This year do I want to make a resolution to lose weight, save money or learn a foreign language? Or perhaps something more vague like more tolerance or patience? Let’s just face it, a nice easy resolution is the best bet. Easily achieved and that achievement will give you a warm fuzzy feeling that you have accomplished something. Having no resolution also works, but then you have to defend your reason for not having one when asked, so it is just easier to make one up. Resolutions regarding improvements to your life style and health are truly worthy goals, but they are quite a bit harder to achieve given they require sustained effort and many obstacles.
Those of us with chronic pain have some unique challenges when coming up with resolutions regarding our state of being. Pain simply affects the way we perceive goals and the future. I can only assume if someone just broke their leg and I were to ask them what their goals are, the top one would be to fix the leg and eradicate the pain. Not such an easy goal if your pain is chronic, now is it? So not a reasonable goal to set, because it leads to disillusionment and what we are aiming for it accomplishment. More reasonable goals are such things as: learning to cope with pain, seeking alternative treatments, being more persistent with demanding a treatment or considering elements such as diet. All of which would make you feel better potentially, all of which can be tricky to achieve.
Pain fixes a person in the moment. Your body demanding attention in some way, persistently, such that thinking about any future moment is hazy. In such a way that we must consider pain and its unpredictability when setting goals (or going anything really). Everything becomes an ‘if’. If I am up to it, not in too much pain, not afflicted with various debilitating, nauseating or annoying symptoms then I will do such and such, assuming I am not too tired. And if your life is run by ‘ifs’ it can really make any fixed goals beyond that day rather tricky. You can, on the other hand, have vague inclinations. I am full of vague inclinations to do things and several vague intentions and plans as well. To set any future, year long. goal you must understand some of those ‘ifs’ will slow your progress and even disrupt it. So to have a resolution to exercise every day, does not take into account the many possible ‘ifs’ that could make that not happen, so it is always better to make a resolution more flexible such as exercising a certain amount of time per week or three days out of the week.
The next problem is will power. Will power is not a magical ability or a character trait, it is something that be constantly maintained. Will power is putting a chocolate bar within your direct line of sight but telling yourself not to eat it. Obviously if the chocolate bar is not within sight, it is easier to not give in, but then you must use will power again consciously when the chocolate bar is there within reach. That would be the tricky part when you have a chronic illness. For example your desire and intent to go to work every day may be overridden by your health. So while we use a great deal of will power to do things we need to do, the more pain the less sufficient pure will power will get you. Think about it. All that will power to get out of bed, dressed, fed and off doing what needs to be done, and there isn’t a whole lot left over. Let alone exerting will power to achieve a long term goal, consistently, when your body does not consistently agree with your will. So goals such as maintaining any new routine of diet, exercise, a normal sleep cycle are hard to establish and keep when disrupted by moments where pain and other symptoms completely override your will. It can be done, as we develop a certain tolerance to base line pain and thus will power is sufficient most of the time. But it is a factor to consider.
You must understand that pure will power will not achieve your goals. You must have quite a bit of patience to train your body to new habits and routines. Enough positive reinforcement for your successes to get past the pain it causes. Enough forgiveness to keep going even if you slip up once and awhile. And then you may achieve your goal, but if you do not, you must also allow yourself to accept not every goal is achievable. You and your body must compromise on any actions. We all want to be what we once were, to do as we desire, to fulfill tasks because the mind remembers what the body could once do. You are not defined by your illness, but your ‘being in the world’ is. To ignore it is to set goals that cannot be achieved, which leads to failure and a sense of defeat. It takes a understanding of your limitations to set a goal that can be reasonably achieved.
Sorry I already am loaded up on short term and long term goals right now so no idea what I will specifically choose as a resolution. I am already adjusting my lifestyle. I am already increasing my exercise. I am already doing an infinite amount of things for pain and my health... what more do you want from me?
I mean really.
Yet, every year I think to myself why not add on Another goal.
We do have enough goals. Instead just consider reflecting on the goals that you have established for yourself. Consider things like:
- Do you have too many? It is easy to be overwhelmed with all the things we Should do when it comes to our health and therefore we pick too many damn things, such that we fail at a lot of them. No progress gets made and we feel horrible. Because we have too many goals outstanding. What is it you want to accomplish? Break it down. Choose the important one. Go for it first.
- Pacing. Sometimes we give things up too quickly because it takes time to achieve things with a chronic illness. We feel like we should get it done Now. And that just does not happen. Things need to happen in their own time. If your goal is particularly taxing slow it down, ease up on it, decrease your pace... as you get into it you will adjust. Always start slow. Until you adjust. Even with things like meditation. It is hard to get into the habit of doing it. Set aside a couple minutes at a certain time of day you find comfortable and start with some relaxation breathing. Once it becomes habit increase your time.
- Give it time: It takes about three months of a consistent new activity for it to become habit. Three months of not smoking. Three months of consistent exercise. Three months of whatever for it to become an ingrained habit After you are consistently routinely doing it. So give it time to build up to consistency and then get to that routine part.
- I find it particularly helpful for long term goals to piece them up into short term goals and work on them in fragments so I know I am achieving part of my aim. Like step one: 10 minutes of yoga. Do that for three months. Step two: 10 min of yoga and 20 min walk alternating days. Do that for a few months. Step three: begin stationary bike aerobic exercise starting with base amount I can do... which turned out to be 10 min. Increase over six months. That sort of thing. The long term goal is to exercise, but you break it up by starting slow with what you can do, and slowly increase it with activities you can do.... getting more and more comfortable. Changes in diets can work the same way, eliminating certain things first, continue on from there once you are comfortable with that.
- Just review the goals you have. And figure out for the new year which are the most important ones you would like to continue with. Which are secondary. And which are least important. Put your main focus into your primary goals. Discard the others, or put less focus in them, or longer pacing for them.
We can have other resolutions of course. Any resolution we want. But I think we have enough health goals to keep us occupied the whole year and then some. It is simply a good time to review those goals. See what is working for us. What is not. What we might want to charge. Or even just change our approach to a goal. Look at it in a new way. Make a new plan about how we might handle it.