Pain Management: How to Set Attainable Goals

Posted by Stephanie Labonville on Oct 19, 2017 10:50:55 AM

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Each person has unique needs, wants, and expectations when it comes to managing pain effectively.  What improvement means to one person may not be what it means to the next.  It is important for the person in pain to work with their health care providers to set their own individual goals.  Making sure those goals are attainable is one of the keys to any successful pain management plan. The CDC and the American Chronic Pain Association recommend setting goals to help control your own progress and provide a framework for making decisions regarding your pain treatment plan.  Here are some tips on how to set goals for pain and pain management. 

Think About What is Important to You

Think about what is important to you and what you want to accomplish, making sure to think beyond just improving the pain itself. You will want to think about your priorities related to how pain impacts your quality of life and how you function day to day.  For instance consider things like: improving how you feel emotionally, increasing physical activity, improving sleep, or participating in social or recreational activities.  Make a list of these thoughts and then sort the list from what is most important to you to what is least important.  Ordering your priorities can help you decide which items you might want to set goals for first and which you might be able to keep on the list for the future.  Keep in mind it will be important to pace yourself. You won’t be tackling your whole list right away. 

Form Your Goals

Once you have an idea about what your top priority items are you can use those to start creating your goals. Setting well-defined goals are a key to your treatment success. It will be tempting to try and accomplish everything at once but don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to do too much. You’ll want to set goals that are within your power to accomplish. This means you may need to break each larger goal down, creating manageable steps. Keep in mind that achieving complete pain relief may be unrealistic but progress can be made despite this. Take a large goal such as, “I want to manage my pain better,” and break it into smaller, specific and personalized goals that can help you get there.

It has been said that smart pain management uses SMART goals. Keep the following tips in mind for forming your own goals.

  • Specific: Each goal must describe a specific action or step you can take.
  • Measurable: Each goal must have a specific way to measure or evaluate it. This will help you keep track of when your goal has been reached or what you need to do to achieve it.
  • Attainable/Action Oriented: Each goal must be something you want, believe you can do and are committed to achieving.
  • Realistic/Reasonable: Each goal must be sensible, given any restrictions and resources you may have. Think about what barriers you might have to achieving this goal and what you can do to minimize them, making your goal realistic and relevant to your priorities.
  • Timely/Trackable: Each goal must have a reasonable target date for when you want or hope to achieve it. Make sure to document how your goal is linked to your priority list and track your progress.

Examples of SMART goals include:

  • “I will be able to complete walking to the end of the street and back 3 of 7 days in a week by the end of this month.”
  • “I will find out more about what ‘cognitive behavioral therapy for pain’ means and take notes on it by the end of the month.”

Everyone will have good days and bad days, so remember to be flexible.  Start low, go slow and remember to pace yourself.  You’ll want to plan for some activity and some rest so that you make specific achievements without pushing yourself too hard.

Finally, once you have your goals set, make sure you also think through your strategy.  You will want to clearly define what you need to do to achieve your goals by deciding on the details.  Think about what you will do for each goal, when you will do it, how long you will work on it, the best way to document your work, and any specific comments that might help you achieve your goal. 

Revisit Your Goals

Just as your life is continually changing, so should your goals. Review your list of goals every month.  Check off and celebrate the goals you’ve achieved.  For the goals you’ve tried but haven’t achieved, take a moment to think about how you could modify those goals, such as breaking them down into smaller steps.  You may review your goals and decide to keep working those past goals and/or add new goals.

Progress may be slow and this is okay, the overall objective is to challenge yourself to improve and grow in ways that are meaningful and important to you.

Setting attainable goals is one of the key pain management tools that can be used for making progress towards successful management of pain. Make or revisit yours today!

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