What if the goal posts move?

I recently wrote a blog about goal setting and how that is an important part of managing how anyone lives with a life threatening illness. One aspect I didn’t touch on was how to deal with the “moving goal post” situation; something that is probably far more common for people with a chronic and/or life threatening illness than for people in many other situations.

Certainly people set goals, and sometimes some damn thing happens that prevents that goal being achieved (say a runner sprains an ankle and can’t complete a race where they had been aiming to do a PB), but this can be accepted as a “life event” and on balance, if good goal setting practice is followed, a high percentage of goals will be achieved.

But what if, in the above example, each time the runner came to try and do a PB something less obvious happened to prevent them from achieving this goal. For example, someone insisted that s/he wear heavier running shoes, the distance is increased slightly, stopwatches start to run more slowly – in fact no matter how realistic the runner thinks their goal is something emerges to prevent it ever being achieved. Even more so, imagine the runner has been used to achieving their goals and now with every goal not achieved, for reasons that seem to be out of their control, they get more and more frustrated which seems to compound the problem.

For people with chronic and/or life threatening illnesses this moving goal post phenomena is very real. I am not sure if there are any “ideal” solutions but here are some ideas I have tried that have helped a little:

I have learned to accept that the percentage of goals I will achieve will probably be fewer than I have been used to in the past. Once, if I didn’t achieve 90% of my goals (at least) I could get grumpy; now if I can achieve 20% of my goals that is pretty good!

I set the bar low, but not ridiculously low. I have learned that setting realistic goals is possibly the most important part of the goals setting process.

I expect that achieving some goals will take much longer than would be the case for many other people. Not easy, and also can be compounded by the impact of deteriorating health in other areas. Again, thoughtful goal setting is important.

I try to be aware of things that are going well and use these as a basis for goal setting.

When I am working on achieving a goal I try to take short, steady, steps. I expect relapse – a backward step does not necessarily mean I won’t  achieve my overall goal. Also, when a goal post looms I am careful not to rush and take bigger steps while it is in front of me. That last lunge towards the post could be all it takes to actually not achieve the goal!

I am careful not to be pushed by others into setting unrealistic goals, or trying to move too fast in achieving the goals I have set myself.

Often I go back and read what other people in situations similar to mine have said about goal setting and managing the achievement of these goals.

And finally, it is absolutely OK to revise and renew goals. The one thing I can do, that most people can’t, is move my own goal posts!





About Denys Yeo

I am an educational psychologist. My work is primarily in the area of special education. I live with stage 4 cancer. This blog aims to comment on the psychological impact of living in a stage 4 state.
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