Using Daily Goals to Feel Accomplished On Your Worst Days

The feeling of accomplishment is very powerful. No matter if it’s an A on a test, planting a garden, running a marathon, friends night out, an accomplishment is something that we can look back on and say I did it. I’m still me despite whatever this chronic illness, in my case, rheumatoid arthritis throws my way.

RA impacts social life

Everyone with a chronic illness has felt the sting of sitting on the sidelines for an activity or event they really wanted to take part. Weddings, birthday parties, camping trips, playing a sport, or simply having dinner with friends are all contingent on our illness.

One or two events, that’s unfortunate, five or six and it doesn’t take long before you feel like a spectator and not a participant in your own life. You start to feel less like you and more like the chronic illness in the flesh.

Defining self-identity

Where does it stop and I start? I’m a very driven person in some ways. Not so much on the social side, but I love puzzles, mysteries, problem-solving, working with my hands, and watching documentaries more than anything else.

When I have a flair and find putting away the laundry, making dinner, or even going into the office is more than I can handle, it puts a heavy burden on my sense of self, my independence. At times I start to question if I am really the same person worrying what I can or can’t accomplish ten years from now.

I was determined to figure out a way to take the ups and downs of my illness without losing myself. As a prolific reader especially during my down times I stumbled on a speech given by Admiral William H. McRaven on May 17, 2014 given at Navy SEAL’s graduation. In the speech he told the graduating class:

  • “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Setting small goals with RA

To be honest, it’s true for non-chronic illness people. What about those of us that the simple act of making a bed is a big deal?

After mulling it over in my head, I wondered if the little piece of advice to simply make your bed could serve as something that would help me on the high pain days where the simple act of brushing my teeth or combing my hair is the equivalent of running a 10K in high heels.

It seemed to me that goal-setting could be an answer. In goal-setting, I’m not talking about the dreaded "where do you want to be in five years" goals. I’m talking about setting short-term goals that we can change along with our ability to function.

After much thought, I decided to try it and see how it went.

After some trial and error, I settled on setting three goals for myself every morning in addition to making my bed.

Before I open my eyes on any given day I usually know what kind of pain I’m going to be in and what part of my body will and won’t cooperate. On the days where my pain is extremely high, joints stiff and head foggy, I set simple tasks as goals.

If I’m in less pain, I increase the complexity of the goals.

Goals for a high pain day

  1. Complete my morning routine before the afternoon. (Wash my face, brush my teeth, put on deodorant and change my clothes)
  2. Eat something for breakfast with nutritional value. Doesn't have to be the healthiest thing out there, but a cup of greek yogurt, strawberries and a couple of slices of leftover bacon is better than pop tarts or donuts.
  3. Chat with someone I haven't talked to in awhile.

Goals for a mid-pain day

  1. Take a lunch and walk a short distance to keep the stiffness from getting worse.
  2. Do a load of laundry and put it away. Pick up the house.
  3. Plan my grocery list and look for an activity I can do on the weekend.

Goals for a low pain day

  1. Go for a thirty-minute walk.
  2. Simple meal prep for the next few days.
  3. Water the plants.

This is by no means all I do in a day, but it gives me something to focus on and try for. If I manage to accomplish even two of the goals I set for the day I can at least say, I did this. I set out to do it and I did it.

Small victories can be empowering

That is a very powerful feeling that chronic illness can’t take away from you. Since starting the daily goals I found myself staying motivated to do something even on my worst days. After some practice, I’ve started to set a few weekly goals here and there.

This week I want to clean out the junk drawer, plant my herb garden, and wash and put away the winter blankets. This process isn’t for everyone, but it could help keep you motivated. It might be a useful tool to stop you from losing yourself to the illness.

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