Getting that promotion, hitting you target weight, climbing that mountain, shaving a minute off your run time, we all have goals. It seems a natural human condition, the setting of benchmarks. Benchmarks that drive us to achieve more, do better, try harder. We look at where we are now and where we could go from here and set those intentions to level up.
When the goal is something easily measurable, like a number on the scale or getting a promotion, the finish line is obvious and its clear when you’ve met the goal. When our goal is something a little harder to measure, like being more present or managing chronic disease, those finish lines can be difficult to set and even harder to see. When the goal is a bit harder to define, it becomes important to shift the focus from that intangible goal of “being better” and instead home in on the journey itself, to focus on the growth.
For most of us with chronic disease, better disease management and more capability are ever present on the list of things we want to achieve. Unless you are wallowing in a phase of acceptance steeped in despair, a phase I personally don’t recommend spending much time in, you are probably trying to do the things you need to do to feel better and live a more “normal” life. Unfortunately, better and normal are not always terribly easy to define when it comes to disease management and healing.
What does better look like? Normal? Is that even a thing? One of the take home messages of 2020 has surely been that normal is entirely relative. So, how will you know when things are back to normal? What does better look like? How will you know you are moving toward it? What will let you know you are on the right path toward crossing that finish line? The answer is growth. It’s going to be extremely important to note the small changes in how you feel and what you are able to do in order to stay motivated and keep moving forward.
This is where journaling can be very helpful. Writing down how you feel, what you are doing easily, what is a struggle, and other details about your physical and mental health, can help you see little shifts, good or bad, that are leading you toward your goal of better health (or away from it). To figure out what things to focus on, it may be helpful to start by taking an inventory of the tasks in your life, as well as any persistent symptoms you wish to address. Consider what you can do now, what you wish to be able to do in the future and the things you used to do. This will help you determine what “well” looks like to you and to set some goals to get there.
Take a few minutes now, write down what “capable” you did in a normal week. Next, list what struggling you can do (on the worst days, no sense picking your best bad day.) Now, and this will be really important, consider the time between “normal” and now, was there a period that you were less able than you are now? Go ahead and make a third list if that is the case. Once you have your three lists, take a look at what you’ve written down.
The first thing you may notice is, there are a few things that end up on every list, no matter what life throws. There are always going to be things that have to happen, things we will do whether we feel able or not. Meals that must be made, messes that have to be cleaned, children that must be looked after, jobs we have to keep showing up to do. Because these things are constants in your life, it will be important to consider tracking how able you are to tackle them when you journal. Sure, you shower when needed, but how long does it take, how much does it wipe you out? Tracking things like that, can be a surprisingly good indicator of how well your health journey is going. If taking a shower used to lead to an hour laying on your bed staring at the ceiling and now you shower, dress and move on with your day, that is growth! Big growth. It is a small sign that you are doing much better. If you are lucky enough to have three lists, take some time comparing the now list to the as bad as it got list, I bet you see many small signs of growth. Write those down somewhere you will see them for inspiration. Those are the proof you are doing better, that you are indeed healing.
Next, let’s consider what you wrote down on that “normal” list, the list of things you did before disease hit and derailed that life. First, take a minute to cross off anything you do not want to add back into your life along with any task you have passed the torch for, no sense hanging onto things we do not need anymore. What you have left, is a list of what your ideal “normal” looks like. See a few possible goals? Put a star next to the things you most want to see come back into your life. This is what you are working toward. Keep them in mind as you move forward, they are the goal post.
If the goal post is too far away, consider the small steps that will take you there, and make a plan to begin to put them into action. For example, my master list of “normal life” included getting back to nature, specifically hiking. Coming from a place of barely able to walk down the hall to the bathroom, setting a goal of climbing a local mountain would have seemed, well a mountainous task. So, I started with smaller goals, much smaller goals. Goal one, was to walk a mile on a flat(ish) surface. Once I hit that goal, I moved on to goal two, walking on uneven ground, then to walking on the beach. It took me three years from the time of setting my I want to hike again goal, to actually getting that walk on the beach. If not for those smaller goalposts, I definitely would have given up. It was noting my progress, seeing my growth that kept me moving forward. It is that growth the inspired the next goalpost, uphill trail hiking, my summer 2021 goal.
Homing in on what “normal” looks like for you and setting a few small (or mountainous) goals is a great place to start moving forward on your healing journey. Noting the growth and breaking those big goals into smaller checkpoints will make that journey easier and more rewarding. Considering where you have been, you may even find that you already have a great deal of growth to celebrate.