Goal Setting with Chronic Illness

It can feel hard to set goals for yourself when you’re sick and/or in pain. Be it personal goals, work/career goals, relationship goals, or health goals, they just feel harder to attain and when something is so hard it’s so easy for our minds to give up and just not do it. But we have to be careful, because that giving up can lead to hopelessness, which can lead to depression, which can then make it even harder to set goals and live the life we want to live. You might be saying, “but Kelsey, how can I live the life I want to live when I’m in so much pain, and I’m struggling so much?” And that is a valid question. Journeys to living our best lives aren’t easy for people who are healthy, so they are far less easy for those who are not, which is why I believe that starting to set goals for ourselves early on, before that hopelessness sets in, is essential. (For those of you who are already struggling from depression, goal setting is still very important, but I recommend seeking out a therapist to help you on your journey, this post is going to focus on goal setting when our mental health is doing better).

Sometimes we focus too much on obstacles and stop ourselves from setting goals.

Personal, career, relationship, and health goals are all possible to set and achieve. The easiest strategy for goal setting, that is often used in business AND is what we use in counselling, are SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Setting goals this way, will help you have a step-by-step process that will make it easier to reach your goals. With chronic illness, our goals might be smaller than our healthy peers. Maybe a health goal is to walk around the block rather than run a half marathon (or if your ultimate goal is to run that half marathon, we might have to start with the goal of walking around the block). Before we jump into some examples of these SMART goals, I want to just stop for a minute and talk about realistic versus unrealistic goals. I think it gets a little fuzzy with Spoonies because sometimes we can either limit ourselves in what we believe we can do, or we try to ignore our limitations and believe we can do more than we can. The truth is, only you know if you fall into one of these categories, or if you’re being completely realistic about your goals. Using the marathon example, if you believe you could NEVER run a marathon (even if it is technically possible) than you might limit yourself in the box of continuing to struggle with going for walks (I’m not saying this is or isn’t fitting for you and your story, just an example of what could happen). On the other end, if you believe you could run a marathon within a year but you struggle with pain when you take a few steps, that is also not necessarily realistic (again, depending on you). My point is, we want to have realistic expectations of ourselves when we set goals, and sometimes those can change when we make these smaller goals, and take one step at a time.

Goals can still be set if you have chronic illness – in fact they should be set!
(Niagara, ON, July 19, 2020)

Let’s do an example of a SMART goal with something from my life. (By the way I have a million goals, some of them are “life” goals and will take a lot of time to build up to – thus the baby steps – and some of them are smaller goals). This month I’m participating in a 30-day yoga challenge. So, I’m going to use that as my goal.

  • S(pecific) – Participate in Timothy Gordon’s 30-day yoga challenge (found on YouTube here) at around 5pm every day.
  • M(easurable) – Tracked daily by viewing the videos in order: Days 1-30
  • A(ttainable) – the videos are between 15-30 minutes in length, and I have been doing this style of yoga (yin) for 10 months, so yes it is attainable.
  • R(elevant) – this has a dual purpose for me: to get present and centred in my body (which is helpful for chronic pain and mental health), and for light exercise (also helpful for chronic pain and mental health).
  • T(ime-bound) – I started on March 1 so I will end on March 30.

Therefore my goal is: To participate in Timothy Gordon’s 30-day yoga challenge at around 5pm daily from March 1 to 30, which is based on my current fitness level and will improve my chronic pain and mental health through being present and light exercise.

My current Yoga challenge is indoor, but I’d love to do outdoor yoga again!
(near Peachland, BC, August 30, 2020)

If, for example, you wanted to have a similar goal but were not used to doing yoga or this style of yoga, you could spread it out over two months and do it every other day. I hope you get the idea though. It’s important to set a goal around your health when you have a chronic illness. Just setting one goal at a time, and accomplishing it can feel really good and improve your overall quality of life (which then will likely improve your mood as well). If you have questions about this kind of goal setting, or really any questions at all, feel free to reach out! Also, my podcast episode with Katie and my one with Trachele, are really good to check out as they relate to goal setting with chronic illness.

Until next week, keep making the most of it!