. I find myself obsessing about each deterioration and each perceived failure, while overlooking achievements as being too minor to 'count' for anything.

With this in mind, it's even more important to set good goals - realistic goals that lead to success. We might not succeed every time, but the more we do, the more positive we feel about our ability to achieve things.

I use the SMART system when I set goals for myself. This is an acronym that stands for:
- Specific
- Measurable
- Achievable
- Realistic
- Timely

It's important that goals should be specific and measurable - how else can you know if you've succeeded? It's not enough to say "I want to lose weight" - you need to set a measurable figure on your weight loss. This has to be a realistic number. If you're on high-dose steroids, for example, which have weight gain and increased appetite as a common side-effect, you may need to allow yourself more time to achieve your goal, or to set a smaller initial target.

Give yourself a time limit so that you know when to stop and check how much progress you've made. You may need to have more than one target - a long-term target and a short-term target. Aiming to lose 2 lb (1 kg) in a month sounds more manageable than aiming to lose 22 lb (10 kg).

Once I've set my goal, I think about the changes that I need to make in order to achieve my goal. Sticking with the example of losing weight, I might decide to drink water instead of fruit juice, and to eat fresh fruit instead of chocolate. I try not to make changes that I know will make me miserable. If you need chocolate or a glass of wine to get through the week, cutting those out will make you miserable and less likely to succeed. Don't forget to be realistic and honest with yourself. Cutting out chocolate or alcohol on one day a week is a good start!

There might be more than one way to get to your goal, e.g. doing more exercise and eating fewer calories are both ways to lose weight. People get very hung up on exercise (those who genuinely love going to the gym are the exception in my experience), but you don't have to spend an hour on the treadmill. Getting off the bus a couple of stops earlier, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or signing up to a dance class are all ways of fitting more exercise into your everyday routine. A pedometer is a good way of keeping track of how much walking you're doing.

Having set your goal and decided on the changes that you're going to make, decide on a reward for yourself once you've achieved this goal. This could be a small reward (e.g. a magazine, book, flowers or a bubble bath) for short-term achievements and a big reward (e.g. a massage, a new haircut, a new bottle of scent) for bigger achievements.

If you don't achieve your goal in the time you allowed yourself, don't beat yourself up about it. Consider why you didn't succeed and modify your next goal to be more realistic. You may need to make different changes.

Above all, be proud of yourself. Celebrate every success, no matter how small.

As L'Oreal would say, "You're worth it".


  1. I'm still learning how to pace myself. I usually do too much and crash. I find even the slightest exertion exercise-wise makes my symptoms (and pain) worse. A simple outing to the doc's office has me recovering for days. So my current goal is to learn how to pace myself. Right after I figure out how many spoons I have on a given day. If you don't know how much energy you have in store, then how can you know how much you have to pace yourself? Rather frustrating lol

  2. Hi Shannon,

    That's definitely a frustrating situation. Pacing is a big goal - why not make it your goal to keep a diary of how much activity you do and how bad your symptoms are (I find it easiest to give a score out of 5, rather than trying to describe symptoms)? It's a bit of a chore, but might give you an idea of how much you can do on a 'normal' day so that you can start to pace around that level of activity.