How to Set Goals When You Have a Chronic Illness

How to Set Goals When You Have a Chronic Illness

Are you a dreamer?

I sure am!

I absolutely adore thinking and dreaming up big plans and goals. The idea of fresh starts and new ideas spurs on excitement in my core. Growing up, I couldn’t wait for the first day of school each year. The newness of crisp notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and clean erasers made me quite the happy camper.

For me, enjoyment can be found in laying out goals with a plan in mind.

But now, as we approach the new year, I find myself contemplating how goal setting should look when battling chronic illness.

Realistically, my goals may not come to fruition.

It won’t be for a lack of trying or desire. It might be because as hard as I try, my body and mind just won’t let me do it all.

I’m learning that it’s okay. It’s all right to be unable to achieve everything we want, even if the world around us gives us messages about working harder and prioritizing.

Those of us with chronic illnesses are already fighting an uphill battle just to get through the day.

Even with the best intentions, I am living in a season where I have no idea how I will feel from day to day. I never know if I will be able to function enough to complete normal tasks, let alone strive to successfully meet goals.

How to Set Goals When You Have a Chronic Illness

Are you in a similar place?

Do you suffer from a chronic illness?

If so, I’m sorry for what you are going through. I wish that none of us had to deal with this kind of pain and difficultly. Battling chronic illness is a hard road to walk, but I have found that there are sweet blessings when we give up control and let go of expectations for how life should look.

This past year of battling chronic Lyme Disease and co-infections has taught me more about contentment than I could have imagined. I feel like I’m finally getting to a place where I can actually let God lead me instead of trying to control everything on my own.

So, here I am (and we are), getting ready to end 2016 and move forward in 2017, hoping to be intentional.

How do we set attainable goals? What should we remember when we set goals?

Here are a few tips to help us prepare to set goals for the coming year.

6 Tips for Goal Setting with a Chronic Illness

1) Start With Prayer

When you begin to think about your goals for the coming year, ask God for guidance. Psalm 37:4 (NIV) says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When we seek God for His will for our lives, He will put on our hearts desires for things to do. Pray about the goals you feel you should set before you move forward with setting them. Ask God to show you anything you may be missing.

After goals are set and you begin to work on them, remember to continually pray. Ask God for help and guidance.

2) Know the “Why” Behind Every Goal

This tip is important because it helps light more fire under you to accomplish your goals. If you have a specific reason why you should complete tasks related to a goal, those tasks will become more meaningful.

For example, if you want to start a non-profit to help others who also suffer from your chronic illness, each time you seek out funding sources can be seen as meaningful and beneficial instead of awkward and uncomfortable (as asking for money can often be). If you want to raise $10,000, know why that amount is significant and why it matters toward your end goal.

3) Let Go of the Pressure to Please Others

No matter if you’re chronically ill or not, we all face pressure to please other people. When you’re sick, though, it seems like everyone has ideas about what you should or shouldn’t be doing or how you should or shouldn’t be feeling. Please remember when setting your goals that you need to make sure your goals are actually YOUR goals, not goals other people have for your life.

In being sick, I’ve learned that life is too short to try to live up to other people’s expectations for my life. So, I seek to let go of the pressure to please them.

Goal Setting with a Chronic Illness

4) Give Yourself Benchmarks

You may have an ultimate goal in mind, but what are some mini-goals that you’ll need to accomplish on the way to the bigger goal? Can you break up your big goal into more manageable chunks? Think about goals in terms of large, medium, and small goals. What are the small goals that you can achieve on the way to the large ones?

It will help give you a sense of accomplishment if you can first achieve some of the small goals. That confidence may spur you on to achieve the larger ones. And then, if things get too rough with your health and you can’t achieve the ultimate goal, you’ll still be able to strive for and hopefully attain smaller goals.

One of the best examples of benchmark goals that I can think of used in weight loss. If someone wants to lose 30 pounds, they don’t usually just strive to lose all 30. That may be the ultimate goal, but they might set the goal of losing 5 pounds in a month. Once that 5 pounds is gone, they set another small goal and continue with that pattern until they reach their ultimate goal.

5) Make Plans and Set Goals, But Don’t Hold Onto Them Too Tightly

Setting goals and making plans are great things to do, but remember that it is okay if things don’t work out as planned. Being flexible is something many of us with chronic illnesses are continually learning. When we set goals, it’s important to hold them with open hands. When we hold onto goals too tightly and things with our health gets in the way, bitterness and discouragement can creep in. Our lives look a lot different than the average healthy person’s life, so we need to remember to give ourselves grace and embrace what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t.

6) Be Okay With Readjusting and Re-evaluating

This one goes along with not holding onto plans and goals too tightly. If you set a goal and later recognize that it’s not as realistic as you had first thought, it’s okay to change plans. It’s okay to readjust and change the goal. It’s also okay to decide that the goal wasn’t actually for you and let go of it.

