Goals are a helpful way of noticing and recording the progress you make over time. Sometimes however, for people with chronic pain, reaching your goals may be so challenging that it doesn't even seem worth trying.
Achieving your goals may take longer and require more planning. However, this doesn’t mean it's impossible.
One way of increasing your ability to reach your goals is to develop the skill of goal setting.
As we’ll see, goal setting helps you get back control in many different areas of your life and this, in turn, will increase your self-confidence...
How setting goals helps with managing chronic pain
Goals help you to focus on the things that matter most to you. Working towards goals helps you make progress which will help you to feel more confident. Yet achieving goals, especially for people living with chronic pain can be a difficult and challenging process, and you may even feel like there’s no point in trying.
One way of increase your ability to reach your goals is to develop the skill of goal setting. You can set goals for any area of your life. For example, you might want to be more physically active, so you could set yourself a goal to swim two lengths of the local pool twice a week, to be achieved over a three- month period.
You may want to be less reliant on medicines to manage your pain, so you could set a goal with your GP or pain specialist to reduce them over a period of time. Or you may want to socialise more, in which case you might set a goal of having a family meal out, going and listening to a band, or a half-day shopping trip to the shopping centre with friends, once a month.
How to set goals
Think of your goals as if they are an end destination. If the destination is close, then goals will be short term. Alternatively, if your sights are set far in the distance, then it may be long-term goals that you need.
When you set goals, you need to think about how you will achieve them. What kind of journey are you going to take? For people who live with chronic pain, setting goals and working towards them can be a challenge.
Rather like a train taking you on a journey, you may have to change routes, deal with delays, faults on the line or timetable changes; but in the end, you will get there.
So let’s look at what might help...
A true story
“I was always striving to be fitter and to stop walking with my crutches. I hated them and myself for being quite so weak. Then I found that I could do static walking at the gym. I found a buddy who liked walking outdoors too and we planned walks together. We found the canal was a sensible route to start on and we had regular stops to enjoy the views and wildlife.
Over weeks we built it up and rewarded ourselves with a café stop at the end of the walk. We kept a record with photos on our mobile phones of how far we had walked since we started. This shifted my ‘cannot do this’ thinking.
We kept up the regular walks and over the course of the next year I found myself becoming a different, stronger and fitter person. Giving myself rewards worked well – the best one was booking my first holiday overseas with my wife, Pam!”
SMART goal setting
SMART goal setting is a way of setting goals so that you have the best chance of achieving them. To understand this, let’s start by imagining some typical goals that a person might have:
Freda’s goals are a good start, but at the moment they’re a bit vague.
How long should they take? How far must Freda go before she can say she’s achieved her goals?
Can she even be sure that she will ever reach these goals?
This is where SMART comes in. Quite simply SMART is way of focusing your goals to make sure they are:
Specific Measurable Achievable Rewarding Timed
Specific – means setting out exactly what will be achieved Measurable – means deciding often something will happen, or for how long Achievable – thinking about this ensures your goal will be realistic Rewarding – this is a reminder to make sure your goal will be enjoyable Timed – means planning how much time is needed to achieve the goal
If you apply these SMART rules to your goals, you’ll have a much better idea of how to go about achieving them. And you’ll be far more likely to get there!
Freda’s SMART goals
So, applying the rules described above, here’s what Freda’s goals look like now she’s made them SMART.
As you can see Freda now has some clear actions to take. They are specific so Freda has guidance on what she’s planning to do and she can measure when she’s done them.
Freda has also made sure they are realistically achieveable for her at the moment. She also knows they are things wants to do – so achieving them will be rewarding.
And they’re timed because there’s a defined period in which Freda aims to do them – SMART!
Goal setting – some more tips
- Avoid an unpleasant chore or a really tricky goal like losing weight, as these can demotivate you.
- To get started with SMART goal setting, experiment by trying a fairly easy goal.
- Don’t overdo it. People with pain often aim too high, or try to do things too early or quickly, which often leads to setbacks and a sense of failure.
- Your goal should be a bit of a challenge but not too difficult so that your pain becomes more difficult to manage.
- Don’t be afraid to review and revise your goals as you go along.
- It isn’t a test. So if it seems a struggle, try a more fun or rewarding goal.
- Try sharing your goals with other people – it will help them to understand what matters to you and how they can help you make progress.
Rewards - a useful tool in your goal setting toolkit
Another useful way to reach your goals is to use rewards. Rewards are tiny treats or pleasures that can provide a boost when you are working towards goals. They could be things like a trip to the movies, spending some time in the garden, or simply having afternoon tea with a friend.
Rewards, when used in conjunction with goals, give a sense of pleasure, satisfaction or achievement and help build confidence. They give us the drive to keep going, even when it seems difficult. They encourage us to think ‘it’s worth a try’.
Rewards also help us to repeat activities. We tend to do more of something if we feel rewarded for it, either by ourselves or by others.
Resources for you to use
My SMART Goals
When it comes to thinking about your own goals and how to make them SMART, try using this handy sheet.
Writing down your goals in My SMART goals will help you to start thinking about goals in different areas of your life.
My Goal Ladder
It's also useful to think about your SMART goals like steps on a ladder.
Have a go at writing your week-by-week steps for your own goals, by filling in the blank spaces in My goal ladder. (Practical tip: think of each step as taking about a week to achieve).
You can use My Goal Ladder to break goals down into smaller achievable steps, which can help you build up to a bigger goal.
Goal setting: key ideas
- Having goals helps you to focus on the things that matter most to you
- Developing goal setting skills will increase your ability to achieve your goals
- Using SMART goals will give you a better idea of how to go about achieving them. And you’ll be far more likely to get there!
- Writing down your SMART goals and your weekly steps towards them will help keep you on track (try using the handy resources above).
- Don't forget to build in some rewards!