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.