Setting and reaching goals is especially tough when you have fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't set them. It just means we have to customize our approach. I try to set some resolutions every year to keep me focused on my goals, but I try to be realistic about what I can accomplish.
Why Set Goals?
Having something to work toward is good for us. It can give your life some structure, improve your self esteem, and, as you reach a goal, it's actually therapeutic -- you know that feeling of accomplishment? That comes from a release of norepinephrine in our brains, and most of us with FMS and ME/CFS don't have enough of that particular neurotransmitter.
However, goal setting can backfire if you're too ambitious. You don't want to set yourself up for failure, and for the negative feelings that go with it.
Setting Realistic Goals
Being realistic means taking into account your limitations and not expecting too much of yourself. For example, if you decide you're going to lose 5 pounds a week, you're likely to fail frequently and feel bad about it if you lose 2 or 3. A more realistic goal might be 1 pound a week. You're more likely to achieve that regularly, and suddenly a 2-3 pound loss is a major victory.
Be sure to consider all of your resources -- do you have the time, energy, money, etc. to reach your goal? If not, downsize your expectations.
Here are some goal-setting guidelines:
- Think in baby steps. Break your goal into small components so you can see each step as an accomplishment. That can keep you from being overwhelmed, and also give you more opportunities to feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Build in more time than you think you need. You don't want to beat yourself up for getting behind, and yet your energy levels are unpredictable. Expect delays and plan for them.
- Write your goals down. Research shows that people who write down their goals are more likely to reach them. Try putting them someplace where you'll see them regularly.
- Re-evaluate periodically. Every so often, look back at how much you've accomplished and see whether your expectations were unrealistic.
- Identify potential barriers and ways to overcome them. Make a list of the things that may keep you from reaching your goal, or things that have kept you from reaching it in the past. Then, find solutions.
Here's an example: Last year, I had resolved to lose weight. I used Calorie Count, a free service from About.com, to set my goal weight and see how much I needed to lose each week of the year to get there. Because of my illnesses, I decided I'd need to stretch that out over 2 years, so I cut the total loss I wanted for the year in half. My goals were entered into the online system, and I looked at them daily when I went on to log my food and enter my weight. I know that I have a sweet tooth and that I'm bad about exercising regularly, and I implemented strategies toward eliminating those problems.
Still, I encountered setbacks and new obstacles cropped up. While that's always frustrating, I try to keep from getting emotional about it and just re-evaluate my goals in light of the new information. I know I'll get there someday.
Do you have any resolutions for 2011? What is your plan for reaching them? What helps you reach your goals, and how have you overcome your barriers? How has setting and reaching your goals changed your life? Leave your comments below!
This post is a part of the About.com Health Channel's New Year's Resolutions blog carnival, hosted by Stress Guide Elizabeth Scott.
Learn more or join the conversation!
- Tips for Eating Healthy With FMS & ME/CFS + Readers Respond
- Your Diet for Managing Symptoms
- Exercising With FMS & ME/CFS: How It Can Help Instead of Hurt
Photo © Tom Grill/Getty Images