Last Sunday I sat down determined to write and post a blog post. I was stuck though and couldn’t think of anything to blog about. Instead I decided to write a stream of consciousness and see what would come up. I soon realised that I was being a slave to my goals. Having something to aim for can be a great motivation but somehow I’d allowed my goals to turn into a stick that I beat myself up with when I wasn’t keeping up with my self-imposed schedule of achievement. ‘Aha’ I thought ‘now I have something to blog about’. But then I realised that actually I was tired, and what I really needed in that moment was to give myself permission to rest.
Goals can be dangerous. They are alluring. We want to achieve what we want to achieve and we usually want to achieve it soon! Even when we get good at breaking our goals down into small steps, each achievement can offer the kind of satisfaction that’s rare in the life of the chronically ill. So we want to repeat it. Goals are most dangerous when we set ourselves a schedule. Even when we’re very generous with how much time we give ourselves, there is so much unpredictability about our condition that it’s rare that we achieve our goals in the time frame that we expect, without pushing beyond our safe daily limits.
But life without goals becomes meaningless and depressing. We need goals to inspire and motivate us. So here are a few tips about attaining goals safely:
Goals need to be flexible: They need to change with our changing needs. One day our goal may be to walk for 20 minutes but if we’re having a bad day we may need to cut that right back to just 5 minutes.
We need to avoid fixing a timescale to our goals: Achievement is achievement no matter when it happens! It really doesn’t matter how long it takes us to get somewhere, what matters is that we get somewhere and enjoy the journey along the way. We won’t enjoy the journey if we beat ourselves up for not being quick enough.
Self-compassion must come first: We mustn’t let our goals get in the way of being kind to ourselves. Goals are supposed to help us to be happy, but they won’t if we use them to beat ourselves up!
We need to be careful about the meaning we attach to achievement / non achievement: One thing that I realised was pushing me to keep on my self-imposed schedule was that I had subconsciously attached a meaning to not keeping up: If I couldn’t keep up with Sunday blog posting it meant that my baseline of sustainable activity had dropped. I didn’t want to face the idea that I wasn’t doing as well as I used to so I was pushing myself to do as well. As soon as I connected to this fear of having gone downhill I realised that the meaning I had attached was faulty and unnecessary. Just because one day I’m not well enough keep up posting on a Sunday doesn’t have to mean I’ve gone down hill. If I attach it to all the other Sundays I’ve struggled to post recently then I could come to that conclusion, but there are other meanings I could choose instead (like I’ve been working really hard recently in preparation for starting my new coaching business). The best thing of course would be to choose not to give it any meaning at all and just focus on doing the best for myself in the here and now!
Do you ever become a slave to your goals?