I’ve had to readjust with some writing goals. As much as I love to blog and put out content regularly, some weeks my health is so bad that I don’t do anything but lay in bed with a heating pad while listening to podcasts or watching Netflix. Sometimes I can barely move and can’t formulate thoughts. Those weeks, I readjust my expectations for what I will accomplish and push back my goal of completing a blog post to the next week. It might not be the timeline I had intended, but it ends up being okay.


I hope these tips help you think through some of your goals to realistically determine what you would like to accomplish. Setting goals can be helpful in giving you an extra push to accomplish the things you desire, but please remember to give yourself some grace as you battle a chronic illness!

Now, I’d love to hear from you! What are some goals you’re thinking about setting? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

Emily Lofgren’s heart beats for authenticity. She craves true connection where we can be real about our struggles and find hope together. Emily became a Christian in college and since then has had a passion for writing in a way that helps others encounter life. Grab your free copy of her eBook Finding Hope Through the Fog.

Download your FREE copy of Finding Hope Through the Fog today and you'll get:

  1. The story of my battle with chronic Lyme Disease
  2. Practical application questions and scripture to bring hope
  3. Encouragement for your journey
  4. Personal prayer support at any time!
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27 thoughts on “How to Set Goals When You Have a Chronic Illness

  1. This is at least the third time in the last 24 hours that I’ve read or listened to something about this exact topic! For me, it’s specifically surrendering my goals, plans, and dreams and praying through them. Thank you for sharing this! It is both convicting and encouraging for me right now.

    1. Thank you for reading (especially since you’ve been seeing a lot of this topic!) Yes…surrender and prayer are both crucial! :) Hope things are going well with setting goals and working toward them for you, Sara!

  2. Thanks for this great post. I’ve learned that self-compassion and patience are key but it can also help to have some practical steps in place. Setting smaller mini-goals is a great tip, rather than focusing on a larger task that may seem insurmountable. This also helps with motivation because you can actually feel like you have accomplished something, even though the end-goal is still to come.

  3. Hi Emily, thank you so much for your post. Posts like these really help me get on with my life.
    I’m just 18 years old and I have a range of chronic and auto-immune disseases (Liddle syndrome, Lupus, Myastenia gravia,…). Those disseases make it really hard to live ‘normally’ (or wath normal is with a chronic/auto-immune illness). I have severe seizures on a regular basis and I’m off and on in a weelchair. This makes it really hard to set even the easiest goals (like just finishing the day without a seizure).
    I’m currently in teachertraining and my disseases make it really hard to keep up with internships, since I just can’t go that fast. I’m trying to set smaller goals and try to not pin my hopes on a goal, but it’s rather hard when all my friends can do those things.
    Thank you so much once again for this post! It really helps!

    1. Hi Liz! Thank you for stopping by the blog and I’m grateful that this post resonated with you! I’m so sorry to hear of the obstacles you encounter on a daily basis due to illness. Yes – I hear you about how it’s hard to set goals that would seem easy. Keep setting those small goals and celebrate the victories even if they might seem “small” to others. Each success means something when life looks vastly different than it would for “normal” people. :) So glad the post helped!

  4. What a fabulous post thank you for writing this. I’m a Rehabilitation Counsellor who works with people living with Chronic Illnesses. I will be sharing your post with my clients as people really appreciate learning form the experience of others.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words, Jo! You are doing such important work for those living with chronic illnesses! Thank you for sharing this with your clients!

    1. Hey there Tanya! Sorry to hear of your struggles with fibromyalgia! The fatigue has got to be really hard to cope with – I have had my fair share of fatigue, but haven’t been dealing with it for anywhere near as long. Thanks so much for reading! I’m glad you found it, too!

  5. Loved reading this! Thank you deeply. I’m 25 with Susac’s Syndrome. I used to be so caught up with buying my own house by 30, now I just want to travel with my husband and son. Make memories kind of thing. I never realised the expectations I had on myself, until I stop and prioritise.

    Thank you

    1. Hey Tenika! Aww, thank you – glad you enjoyed reading it. I’m sorry to hear of your illness. I know what you mean…some of the dreams I used to have, I now realize don’t really matter. Keep dreaming and setting goals in the ways you can. I hope you are able to travel with your husband and son!!

  6. Hey Emily,
    Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. I sat down to write out goals and just felt like everything I want to do is so beyond where I am with chronic pain. Thank you for the reminder to start with prayer. Jesus can give me doable goals and in the midst of my pain I often forget that. Thank you for writing

  7. Hi mam
    My name is prem. I am an Ankylosing spondylitis patient from last 5 years. Frequencing between pain medication and exercise. However with all this I am moving on my way towards goal with courage and strength. My goal is to earn a lot of money and fame by succeeding towards top in my career and to prove myself.

