Are you suffering with a chronic health obstacle that makes it difficult to set and meet effective functional goals in your daily life? If so, read on.

chronicLast week, we discussed the power of empathy as a healing element to recovery from chronic disease. This week’s article focuses on applying some of the lessons of self-reflection from that article.

As I mentioned in the empathy blog post, it can be daunting to accurately express empathy to others in certain scenarios. This is particularly true for those who are dealing with something you know nothing about. Chances are, if you struggle with a chronic health obstacle, others may have a hard time understanding why you can’t meet deadlines, bail on plans, or isolate yourself from social activities.

If you are chronically ill, there are unique challenges when setting long-term functional goals. I’ve learned these are particularly true as I’ve gone through my own physical struggles.

Before we discuss how to set appropriate goals when coping with a chronic health struggle, we have a few items that are unique to chronic health struggles that should be discussed.


There are some traps to watch out for when setting goals as a person coping with a chronic health condition:

  1. Self-victimization: “Why me?” This is a big one. When faced with an ongoing health obstacle, it is easy to begin painting yourself as a victim of unfair circumstances. You are right. It is incredibly unfair this has happened to you. Unfortunately, the only productive thing to do from this point forward is to figure out how you can best move on with your life.
  2. Ruminative thought cycles: This is similar to #1. Rumination is recycling thoughts in your mind. It is essentially the same as spinning your wheels. No matter how hard you “think” about a bad thing that has occurred, you never make any progress. The issue never resolves. You become stuck in analysis paralysis. Try not to go there whenever possible. Take action by following the methods below this list.
  3. Hopelessness: In my own experience, this is the most challenging of all the barriers. If you haven’t suffered from a chronic health condition or chronic pain, think of an aggressive, unpredictable roller coaster. There tend to be some large peaks and troughs, but you never know what is around the corner. The highs can be blissful, which are typically followed by a gut-wrenching drop. Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide a rush of adrenaline like a real roller coaster. Instead, it becomes exhausting. It can seem as though things will never level out. The good news is things will get better if you plan well and learn to roll with the punches.
  4. Blame: “Well, if only I had….” Does this sound familiar? I ask this question a lot to myself when I think about my own health conditions. It is easy to spend countless hours blaming a circumstance or actions for your current state of being. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get you anywhere. What is done is done. The good news is: you have the power to move forward. Well… easier said than done at times, right?
  5. Under-estimating your abilities: Maybe you’ve had a life-altering trauma or loss in function. It is going to take some deep reflection and ingenuity to determine how you will adapt. But if your desire to live a fruitful life is strong, you will find a solution. You may not be able to do tasks as efficiently as before, but you can use your imagination how to get things done.
  6. Pacing: If you have a burst of inspiration, by all means.. make the most of it. However, it is critical not to overdo it at the same time. This could leave you drained and less effective overall.


It is not all bad news when it comes to setting goals when you are struggling. Those with a health obstacle have advantage compared to the general population.

  1. You may have an inherent personal connection with your goals. Your goals may intuitively possess deeper meaning than those of others. This is because your goals carry more weight when you are ill. If your wellbeing is compromised, you know how critical it is to keep up with your goals.
  2. Goal revisions: If you are like me with a chronic health struggle, you are no stranger to disappointment. Perhaps your function has changed. This fundamentally alters the game of setting goals. You have to learn to adapt and change more than your peers. Over time, it becomes an effective, polished skill.
  3. You learn important life lessons younger than your peers. I’d never wish a chronic health obstacle upon someone else. However, one advantage of a circumstance such as this is the powerful life lessons that come with it. Many individuals will need not learn about altered function in their bodies until old age. If you play your cards right, you will learn several coping mechanisms that will help you through the coming years.

