Setting and Achieving Goals

For me, using goals is not only motivational but also puts things into a realistic order; something I can sometimes struggle to do when my pain or mind don’t allow me to think in order. I myself struggle with chronic illness physically, and also mental health issues. In both therapies for these conditions, goals have always been a highlight in my work.

Something I struggle with is pacing; I am 21 years old, and like to believe I am invincible and can do what my peers can. Obviously this isn’t always the case and I burn out, then I regain my energy and the cycle starts over. Since completing a Pain Management course, I have since learned the beauty of pacing; I thought I knew it well but since having it explained, broken up and discussed, I realised I wasn’t quite pacing as well as I originally had thought. A part of this programme was regular homework, one week we had to complete an activity diary, and it was when I had to spread my week over 3 pages I realised I really wasn’t pacing like I thought I was! In case you were wondering: “Pacing- is a key element in managing activity. It involved breaking tasks into small manageable limits, with regular rests and changes of position e.g. preparing a meal by doing the vegetables in the morning, walking to the shops by sitting on benches for short rets. It involves working out a baseline of activity that is manageable on both a good and bad day.”

And that was the key point, both good and bad days. When I was having “good” day, I didn’t feel pacing was appropriate, and rushed, and as said before, the cycle began where I burned out. I have since discovered that setting myself realistic (key word) goals daily helps me in order to pace. Even if it is as simple as “make the bed”, “wash my hair” or on better days, “go for a 60 min walk”, writing my goals down in black and white seems to make my goals more achievable and gives me time to think and assess whether they really are realistic, and if they aren’t I would be able to break them up strategically in order to achieve them.

SMART goals were something we were taught, and now something I live by:

Specific- concrete and small

Measurable- time, distance, frequency

Achievable- against now

Realistic/relevant to/for you

Timed –set time and date

This really helped me when working on goals, on how to make it relevant to me. For instance, a previous goal may be “walk more” but by using SMART I would break this up : “walk 15 mins a day, for a week”. I found having a timed reference made it more real, and gave me a short sighted goal so I could see the end which is sometimes what would put me off in previous situations. The feeling of overwhelmed and not achievable would push me away from goals. As well as this, talking to others at the Pain Management Course helped me to question whether my goals were really appropriate, and made my ask myself- why do I want to achieve them? If the reason made a positive impact on my life, and was broken up, I would tend to be more inclined to want to achieve.

Reviewing my progress, in any forms of goals, has also helped me to achieve more daily. Again, with writing my progress down I could physically see how I was getting on; this is something I continue to also use daily, or weekly, depending on how necessary I feel. It makes my goals seem less daunting, and seeing progress is motivational in itself.

Another thing I have learnt is that treating myself with the progress is perfectly acceptable; something my mind found it difficult to get used to originally. I live by the saying “progress not perfection” and using self care and love when I pace also associates goals with positivity, which is what is all about.

Routine and sticking to pacing, even if it is a good or bad day, is all practice. It doesn’t come quickly, and it does take time for your mind and body to accept it, but it all adds up to the finishing product; achieving the goal. Short frequent breaks are okay, and help in the long run to achieving.

In the long term, pacing helps to plan ahead and helps me to feel committed to activities both physically and mentally.

Additionally, when I am suffering with my mental health, setting goals puts things into order and breaks things up into realistic and achievable points, referring back to SMART goals.

When I was doing the PMP programme, I was working 5 jobs, getting 1 day off fortnightly, and not a lot of time to myself. Yet I thought I was pacing! Since the course, it helped me to put things into perspective, and put my own health first. I have cut down on jobs, focusing more on ones I am enjoying, and have set myself time to focus on myself, giving myself reflection time. Something I haven’t ever done. It has helped me to set goals; for me it works to set them in time brackets, daily, weekly and even monthly. This gives me time to reflect, and see progress, if any. If there isn’t it gives me time to visibly see how I can adapt my goals into making them achievable, whether this be by breaking them up further, or setting a more realistic goal.

Before the PMP I had been in many therapy type programmes, and with little or no goal setting, I didn’t achieve half as much as I did in the couple of months I did with PMP. To me this is proof and evidence of how goal setting can help. I have since learnt how to adapt the skills I learnt at PMP to my own life in day to day situations, and in an achievable fashion.

Mentally, goal setting has improved my self esteem and self belief. I have always struggled with my self esteem, and worried of failure. Since setting (achievable) goals, I have managed to boost my confidence in all aspects of life. This has helped me to adapt my core beliefs, and negative self evaluations. As I achieve goals, it reminds me to accept myself, and develop balance core beliefs.

I have also learnt that communication is key in allowing my peers to understand how I can achieve my goals and any barriers I may be facing. By communicating, I am able to exchange both how my pain levels are as well as reflect exactly on what I want to achieve and how to get there.

This also allows me to ensure my choices. I can ask, what do I need to do today? What am I realistically able to achieve today? What is vitally important to do today? Do I need additional support in order to reach my goals? Using the Me First Model helps to remind me of the importance in communication in achieving my goals. Communication is both vital and useful in setting my SMART goals, and having my peers around me support and understand, and allows me to consider the best choices for me in reaching and completing my set goals.

I shall admit I have post it notes in every aspect of my life, a white board in my bedroom for daily goals, and too many diaries and journals with lists and lists. For me, writing it down and being able to see my goals helps me to find a way to achieve this. I have managed to become physically more active, despite more pacing! Something I didn’t think possible and wouldn’t have at the beginning of the year. I will take the skills I have learnt forward in every aspect of my life. For me, goal setting is appropriate in all aspects; financially, professionally, actively, socially.. the list goes on. It has helped me to further my determination and find motivation I had once lost, due to being simply overwhelmed and somewhat anxious.

Lydia Harris

Common Room Young Advisor

Lydia has been working within mental health services and children with special needs for 4 years. She is currently studying her access to nursing and will be starting a mental health nursing degree in September.