How to achieve your goals when you have chronic pain

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Having chronic pain doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself challenges and achieve your goals – you can. We all need things to help us with our wellbeing, encourage us to grow, develop and learn, and help us make things better for us if we feel a change is needed.

Chronic pain and goal setting

For several years my chronic pain took over my life and dictated what I could and couldn’t do – because I let it. When I started to accept my pain and things how they were, I noticed there was something missing from my life – that I didn’t have any goals, any aims or challenges.

A lot of people use the new year to set resolutions and goals to make changes over the next 12 months. I used to but I don’t now. Why? Because I don’t stick to them. I wrote a 2018 goals post last year but realised after a month or so that it wasn’t working for me; I don’t want to be dictated by goals that I wasn’t enjoying, that were more of a burden than a benefit, and that I felt I was doing for the sake of it.

My goals need to be small, easy, and flexible, appropriate at the time, and don’t impact (too much) on my chronic pain and pain management. A goal I set in January may no longer be relevant 3 months on. The key thing to remember is that this is ok – your goals can be adapted, changed, or revised to suit you.

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SMART-ER goals

Two things I really enjoy are reading and podcasts. I’ve really upped my game in terms of listening to podcasts over the last few months and I am learning so much interesting stuff. Anyway, I’ll keep this for a separate blog post.

The reason I mention my love for reading and podcasts is that recently I came across the SMART-ER goal approach in both a new book (Beat Your Bloat) and on a podcast (Ben Coomber Radio) and it makes so much sense to me.

We are always taught that goals should be SMART:

  • Specific – be clear on what you want to do.
  • Measurable – you must be able to track your progress.
  • Achievable – challenging but realistic.
  • Relevant – to you and worthwhile doing.
  • Timely – give a completion date.

But if you don’t achieve your goals based on the SMART approach, then it can feel like you’ve failed. Which is ok, because we just add the extra ‘-ER’ on the end:

  • Evaluative – evaluate each day to help you stay on track
  • Revisable – adjust to make it work for you

It’s basically about changing tactics to make things right for you. There is no point in keep on doing something for the sake of it, especially if it is not working for you. You need to evaluate how you’re getting on and revise your goals to ensure they continue to be relevant for you.

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So yes, it is ok to fail your goals, but ultimately it isn’t failing, it’s ensuring you do what is right by you – your health, your beliefs, your energy, your mindset etc.

Sticking to your goals

There are some things you can do which make it easier to stick to your goals.

Pick a goal that you want to do, not that you should do

A lot of goals are set because they are trendy, are what other people are doing, or you feel you should do them too. This is ok if you want do them, but don’t set yourself a goal if you feel you should do it. This is one sure way of easily going off track from the start. Make sure your goals are something you want to do.

Do something you enjoy

In simple terms, if we aren’t enjoying what we are doing, we won’t stick to it. So many times I have set myself the goal of drinking a glass of water first thing every morning. I’ve failed this each time because a) I don’t like water, and b) apart from my coffee, I don’t have anything to eat or drink first thing in the morning. So from the get-go I was setting myself up to fail by choosing something I wouldn’t enjoy.

Make a plan not a wish

Make sure you put a plan in place so you know how you are going to achieve your goals. If your goal is to lose some weight, then what are you going to do to hit that goal? Eat fewer calories? Move more? Cut out alcohol?

Seaside prom with quote "a goal without a plan is just a wish"

Be clear on what your plan will look like and it will make hitting your goal much easier. Also make sure you enjoy the process otherwise you are less likely to stick to it.

Do something small towards your goal is good enough

Goals don’t have to be huge, nor does the action you take towards achieving your goal. Doing something small to take that extra step in the right direction of achieving your goal is good enough.

For example, I don’t always have the energy to work on my blog. I’ve accepted that and I know some days or weeks I’m not as productive. Instead, when I’m wanting to stay mentally alert but need to physically rest, I do some reading about blogging, or I read other people’s blog posts.

Be consistent

Do something small every day towards you goal and you can’t go wrong. We very rarely achieve our goals the next day or in a short space of time. It can take weeks, months, or years to get to where we want to be with our health, learning, business, or anything really. By being consistent, and choosing progress over perfection, you will get there.

Do it for you – make yourself proud

Make sure you pick a goal for you – not for someone else. Doing something each day towards your goal will, and should, make you proud, and that can lead to good feelings of self-worth, gratitude, and a sense of achievement.

Make your goals quite general

If setting specific goals and challenges can feel too overwhelming, or your chronic pain means that you know you will struggle, then pick goals that are quite general. Lately, I’ve read about a few people having a word of the year, instead of setting themselves goals or new year’s resolutions. This means they can do anything to contribute to their word of the year. Words might include courage, brave, kindness.

Your thoughts

Have you set yourself some goals for 2019?

What do you think to the advice in this post?

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to your goals and your chronic pain?

Thank you for reading

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10 thoughts on “How to achieve your goals when you have chronic pain

  1. Shelley says:

    I love this, Alice! I ditched the resolutions and goal setting this year in favour of setting intentions. It took away all the pressure I was putting on myself to achieve things I actually didn’t need or truly want. I was just going through the motions and filling my life with ‘shoulds’ instead of going with the flow.

  2. Claire Saul says:

    I really like the distinction between a goal and a wish Ali, and as Elizabeth says that it is important to do it for ourselves. Your use of SMART is fab as so many people will have come across this way of goal setting in the work world. I have a mountain of commitments today and was letting them overwhelm me – now i will take a deep breath and be inspired by your post! Claire x

  3. Caz / InvisiblyMe says:

    Great tips & I think you’ve made some excellent points, especially in doing it for your own reasons, and breaking things down and making them more manageable and realistic. Really encouraging and inspiring to read this today, so thank you for writing it! πŸ™‚
    Caz xx

  4. Despite Pain says:

    I think a great point you made is to do it for ourselves. And yes, sometimes goals can be overwhelming, so I think it’s important to give ourselves some leeway.

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