 Goal SettingNow that you’ve learned some of the things to watch out for with goal setting while coping with a chronic health obstacle, let’s look exactly how to do this. There are two systems of goal setting I regularly use. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages. After explaining each method, I will briefly discuss the pros and cons related to chronic health struggles. You can then decide which method better fits your needs. It doesn’t matter how disabled, how frail, how weak you might feel. Proper goal setting can help you move forward despite any circumstance.


The first option of effective goal setting are S.M.A.R.T. Goals.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

Here’s an example of a non-specific goal (that often fails):

I want to lose weight.

Here’s an improvement on the previous goal (but will still likely fail):

I want to lose 10 pounds.

Here’s an example of a S.M.A.R.T. Goal:

smart goals2

I will lose 10 pounds within 3 months from today. I want to do this so I can go on vacation without severe fatigue at the end of each day of the trip. I will do this by participating in low-impact cardiovascular classes at our gym 3 days per week.

Notice the above goal addresses all components of a S.M.A.R.T. goal:

Specific – this goal answers exactly the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of the goal. The goal states I want to lose 10 lbs (what) by participating in low-impact cardiovascular classes at our gym 3 days per week* (how). The goal also states that I want to do this so I can go on vacation without severe fatigue at the end of each day of the trip (why).

The Why is the most critical component of goal setting. Just like buying products, people typically don’t buy the what or how, they buy the why. For fast cars, this could be status. For computers, it might be that the company stands for sexy, sleek design and breaking away from the status quo (Apple).

For goals, it is absolutely necessary to state the why. In chronic health struggles, this is even more apparent. Usually chronic health obstacles bring about fatigue, decreased motivation, pain, etc. So give the why some serious thought. Maybe the why for you is to be able to take a brisk walk daily.

Maybe you want to travel out of state or to another country. Perhaps you want to be alive long enough to see your grandchildren grow up. The why could be simple or seemingly small. The why for you may be quite different than someone else without a chronic health struggle.

*Note in the example above I said I would accomplish this by participating in 3 cardiovascular classes per week at my gym. I purposely chose this method over others because I knew it would inherently imply a social component to my goal. Even if you are an introvert by nature, those with a chronic health struggle need frequent and regular social support. You will likely increase the likelihood of your success if you add this embelishment.

Measurable – the goal can be measured by the amount of pounds lost at the end of the 3 months from today (when).

Achievable – this is another important consideration when setting S.M.A.R.T. If for instance, you are battling severe depression or anxiety, do you have the physical ability and resources to accomplish the goal?

Realistic – Have you given yourself enough time to complete the goal? Consider some of the barriers we discussed above. Is the goal relevant to your larger vision and purpose?

Timely – Have you set a time frame that can be measured? In the above example, I want to lose 10 pounds in 3 months.

*I’d like to add an “R” for “Roadblocks” to the traditional S.M.A.R.T. goals formula. If you are facing a chronic health challenge, it is commonplace to deal with more roadblocks than your average person.

RoadblocksIdentify potential roadblocks to your goal. Those with a chronic health obstacle may have more setbacks than others. It is best to identify these before they occur, and plan accordingly. For instance, if you are managing a depressive disorder, make the most of the times you are feeling productive. If you know that you are prone to shutting out friends and family during depressive episodes, find a way to counter this in the verbage of your goal.

The challenge with setting goals while dealing with chronic health obstacles are the setbacks.

If this method sounds like it suits you, I’ve included a downloadable blank worksheet from our free e-book as a template to get you started. Download the form and fill out 1 S.M.A.R.T.R. goal for this month. It does not matter how small or insignificant it may seem. It could be as simple as getting dressed today or going to the mailbox. Print out your SMART goal and hang it in a visible location like your fridge. SIGN the goal so you have made a contract to yourself. Repeat this process every month until goal setting becomes intuitive and automatic.

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins


Author Mark Murphy wrote a book in 2010 entitled, “Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.” It essentially is the polar opposite of S.M.A.R.T. goals.

HARD goals are Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult.

