My entire professional life has been deadline driven. There were usually dire consequences if deadlines weren’t met: contracts could be lost, governing bodies could impose fines, disclosure regulations would be missed. In some instances, people could lose their jobs.
Thriving in this demanding environment, I’ve always sort of dismissed goals as a bit of whimsy. I put goals in the same category as hope which is an amazing emotion but really makes a lousy strategy. As in, “My hope/goal is to lose 10 pounds.” That statement is fine, but it doesn’t define how, by when, or what the consequences are if you don’t.
Since I left the full-time workforce just over a year ago, deadlines have all but disappeared from my life. And while my major objective has been to “improve my health”, and I actually have, I did not have a defined plan to do so.
I didn’t have any deadlines and I certainly had no goals.
A while back I bought both my husband and myself fitness monitors – more to encourage him to be more active and to help monitor his heart rate as he has cardiac problems. The monitors came preset with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) goal of 10,000 steps per day. Knowing I’d never consistently reach that mark, I’ve pretty much ignored that feature although it was interesting to note how many steps I did take during the day.
Then I realized that I was consistently just missing hitting a certain number of steps in my daily activity (I’m too vain to disclose what a low number that was). So I disposed of the AHA’s goals and set my own which were just above what I’d get on a normal day. I wanted to incrementally improve what I usually did. On the days I saw that I was getting close to that goal, I would get out of my chair and go for a walk, being rewarded by a smirk of satisfaction when I hit or exceed the required number of steps. Within a few days, it became pretty easy to hit that number of steps and I was planning regular walks. In the few weeks since I started working on this goal, I’ve upped my goal of daily steps by 1000 per day, and I’m about to add another 500. As a result of this, I feel better, I’m less stiff and sore, and I have more energy. The benefits have been amazing. I don’t know that I’ll ever hit the magic number of 10,000 steps per day. (When there are days you can’t get out of bed much less get out of the house, it’s hard to do that.) But I am now getting pretty regular exercise.
Through all of this, there are three important things I’ve discovered about goals.
The first is that while deadlines can be punishing, goals tend to be rewarding. Deadlines are the stick while goals are the carrot. You really get something good out of reaching those goals. If you set daily goals, then you get something good every day.
The second thing is that, like deadlines, goals must be monitored for progress. Having a monitor strapped to my wrist 24 hours a day does this for me automatically. Other people I know use free online and phone-based programs to track diet and exercise. You can even use a simple calendar and put a check (or a gold star!) on the days you reach your goals. The key is to find something that works for you and to use it.
Finally, you have to be realistic.
I knew I couldn’t start out walking 10,000 steps a day. That would last for like one-half day. But I could do better than I had been. Once reached, goals can always be reset higher.
How does this translate into helping you manage your RA (or other important aspects of your life)? All of us have those things we know would improve our health, our lives, our relationships, our bank accounts. Setting specific goals, and monitoring progress will help us make those changes one step (or 10,000 steps) at a time.