Goal Setting

I’m now just a few months shy of four years since my diagnosis. (Yay!) I’ve recently been thinking about the whole subject of goal setting and why it matters.

Following my diagnosis and plans or goals I had in place vanished in a puff of fear. The world was suddenly uncertain. How could I plan for anything when I wasn’t sure I’d even be here. I was anxious about even buying tickets.

During treatment my goals were very short term. Survive (number one), stay as healthy as I could throughout treatment, stay as positive as reasonably possible while still acknowledging all of my other very human emotions (including fear, anger, anxiety and more fear). I also worked at caring for my husband and daughter as best I could and avoiding ‘it’s all about me’ syndrome. They were suffering too.

Now I’m well and my goals are starting to become a bit more interesting. I can plan for the future with reasonable confidence. I suppose there’s always going to be that shadow of a doubt in my mind about whether or not the cancer returns, but I don’t let it stop me from thinking about what I’ll do with my life if and when it doesn’t.

There’s a lot of information out there about setting SMART goals. You’ve probably seen some of it. The recommendation is that goals should be:

Specific -clearly stating what you’re hoping to achieve rather than being vague

Measurable – having something you can actually measure to know you’ve achieved it

Aligned with values – okay, this one usually reads ‘achievable’ but I think ‘realistic’ has that covered so I’ve changed this one. I think aligning our goals to our core values is the best way to make sure we don’t drift into places we’d rather not go. We’re also much more motivated to achieve something that aligns with our values.

Realistic – it needs to be actually achievable; I know I’m never going to be a world class gymnast for example. The trick with this one is not underestimating yourself.

Time bound – SMART goals have a finish date.

An example of a SMART goal would be something like this:

I will attend two yoga classes every week for the next six months in pursuit better health.

SMART goals are great. They help you to turn something like ‘I want to be healthier’ into a specific plan of action. But they are not the only kind of goal.

I’m also a fan of having a kind of vision for the whole of life. This isn’t about answering the great philosophical questions about life, the universe and everything. It’s about each of us deciding what we want our life to stand for.

Some of us have a really clear idea about this. I have a close friend whose life focus is all about family. I have another that want’s to leave the planet in better shape. And there’s no reason you couldn’t do both.

I think of these broader goals as being a kind of context. They give our lives a sort of general direction. SMART goals are the steps towards achieving those overarching goals.

I also think there’s something to be said for going with the flow. I don’t think you’d have much of a life if you did this exclusively, but there’s whole chunks of life that benefit from being uncertain, from being open to interesting possibilities and from letting circumstances take you to unexpected places.

Sometimes our goals can be self-limiting. Sometimes we can be so focused on achieving something that we forget about all of those activities that aren’t goal focuses. It can be fun and interesting to let chance, circumstances or other people direct our lives from time to time.

I appreciate that ‘letting go’ or ‘being creative’ might actually be a goal but there’s also something to be said for just waiting to see where the day takes you from time to time.

What ever kind of goal setting you do, it should be a source of inspiration rather than a rod for your own back. These models are meant to help us live better lives, not to punish us with unreasonable deadlines and harsh expectations. We should set our goals gently.

It’s also good to remember that we’ve been through a period of time when it was enough to just get through the day. And the world did not fall apart without us. Somehow, everything that needed to get done still got done. Or it didn’t, and that was fine too.

Perhaps one of the risks of recovery is that we’ll try to play catch up, or that we’ll be so mindful of the limited nature of life that we’ll try to cram in as much as possible. Getting the balance right can be a challenge. I think that’s why taking the occasional day to go with the flow can be so beneficial.

I am deeply grateful that I’m able to finally make plans for the future again. I’ve set some big goals and some SMART steps to achieve them. I’m also remembering to stop and smell the roses.





A brief update

Hi everyone.

Sorry for being quiet for so long. I have great news.

I’m working on my first book!

As part of my recovery from the cognitive damage done by treatment, I signed up for a few short courses on Udemy when they had their new year sale last year. One of them was on writing and publishing for Kindle.

I think it was actually called ‘How to write a Kindle best seller in 48 hours’.

Did I mention I signed up LAST year in January. Still, I’m being gentle with myself. I did manage to get through the course and really appreciated the fact that I could go back and replay any section of it as often as I liked. I still have unlimited access to the course which is going to be very helpful when I finally finish my short book and want to format it for Kindle.

If you’re battling the brain fog a short course in something interesting can really help. Udemy is great because there’s no pressure from the teacher or other students. Some teachers bombard you with emails for their other courses but it’s easy to unsubscribe from these.

This year I’ve signed up for singing lessons and some watercolour painting. I’ve promised myself that I’ll publish my book before I get to those.

You won’t be surprised to read that my book is about recovering from cancer. I didn’t want to write another ‘my journey’ style book. There’s a lot of those around. I’ve also done a pretty good job of recording my experiences with treatment via this blog and it’s all still here for anyone that wants to read it. (A big hello to all the recent subscribers!)

So I thought about what isn’t out there and decided to write a book on dealing with that cold, creeping fear that the cancer might come back, or that the cancer is back. I was fortunate enough to learn acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) during my treatment. At the risk of sounding like a bad internet advertisement, it really has changed my life.

A lot of the recommendations I see for dealing with fear of recurrence focus on distraction. I don’t think these are helpful (or perhaps sometimes a bit helpful but not an effective long term solution).

Through this blog I’ve had lots of messages from people that have come out the other side of cancer and want to know how to stop being so frightened. I’ve learnt some really good strategies for that, read everything I could get my hands on and even snuck into a short practitioner course with Russ Harris.

I’m just at the stage of polishing up the final draft and figuring out what I’m going to call it. I figure ‘afraid of dying’ is probably not a very catch title! Anyway, I think it’s probably going to be up on Kindle some time next month and by April at the very latest.

It’s just a bit exciting.

I know I’m unlikely to be a best selling author but there’s just a bit too much information in ACT for a blog post, and not everyone reads blogs. I think of this as being my way to give back after all the help I received during treatment.

The book won’t be long (because most of us still have some brain fog) and it won’t be expensive (because most of us are still recovering financially from treatment) but I’m hoping it will make a big difference in the lives of people living with that cold, creeping fear that cancer leaves in its wake.

Stay tuned and thanks for hanging in there. The people that read this blog, leave their comments and send me messages are the reason I keep writing.

Megan Joy