Everyone sets goals in their lives. Goals are set for many reasons and usually with noble intentions. The New Year is a time when many people set ‘resolutions’ or goals for the coming year. Often these ‘resolutions’ are broken before the beginning of February. The main reason for ‘falling off the wagon’ is that most people do not set goals that are either specific, measurable, achievable, relevant or time based or SMART goals. These are particular important parameters when setting lifestyle goals (i.e. exercise, nutrition, recreation, etc.). However, they are also true when setting other goals (i.e. financial, medications, etc.).
When diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, additional barriers are encountered which can affect the attainment of one’s goals. Exacerbations, symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, cognitive problems and depression are just some of the barriers which can affect one’s ability to achieve a goal. However, approaching goal setting in a systematic way can improve your success in achieving the goal.
First it is important to understand that achieving most goals requires change. One model of behavior change describes one’s stage of readiness for change.
Stages of Readiness for Change:
Identifying which ‘stage’ you are in is an important first step. This may be different depending upon the goal or the behavior change. Goal setting is often accomplished in one of two ways: You set the goal (self-set) or someone else sets a goal for you. In general, self-set goals will provide a greater level of commitment toward achieving that goal. However, there are many times when it is appropriate for someone else to assist with the goal setting process such as utilizing health care professionals to determine treatment interventions (i.e. medications, assistive devices, etc). In either situation, successful attainment of goals requires proper setting of goals.
One way Can Do MS works with people on goal setting is using a model known as SMART goal setting. SMART is an acronym which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. Using this model allows one to set goals which one can determine quickly and easily if the goal has been attained. Goals which are vague, un-measurable and irrelevant create inherent barriers to attainment, because it is difficult to know if you have actually been successful in attaining the goal. An example of a poorly set goal is one that states: “I am going to exercise regularly”. It doesn’t identify the type of exercise, what is meant by regularly and doesn’t provide any way to measure whether you have attained the goal. Alternately, stating: “I am going to ride my stationary bicycle for 15 minutes three times per week over the next month”. This provides very specific, measurable and time-based measurements. Whether or not it is relevant to you, I can’t say, but assuming that stationary cycling is achievable and relevant, it is a well-set goal and attainment is easily measured.
Once a SMART goal has been set it is important to monitor your progress toward achieving that goal. Set a time frame for ‘checking in’ on your progress. Weekly or every other week may be the most appropriate to give yourself enough time to measure progress, but not too much time to forget or procrastinate. If you are having difficulty, it may be time to modify your goal and if you have achieved your goal it is time to revise and/or set a completely new goal.
Achieving goals, particularly those which involve changes in lifestyle, require a steady approach to goal setting and then monitoring. If you run into some road blocks along the way, it is OK to ask for help. Good luck!