8 Things to Remember When Setting Goals with a Chronic Illness

Since this experience, I have two mind sets about goal setting as there are both positive and negative aspects of it:

The positives of setting goals:

  • It gives you a sense of purpose.
  • Makes you feel like you have achieved something.
  • It gives you hope about the future.
  • They motivate you.

The negatives of setting goals:

  • You feel like a failure when you do not achieve them.
  • They can distract you from living in the present moment.
  • Goals can feel quite pressurizing, which can make us feel stressed and unhappy.
  • It can be upsetting when you realize how little you can do and how small your goals are.

Goal setting is very personal, and it’s important to explore what’s best for you. For me, I no longer set myself physical or long-term goals as I find the experience is very disheartening when I don’t achieve something. I also think it’s important to not force my body to do something it’s not ready to do due to the nature of my illness. I prefer to stay focused on the present moment and to create myself little “to-do” lists each morning which I feel give me as much satisfaction and purpose each day as “goals”. To help find what’s best for you and to make goal setting more of a positive experience than a negative, I have listed below 8 things I hope you find useful to remember when setting goals with a chronic illness:


  1. Learn what isin your control and what’s not – It took me a while to eventually figure out where I had originally been going wrong – all the goals I was setting were physical goals; they all relied on my health and on my illness, and that wasn’t in my control. I cannot change the fact I fell ill, nor can I change the fact that I’m still ill. I can aid my body towards recovery to the best of my ability, but I cannot make myself better. If we all had that sort of control over our bodies, then no one would ever be ill, because everyone would choose to get better! That meant I couldn’t tell my body, “okay, so by the end of this month I should be driving again because it’s one of my goals”. Even if the goals were considered “attainable”, I couldn’t control whether my body was able to “attain” them that week or not. Therefore, it is very important you understand your illness and what is within your control and what is not, and to only work on things within that framework. For example, you could aim to work on your sleep pattern, because that is something you have control over, and it can help aid your body towards recovery.


  1. Don’t compare yourself to the healthy version of you– One of the biggest problems with goal setting for people who are chronically ill is we often compare our goals to the things we “used” to do. We set our goals too high and too out of reach, which only sets ourselves up for failure. It is important to focus on your body’s ability now instead of constantly comparing yourself to your healthy version. By doing this, you are more likely to set small, realistic goals, and therefore you are more likely to achieve them.


  1. Avoid self-criticism– The purpose of goals is to motive you; don’t allow them to be used as a stick to beat yourself up with. It can be so easy to turn our goals into pressure, which then make us feel stressed and unhappy, and that is not going to help our health and happiness! It is important to not be critical and be kind to yourself when you don’t achieve something or if you’re not doing as well as you hoped.


  1. Take it one day at a time– The frustrating thing with chronic illness is you never know how your body is going to feel each day. Sometimes you can wake up and feel awful for absolutely no reason! Therefore, it might be an idea to avoid making goals for more than one day in advance, because each day is so unpredictable. By doing it in the morning, you’ll have a much better idea of how you’re feeling that day and how much you’ll be able to do. If I wake up and feel awful the only goal, I set myself that day is “to get through the day”. By taking it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time, you will eventually get there.


  1. Set yourself “to-do” lists instead– I don’t know about you, but for some reason I find the word “goal” quite intimidating and often associate it with something hard and often out of reach. Something I do now each morning is to set myself little “to-do” lists. I find calling them “to-do” lists a lot less daunting and feel like they are lot more achievable. I also make sure that my “to-do” lists are not set-in stone and try to keep them very flexible, so if I don’t do something today that was on the list as I didn’t feel up to it, I just roll it onto the next day. No biggie.


  1. Make the goals achievable– The goals I set myself now are things I already do daily, therefore they are achievable. For example, my goal might be to read to a certain page in a book, or reply to a friend, or make pancakes for breakfast. I never set myself goals for things I haven’t done before or I’m not able to do, such as “leave the house”, because when the time comes and my body is ready, I’ll do it, but I won’t force my body to do it just because it’s a “goal”. By setting goals for things, I know I can do, it means I can feel satisfied at the end of each day and feel like I’ve achieved something. I know a lot of people who are ill might feel their day is wasted or they simply become bored and feel like they have no purpose. It’s very understandable why so many of us feel this way, which is why by achieving small things each day we can feel like our day hasn’t been wasted.


  1. Listen to your body – There are illnesses like M.E. where pushing your body beyond your limits is extremely harmful and can cause a flare or relapse. Therefore, be very careful when you set physical goals with a physical illness. However, there are some illnesses where setting physical goals can be beneficial, such as making a goal to do a little walk each day if you suffer with arthritis as you need to keep your joints moving. But no matter what your illness is, always listen to your body, and if your body is telling you to stop, stop!


  1. Go with the flow– Instead of making things happen, I’ve learnt to allow things to happen. If one day I wake up and feel good and I go on to achieve something big for me, then I can celebrate that achievement and feel proud. But as I never had that achievement down as a “goal” and instead just allowed it to happen when my body was ready, it meant that I could avoid the feeling that if I hadn’t done it, I had “failed”! By allowing myself and my body to go with the flow it has released my expectations of “where I should be now” or “I should be getting better”. It means that on the days I’m not doing so well, I can accept it and just say, “it’s one of those days and I can’t control that”.

I hope this can help you find a style of goal setting that will suit you and to use it as a positive experience and not a negative one. Remember, if anyone tries to encourage you to do goal setting in a style you don’t think is right for you, then be brave and say no! You know yourself and your body best.

“The home of happiness and positivity” https://mindfullyevie.com


Closing Quote "Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." — Winston S. Churchill