There’s much to say about the efficacy of goal-setting. While statistics vary wildly, they do clearly point out that those who set clearly defined goals are more likely to reach them than those who don’t. Why is it then, that those who deal with fibromyalgia and other health challenges tend to NOT to set goals? I think it’s just a matter of misunderstanding a few key elements of goal-setting. It’s my intention that by the time you finish reading this article, you’ll understand why, how, and when to write out your health goals.
Let’s start with the when. There’s no “wrong” time of year to establish goals. If you haven’t done so already, grab a pen and paper and start writing the minute you finish this article. I outlined some foundational principles of goal-setting – such as investment, details, and action in this post entitled, “The Secret to Reaching Your Fibromyalgia Management Goals," which you may wish to review.
For now, simply choose three things that you’d like to achieve or see improvement in for the New Year. Because I’m a strong advocate of what I call the Restoration Trio (Nutrition, Fitness, & Emotional Wellness/Stress-Relief) – feel free to select a goal from each of these categories. Your simple goals could look something like this.
Transition toward eating more whole and natural foods
Find healthy ways to incorporate body movement into my day schedule
Practice at least one stress management strategy on a daily basis
That doesn’t look so hard, does it?
Now let’s expand these ideas and narrow down a few more details. You’ve probably heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals and there’s a lot to be said for making sure that your goals follow this philosophy. Here’s a basic definition:
From what I’ve seen with my clients, the most common problem with their goals is that they’re too vague. The goals listed above are vague, too, but that’s okay. It’s a starting place. After writing your basic goal then try to definite it a bit more by being as specific as possible. Instead of stating something vague such as making healthier food choices, clarify what exact changes you wish to implement. You can narrow this process down by asking many questions. Do you simply need to tweak your current diet or does it need a complete overhaul? Do you have the information you need to make these changes or is further research needed? Do you feel interested or intrigued by the idea of taking a program that may help in this area? Be aware – and respectful – of your own inner guidance. You know more than you think you do about what’s best for your body. Pay attention to the information that surrounds you and simply choose to follow what interests you. There’s no right or wrong.
You can think of this phase of goal writing as breaking them down into “doable” chunks. It’s a lot like writing the outline for a term paper (but you’re not graded on this and you can tackle the whole task in just a few minutes). Simply keep asking questions until you feel you have a firm grasp of what – exactly – you want your goal to be.
Next, it’s time to see if your goals can be measured. Here’s probably the most important question you need to answer when it comes to goal-setting: How will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? As you can see, the goals – as written above – don’t measure up to this litmus test. Eating “more natural foods” is just too vague. What does that mean to you? Does it mean that you eat a whole meal of homemade and natural food once a week? Once a day? Or do you just include natural foods into your meals little by little? It depends on where you are today. If you eat foods that are 100% packaged and highly processed then adding something whole and natural to at least one meal per day would be a logical goal. If you already eat whole foods periodically, you can just put a number to the percentage of what you eat (don’t make this too hard!) and decide to increase it. Therefore, if you feel you eat packaged foods 60% of the time and whole foods 40% of the time, set a goal to move toward consuming healthier, whole foods more like 80% of the time. Of course, adjust these numbers accordingly.
Determining whether or not your goals are attainable and realistic should be done at the start, but in order to follow the acronym, they’re discussed here. It’s easy to feel invigorated and excited about making healthy changes for the New Year. That’s a good thing and don’t let anyone dampen that desire. When analyzing your goals to be sure that they’re attainable and realistic, view them in terms of time and effort. Sometimes, it’s easy to underestimate the effort involved and overestimate the results you’ll achieve. For example, is the goal Lose 10 Pounds in 2 Months practical and doable? The answer is - it depends. There are a lot of factors involved in weight loss including how much weight you have to lose (safely), what methods you’ll use to do so, and what you’re willing to do to make the weight loss sustainable. The good news is that you get to create your own path of how to achieve your goal.
Finally, it’s important to set some sort of time component to your goal. Set a deadline. Here’s one of my all-time favorite quotes:
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
I challenge you to dream as you write out your goals today. Dream big. Then make your dreams a bit more realistic and crystalize them into goals. Remember that a deadline is what propels you into action. Would you have ever turned in that term paper, filed your taxes, or paid for your car registration without a deadline?
If you had no official starting time at work, what time would you arrive? Nothing really gets done unless we know when we’re supposed to get it done. Thinking with the end in mind is a great way to finalize this task. Vividly imagine yourself and how you’d feel once your specific goal is achieved. Imagine how you will look and feel. Imagine yourself in a healthier, happier, and more vibrant body. Make this mental picture as sharp as possible. You can find tools to help such as creating vision boards, affirmations, guided imagery, etc. This crystallized and sharpened vision is a vital step of the process. This is your way to turn your focus toward what you DO want and away from what you don’t want.
As you envision this newer “2.0” version of yourself, assign a deadline for the completion of this goal. You don’t have to know the answer to this! Simply assign a deadline and post it with your goals. Your deadline can work in more ways than one. It can represent the achievement of your goal or it can represent a period of time that you wish to tackle a new behavior. You’d set an “achievement deadline” if your goal is for something such as weight loss. Your “period of time deadline” can represent goals such as, “I’m going to implement a daily 15 minute walking routine for the next 30 days.” At that point, you can re-evaluate the success and benefits of your goal and re-establish a new one.
Also, when it comes to deadlines, don’t forget to establish a reward system upon achievement of your goals. Rewards should be helpful and supportive to you in all ways, so make sure they’re not related to either food or money. A healthy reward should not stretch your budget or your waistline.
Don't Forget the F-Factor
This brings me to two points that I always include in conversations regarding goal-setting for anyone with fibromyalgia and/or chronic health challenges. It’s important to review your finalized goals to be sure they include what I call, the F-Factor. No, that’s not for fibromyalgia. It stands for flexibility and this factor is crucial.
There’s nothing like a chronic health challenge to teach us that our days may be unpredictable and our best-laid plans may not come to fruition. This daily fact could be viewed either as a challenge or an opportunity. Of course, I prefer to look at the positive side of things. Learning to work with the contradictions of a fibromyalgia body is a skill that will benefit you for a lifetime. Learn to see each day as an opportunity to experience something new about yourself and your ability to adapt and prevail. It’s not about fighting, battling, opposing, or being at war with your body. Learning to be flexible with your expectations is a sure-fire ticket to success. Understand and accept that your body is different each day (sometimes each hour!) and that the end goal is what counts. Take the setbacks in stride (as simple setbacks NOT failures) and keep on going.
These are the reasons why it’s so important to establish goals – especially for those who deal with health challenges.
Finally – there’s no greater way to assure success than through tracking. I’m often asked, “How do I get motivation?” Motivation is not something that you either have or don’t have. It comes from the continued experience of small successes. In fact, they might be very small. It doesn’t matter. When progress is tracked, you’re better able to see forward motion in a tangible way. Track your progress and share your successes with others. Tracking provides the accountability that you need to stick with your goals.
To support your motivational goals for the New Year, you’ll want to review this post entitled, “Motivation: It’s Not What You Think.”
Additionally, for more information on tracking, feel free to review this post entitled, “Why a Simple Pen Holds the Key to Your Fitness Success.”
You now have the tools you need to either quickly write out your goals or fine-tune the ones you’ve already written. Remember that now is always a good time to make healthier lifestyle choices. And, these choices don’t just happen by random chance. It takes intention, desire, and having a firm plan in place. It’s time to write down your plan today!
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™- a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.