It can be really hard to set goals when you are chronically ill. You never know if your illness will get in the way of you achieving them, so sometimes you wonder, “why even bother?” It’s particularly hard at this time of year with all the instagramspirational quotes that start floating around, about how the only barrier is your mindset and all that nonsense.
I still think it is worth it, though. Without goals, the year ahead can stretch away like the road across the Hay Plains on a hot day – empty, tedious, and exhausting.
I find setting goals helps add something to the landscape. It lets me feel accomplished when I achieve them and gives me something a little closer that endless horizon to rest my eyes on.
There’s a couple of tricks to it, though, in order to prevent you from feeling hopeless or overwhelmed. Here are mine:-
1. Use the S.M.A.R.T. method
If it is a big goal, like that favourite of new year resolutions, losing weight, don’t just have that general concept floating around. The SMART method says that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. In other words:-
- Don’t make your goals too vague. If you can’t say what success will look like, how will you know when you’ve achieved it? A generally vague goal, like, “be a better person” is only going to be useful if you can qualify exactly what you mean by that. Being specific about your steps to achieving that goal is also really useful. For instance, one of my goals this year is to finish reading the Old Testament. I have set out specific milestones of when exactly I want to finish each book, and how much I need to read each day to achieve that.
- To quote lifestyle website YourCoach, “Measurable goals means that you identify exactly what it is you will see, hear and feel when you reach your goal.” In other words, what will success look like? Sometimes it’s really obvious – I’ll know when I’ve reached my goal of qualifying as a SCUBA diver when I get my qualification. In others, it’s a little harder. For example, I’ll know that I’ve reached my goal of improving my Arabic when I can read any word, even if I can’t translate it, and have a basic conversation about specific subjects.
- Attainable is the most important one for spoonies. If you can’t walk 1km without pain, don’t set your sights on climbing Mt Everest this year. Kosciuszko is probably out of reach too. I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim high, but aiming high should also be within reality. “Improve my fitness” and setting smaller, more defined goals might be a more successful choice. If you set the bar way too high and consistently fail to reach it, your goals will feel like a burden rather than a motivation, and you’ll feel like a failure. That’s not the point of having goals.
- Relevant is the “why” for your goal. Why do you want to achieve the thing? I want to speak Arabic because I love learning new languages and it’s a handy one to have. I want to learn to SCUBA dive because I tried it once and it was amazing and I want to be able to do it regularly and safely. I want to finish the Old Testament because it is important to me to know the Bible so I can better understand my own faith. I also think goals shouldn’t be too burdensome. If you are dragging your way through a Goodreads classic reading list because you feel like you have to in order to be a better person but you actually hate classic literature, then drop it. Find a goal that you won’t hate. I love classic literature but reading it won’t make you a better person, particularly if you hate every second of it.
- The original timeliness aspect of SMART planning suggests deadlines, because motivate people into action. That’s good if those deadlines are going to be achievable, but for spoonies I feel like timelines might be better than deadlines. It is really hard for us to commit to things with 100% certainty, and deadlines are no different. Timelines are more suggestions than hard and fast “it must be done by now or else”. We need still need timeframes for motivation and to make our goals realistic, but we also need flexibility.
On that note…
2. Be flexible
If you don’t achieve your goal within the specified timeframe, it is not the end of the world (unless your goal is to save the world and there’s some sort of ticking clock I don’t know about, in which case, please don’t be flexible). I’ve set what I think are realistic goals. Ideally, I’d like to qualify as a diver by early March, but I may have yet more unforeseen medical expenses or bouts of unpaid sick leave which mean I simply can’t do it financially. If it can’t happen then, that’s fine. I can learn to be a mermaid some other time. Our lives are made up of constant compromises, and sometimes even our big goals have to take a back seat. That’s totally ok, and you shouldn’t feel like a failure or berate yourself if that happens. Timeframes may change. An entire goal may become impossible. Chances are, it’s not your fault.
That being said…
3. Hold yourself accountable
This is one of those hard ones where you have to strike a balance between not letting your illness become an excuse not to do something you actually could do, and forgiving yourself when it prevents you from doing something you wanted to. If you are having a good day, use it (but don’t overdo it). If you are having a bad day, do what you can but don’t force yourself past your own limits. Allow yourself time to rest and recover, but don’t let it turn into laziness and slacking off. Of course, this needs to be set by your standards and your body, not society’s standards in general. They may think time you need for recovery is slacking off. It is not. Don’t buy into that.
So, those are my top three. I also want to share the planner I’m using this year, because it is absolutely great for goal setting. I realised I was running out of time, energy and motivation to keep up with a bullet journal and I needed to sacrifice the flexibility it offered me in favour of something pre-planned. For Christmas my parents gave me this beautiful set from Leaders in Heels.
Whilst it is a little heavy on inspirational quotes and a very shallow, marketable form of feminism, it does have all the functions I need. The weekly planner in particular has a big focus on goal-setting using the SMART method, with room for three primary goals (a sensible number, I think). It has annual, quarterly and monthly reviews, which really encourage reflection and accountability. The daily planner also has three daily goals. So far, I’ve had a very productive year. Normally I flounder a lot when I’m off work because I have no schedule, no clear goals and no accountability. Sitting down at the beginning of the day and writing down what I want to achieve gives me focus and drive, and it is sooooo satisfying when I achieve all the things on my list. The third book is just a notebook so I can still do bullet journalling things like make a lot of lists. 9.5/10. I take half a point off because the weekly planner smooshes Saturday and Sunday together, which I hate.
What are your goals for this year? Do you have plans on how to achieve them? Will you be rewarding yourself if you get there? Let me know in the comments. I also invite my readers to keep me accountable on my goals and nag me throughout the year about achieving them.