Hard goals have a personal, vested interest in their design. Therefore, they are suitable for long-term applications. They may be perfect for building a larger vision out of your smaller goals.

Mark Murphy’s method of setting goals is another increasingly popular option you might consider when defining your personal goals. I believe this method has more long-term value for those coping with a long-term health obstacle.


If you care about your goals, Mark Murphy notes they must be Heartfelt. A goal that will lift you to a higher status of wellness must be stated in a way that resonates deep within your core values. HARD goals are not meant to be stated as, “well that would be nice if I did this.” HARD goals are designed as an absolute essential component to your existence. A HARD goal would be one you could not live without accomplishing.

To do this, think of why you care about a particular goal. Are there intrinsic motivators (reasons you love working on that particular goal)? Do you have personal motivation accomplish the goal (aligns with your values or morals)? What extrinsic motivators can you introduce into the mix (personal rewards, whether monetary, celebratory, etc.)? A combination of any of the above motivators will likely lead to a higher chance of reaching your goal.

Next, identify how your goal could become Animated. Visualization is a powerful component of problem solving for the human brain. What sorts of visualization techniques can bring your goal alive? Can you imagine certain qualities of your goal, particularly the components or steps leading up to the accomplishment of your goal? Examples include visualization of the following: Size of your product or goal, Colors, Shape, Distinct Parts, Setting in which a celebration will occur after accomplishing the goal, Background (behind the scenes), Emotions, Movement (will you be doing something that involves movement once you accomplish your goal?) This is not a complete list, but simply examples of visualization.

Mark also emphasizes the importance of creating urgency with goals. This is particularly effective in sales as well. How can you make your goals Required to your wellbeing? In relation to chronic illness, think of the long-term benefits. Up-talk the future benefits, down-regulate the costs, think of the return investment, etc.

Long-term HARD goals should be Difficult. They are not intended to be so difficult you will give up, but difficult enough they will seem rewarding in the end. To determine a proper difficulty level of your goal, consider the following:

  1. The goal would tap nearly all your talents.
  2. A HARD goal would feel genuinely rewarding if accomplished.
  3. A HARD goal can be broken into smaller components to become realistic.
  4. A HARD goal would not be so difficult you want to give up from the start.

If this method sounds like it suits you, I’ve included a downloadable blank worksheet from our free e-book as a template to get you started. Download the form and fill out 1 HARD goal for this month. It does not matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Print out your HARD goal and hang it in a visible location like your fridge. SIGN the goal so you have made a contract to yourself. Repeat this process every month until goal setting becomes intuitive and automatic.

I tried to keep the HARD goals synopsis short and sweet. If you are interested in learning more about HARD goals, you can use this link. If you are looking for an excellent summary of Mr. Murphy’s book, it can be found here.

HARD vs S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Which should I use?

Each system has its own advantages. I think the S.M.A.R.T. goals are a great place to start if you have never done any goal setting. S.M.A.R.T. goals are appropriate for smaller tasks. However, they can be hollow and feel sterile. You may have no connection to these goals. This may be where HARD goals fit into the equation. HARD goals helped me to develop a clearer vision of my long-term strategy for this website, and management of my chronic health struggles.


Regardless of your method used or sheer willpower, you are going to have many ups and downs. It is likely there will be times where you have more downs than ups. It’s ok. Try your best not to be discouraged. As long as you keep moving forward, that is success. You may need to redefine your goals over time as a condition changes.

I’ll leave you with this question: Where do you struggle with goal setting when managing personal health struggles?

I hope you enjoyed this article. The purpose of Healthy Consumer is to help those who struggle with wellness obstacles and thrive despite any circumstance. If you found this helpful, many other of our articles may help you along your health journey as well. Be sure to check out the rest of our blog. 




S.M.A.R.T. Goals Worksheet

HARD Goals Worksheet

HARD Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be By Mark Murphy. executive summary of HARD Goals by Mark Murphy.

Photos by : Aaron Davis and stock images