Saturday, January 01, 2022

Weekly Inspiration: Setting Goals When You Are Chronically Ill

 Happy New Year!

I love the beginning of a new year, with its fresh start and chance to contemplate the year past. I have my own process for looking back and planning for the new year, and once I've gone through that, I'll share my health and wellness related data from 2021 and goals for 2022 with you here.

In the meantime, this seems like the perfect time to share an article I wrote about Setting Goals When You Are Chronically Ill. This article was first published on the ProHealth website on December 30, 2016. I edited and updated it last year to include as a chapter in my book.

Don't worry - this isn't about New Year's resolutions or setting goals to run a marathon or lose 20 pounds. This is a goal-setting process for us, all of us limited by chronic illness and living within a slew of restrictions. We can still improve our lives, in small but meningful ways, by taking baby steps toward our goals. Here's how:

Reprinted from Finding a New Normal Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness by Suzan Jackson (February 2020):

Setting Goals When You Are Chronically Ill




ll around us, we are constantly inundated with stories of resolutions, aspirations, and amazing achievements—from the media as well as family and friends. It is easy to feel left out when you are chronically ill and unable to lose 20 pounds, run a marathon, travel around the world, or do any of the other exciting things you hear others talking about. Being sick doesn’t mean you have to ditch the improvement process, though; it just means you have to adjust your expectations and learn how to set goals that are right for you, at this point in your life.

I was a high achiever (and also a very analytical engineer) before getting ME/CFS. Through work or on my own, I had been through all kinds of self-improvement and goal-setting classes and read a wide range of books: Zig Ziglar, MindMaster, Myers-Briggs Personality Test (I’m an ENFP), 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and more. I was an expert on getting things done and being productive, and I even taught companies how to set goals and objectives on a larger scale, to make environmental improvements.

During the early years of my illness, I was frustrated as I watched my old goals sit on the sidelines, languishing year after year. At some point, though, I realized I could apply the same goal-setting processes I’d used and taught previously to my new life with chronic illness. My goals would just be different—in some cases, very different, as it turned out!

Following is how I modified those old concepts to come up with a new way to set personal goals for myself that took into consideration my “new normal” of life with ME/CFS. You, too, can use this simple step-by-step process to set your own improvement goals.


Step 1: Set Lifetime Goals

This is actually something I learned in the old days, before ME/CFS: to think about what I wanted out of my life long-term and to write down those over-reaching goals. Your lifetime goals might be about your health, relationships, self-fulfillment, profession, passions, etc. These are big-picture things that don’t usually change.

Here are my six lifetime goals:

·      To have strong, fulfilling relationships with family and friends

·      To be a writer, writing about topics that interest me and contributing to my family’s income

·      To travel and spend time outdoors with friends and family, doing activities I enjoy

·      To create and maintain a comfortable, happy, and nurturing home environment

·      To be healthy

·      To be financially stable enough to take care of our family and to reach our long-term goals (which is more of a joint goal with my husband now)

These haven’t changed much since getting sick, except that I added the one about being healthy. When you’re well, it never occurs to you that being healthy is a goal! What has changed is the way that I interpret some of these, given my limitations and needs now. That’s where objectives come in.


Step 2: Set Specific Objectives within Each Goal

This is where you begin to get more specific, detailing what objectives would help you to attain your lifetime goals. Think of an objective as something you want to achieve, and remember that goals have more than one objective. When goal-setting, I write down a few objectives under each of my lifetime goals.

For instance, my relationship goal (#1), includes the following objectives:

·      Spend more time with my husband.

·      Have fun with our kids.

·      Spend time with friends.

·      Stay in touch with distant family and friends.


My objectives for “Be Healthy” include:

·      Improve my health and my son’s health by trying new treatments.

·      Become more active and improve stamina.

·      Reduce stress and rest more.

·      Make time for myself.


Do you see what I mean about chronic illness objectives being different than those for healthy people? One of my key objectives is to rest more! That’s a New Year’s resolution I’ve never heard discussed on the Today Show or read in a self-improvement article.


Step 3: Set Measurable Targets to Help You Meet Each Objective

This is the key to success, to help you actually move toward your goals. For each objective, set well-defined, doable (given your health and other life factors), and measurable actions. While my lifetime goals never change and my objectives rarely change, my targets can vary from year to year or even month to month.

For example, consider my objective “reduce stress and rest more.” If I just stopped there, with that vague objective, it is unlikely anything would change. I have deeply ingrained habits that often keep me from listening to my body and resting as much as I need to.

So, my targets last year for “reduce stress and rest more” were:

·      Meditate for at least 10 minutes a day

·      No computer after 7:00 pm

·      Rest when symptoms flare (greater than a 3) (Note: I track my daily symptoms, using a 1–5 scale)

·      Take one “day off” each month with no responsibilities

·      Do two fun things for myself each week (besides TV)


See how specific these targets are? They are reasonable targets—small steps—that I think I can truly meet. For instance, meditation experts recommend meditating twice a day for 20 minutes. Since I am trying to establish a new habit, I started with just 10 minutes a day, which is easily measurable and achievable for me. In some cases, your targets will change throughout the year as you achieve them, as situations change, or when you need to further adjust your plans.

These targets are specific to my own needs (and weaknesses). I know that too much time on the computer wears me out, but I am often online almost all day. I go downhill fast at the end of the day, so my target to put the computer away by 7:00 pm ensures I have some restful downtime with my husband every evening—and that helps with my objective to spend more time with him, too!


Step 4: Track Progress

For a while, I continued to set my targets in January and forget about them until the end of the year, and then I’d be disappointed I hadn’t met them. It is critical to find a simple way to track your progress. It might take some trial and error to find a process that works for you.

In keeping with my over-analytical tendencies, I use an Excel spreadsheet with all of my targets listed down the left side of the page. I spend five minutes each day jotting down how I did on my targets, then take a quick look at the end of each week and each month. It sounds like a lot, but it is really only a few minutes a day, and this is what works for me. I can see what I’m doing well and what I need to work on.

Another option is to take a quick look at your targets at the end of the day or week and maybe make a few notes in your journal about what to work on next. If you prefer electronic tracking, use an app on your mobile device or computer to track progress. Merely reading your targets daily or weekly will help to keep them fresh in your mind.



Chronic illness and goal-setting are not mutually exclusive. You can still set goals, objectives, and targets and make progress on whatever is important to you in your life. I love the start of a new year and the whole process of setting new objectives and targets for the year ahead. But you can do it at any time—right now, in fact! You can also adjust course however and whenever you need or want, as your health and circumstances change. The keys to success are to focus on your personal needs, desires, and limits and to make your objectives and targets measurable and specific.

Bit by bit, very gradually, I am improving my quality of life in small ways that matter to me and getting closer to achieving those lifetime goals.

Think about what your own lifetime goals are. What are your objectives for achieving those goals? Then set specific targets—those measurable actions you can realistically take—to help meet your objectives and make progress toward your lifetime goals. You, too, can take steps to achieve the life you want.


Sandy said...

Great post! I love that you included setting measurable targets. I've found that getting really specific makes it easier to develop the habits that will lead to achieving the goal. I started a bullet journal on January 1 - it's a great place to capture goals and progress - and to be creative at the same time. Happy 2022!

Sue Jackson said...

Sandy -

So glad you found this helpful! And good for you for starting a bullet journal! Sounds like a wonderful start to the new year :)