  8. I have Multiple Sclerosis and a good friend who also has an autoimmune disease sent me your article.

    It’s helped a lot! Especially the setting mini-goals part! Small attainable things so I can see myself succeed and gain in confidence. I tend to be an all or nothing person and then feel like a failure…so that part really spoke to me. Thank you so much for writing this!

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you have MS! It’s encouraging to hear that this post helped you. :) Yes – small attainable goals are the way to go. My intent in writing is that we can encourage each other on our chronic illness journeys. Lots of love to you!

  9. Dear Emily, it’s been ten years since my FMS diagnosis. I’ve recently had to stop working and the isolation is getting to me. I’m glad to have run across your blog. I actually set a goal of journaling about my day to day challenges, thoughts, symptoms, etc. And have included your 6 tips near the beginning to help me plan my days more mindfully and prayerfully. Your approach is encouraging. Thank you, Natalie

    1. Hi Natalie! I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve recently had to stop working. I can imagine that it would feel isolating. I feel that way quite often even though I still work on a more flexible schedule. Journaling sounds like a great goal! :) I’m glad that you found the tips helpful. Thank you so much for your kind words! <3

  10. Hi. I am a portuguese woman with Bèçhet Disease and this past Year, the all 2016 was spent at home cause it took 8 months to the doctors find the cause of my chest paint, air lost and extrem pains even take a bath.
    But like you, I am a dreamer and if Sometimes a feel unfit I rather see the sun instead the clouds. My big goal is to travel without a date to return, make a self knowladge Journey only with a backpack and following the sun.
    Want to learn and live. Do not let this pain in the ass called Bèçhet take over my Dreams, my will.

    1. Hi Olga! Thank you for stopping by the blog. I’m so sorry to hear of the pain and struggles you’ve experienced with Behçet Disease. I don’t know a lot about it but just did a Google search to learn more. Love that you have the goal to travel with a return date!! I’ve always wanted to do something like that, too! Keep dreaming and setting goals – I wish you the best!

    1. Hi Sandi, If you are at that place, I’m really sorry! I know what it is like to be bedridden and barely able to eat. I didn’t want to see anyone or do anything, so I can relate. During those times, I set goals like having a friend come over for an hour to socialize even when I didn’t want to because I knew it was good to have some company. Or, if I could have someone take me, I would go for a car ride or to a see family so I could get out of the house. Sometimes, if I could manage putting a meal into the crockpot, that was a good goal and a victory once it was completed. Each of us are at different places of our health journeys so not all advice can necessarily work for every person. Like I share in the post, sometimes it’s a victory just to make it through the day. I totally get that! I’m sorry you’re at such a tough spot right now.

    2. Sandi, it is hard to set goals when you’re bedridden and can barely take care of yourself. I had an exercise physiologist help me with goal setting when I was very unwell (homebound, and mostly bedridden).

      She taught me “pacing” skills. We started on a 20 mins rest – 10 mins activity schedule, all day every day. It was terrible, and so frustrating, but it did help me. So I’d set my timer, and after 10 mins of (very gentle) activity I would lie down and not do anything – no TV or reading or listening to music. Total mental / cognitive rest. Then after 20 mins I would do something very small. It did help me to feel like I had achieved at least a couple of small things in the day. I ended up getting more done, as I made sure I stopped and had a rest BEFORE overdoing it.

      But anyway, I was not as unwell as you are, by the sounds of it. When we’re very unwell, our goals need to be very small. This in itself can be depressing. “I can’t even do X!!!”

      Hope you have some support. Things sound tough for you… :-(

  11. Hi Emily! I am SO glad I came over this today. I’ve been in a really painful SLE flare for a while now. I also have back pain after having a fusion 5 years ago, and I’m only 36. In 2016 I also found out I can’t have kids after many fertility treatments. I have been thinking a lot about setting goals in 2017. Why even set goals when the “normal” goals of having a family is null and void? It is going to be a whole new way of life, one I never thought of growing up, in wanting to be a mom. My goals will be drastically different this year and with your help, I think it will make things a little bit easier.

    Thank you,
    Amy

    1. Hello Amy! I’m so sorry to hear about the your pain and infertility. I wish you didn’t have to go through any of this. It breaks my heart to hear that you won’t be able to have kids because I understand the desire to be a mom. I’m actually at a place where I’m not sure if I’ll be able to have kids either because of health issues (but I’m not married yet so I’m not in the place of thinking about it very often). Keep pressing into Jesus as your hope during this this time because He can and will heal our hearts when we turn toward Him!

      I’m glad that you’re still thinking of setting goals during this time and I’m thankful that the blog post may be helpful in doing so! Lots of love to you!

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