The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Goal setting


Goal setting is an essential part of life. We all need goals to help guide our lives towards what is important to us. However, we are often discouraged, or even scared, about setting goals. This tends to be caused by our human tendency to set unspecified, unrealistic, and not well thought goals. Another common mistake is setting 'other people's goals', doing what other people tell us to do. Most of us will also be scared of failure, preferring not to set any goals in order to avoid disappointment. Long-term pain makes it extremely difficult to set goals and to find motivation. More than anything you will need a good strategy in setting your goals. One strategy that we find particularly useful is the SMART model.

SMART is an acronym that can be applied to the goals we set for ourselves in order to make them easier to tackle. It specifies that our goals should be:

  • Specific (What exactly would this look like? What do I need to start?)
  • Measurable (How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished?)
  • Achievable (How realistic is it? Is this the right time?)
  • Relevant (Is this really important for me?)
  • Time-bound (When? What can I do today?)

More recently the SMART model had an upgrade to include two more important aspects of goal setting. The new and improved SMART-ER model takes goal setting two steps further. It encourages us to always Evaluate the goals we set, and to Reward our efforts. An example how this model can be used is presented below.

Jane's goal

Jane, who lives with long-term pain due to a failed back surgery and arthritis, has found it very difficult to find time and motivation to do her hobbies. She wanted to 'be creative', and to feel like she 'achieved something' in her day. Initially Jane did not know how that would look like. She said that in the past she really enjoyed drawing and painting.

There were many obstacles for Jane to set a right goal. She was scared that she will set her hopes high, spend a lot of money on art supplies, and end up not doing anything, and feeling worse in herself. She was also worried about being able to hold the pencil or brush for a prolonged period of time. She said that sometimes she has a hand tremor, which can make it difficult to hold a pen, and was worried that her drawings will be 'ugly'. 

drawingIn the end Jane's SMARTER plan looked like this:

  • Specific: I want to start drawing again
  • Measurable: I would like to draw something everyday, a small sketch maybe
  • Achievable: I could start with simple pencil drawings, I found some video tutorials online, this will make it easier to start
  • Relevant: Drawing makes me feel like I have done something useful, and I am being creative. I always enjoyed arts and crafts, specifically drawing and painting.
  • Time-bound: I will start small, 15 minutes a day, from tomorrow
  • Evaluate: After the first two weeks I noticed that on some days I don't have the time to draw, so a more achievable goal is to do it 3-4 times a week. I also notice that having my pad and pencils next to the sofa reminds me to draw, so I always leave it there.
  • Reward: I noticed that it gives me great pleasure to show my drawings to my family. After the first week I also got myself a bigger notepad so that it is more comfortable for me to draw.

If you would like to learn more about setting goals you can go to our resources section.