Week 1: Understanding chronic pain

Week 4: Healthy thinking, healthy self

Week 5: Balancing your activity patterns

Week 6: Maintaining your gains and staying well

Setting goals for recovery

As we have discussed above, working out what is keeping you stuck is helpful as it highlights areas you may need to work on. For example, if you are struggling with anger and frustration, you may set a goal to learn strategies to help you manage these emotions. If you’re worried about increasing your activity, perhaps your goal might be to work on increasing it gradually. Setting goals is an important part of recovery from chronic pain. The goal setting process allows you to think about what you would like to work towards in the coming weeks and months.

We touched on goals briefly last week. Here, we go a bit deeper into the topic of goal setting. Although many people understand the concept of setting goals, fewer know how to set them well. Common traps include setting goals that are unachievable, poorly defined or unable to be measured. Poorly set goals have the opposite effect of well set goals, in that they demotivate us and set us up for failure rather than success. In fact, they can actually create stress and add to the vicious cycle of chronic pain! 

There are many tips and tricks to help you set better goals. One widely used approach is known as the ‘SMART’ acronym. This encourages you to set goals that are:

    • Specific (clear and well-defined in terms of activity, frequency and duration)
    • Measurable (quantifiable and easily tracked) 
    • Achievable (realistic and attainable)
    • Relevant (interesting and relevant to your life)
  • Timely (include a timeframe and deadline).

Goal setting is a helpful skill to carry with you through life. Not only will it help you enhance your performance and reach your potential generally, it will also assist you in setting a path forward from a life ruled by chronic pain. Well-set goals can help you by providing:

  • Clarity and direction
  • Motivation and focus
  • Input for decision making
  • A sense of control over your future
  • A sense of purpose and personal satisfaction

When carefully prepared, SMART goals can set you up for success. They make it harder to get disheartened and distracted from what you’re working towards. They also make it easier to determine when you need to change or adapt your approach. Goal setting is something you should do continually, rather than on a single occasion. As you progress on your journey to break free from chronic pain, you may need to set and revise several different goals. If a goal seems too big, break it down into smaller goals.

Have a think about the goals you set at the end of last week. Can you improve your goals by following the SMART guidelines? Whilst you may want to make many changes, it is important not to set too many goals at once. Pick the things that are most important to you to start off with. Write them down and keep them in a place where you are reminded of them regularly. Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate your success and set a reward for achieving your goals.

If you’re struggling to think of areas to target for goal setting, here are some ideas:

    • Work or study. Perhaps you’d like to increase or decrease the amount of time you spend on work or study. 
  • Leisure. If you don’t have much time for fun, perhaps you’d like to schedule some leisure activities into your week. Is there something you used to enjoy that you no longer do? Or, perhaps you’ve always wanted to try something new but never got around to it? 
  • Relationships. If you have reduced or lost contact with friends and family, you may like to set a goal to reconnect with them. You may also like to explore the possibility of forming new relationships. 
  • Exercise. You may like to aim for regular exercise in your week. Perhaps your physical activity has reduced as a result of your chronic pain and you want to regain some physical strength. On the other hand, you may never have been particularly active, but want to introduce physical activity into your life. 
  • Daily activities. If you struggle with a long ‘to do’ list, you may aim to learn ways to manage this better. Perhaps you are overwhelmed by your daily activities and need to take some pressure off.
  • Sleep. If sleep is a major problem for you, you may benefit from setting some goals around this. You could work towards improving your sleep hygiene or keeping a regular sleep/wake time.  

In the skills section below, we will discuss goal setting further and how you can use it to benefit your journey of recovery from chronic pain.