9 Ways to Utilise Pacing and Goal Setting for Health Issues 

Living with long term conditions, recovering from surgical procedures or trying to manage our mental health can be incredibly challenging. It’s almost like trying to make a jigsaw puzzle without the box for help – we sort of have an idea what we’d like the end to look like, but it’s a daunting journey and we don’t really know where to start.

Fear not though, we can’t make your latest puzzle project any easier and you’re on your own trying to find all the corner pieces, BUT we can absolutely help draw a path for you to engage in and take ownership of that chronic health maze you or a loved one may have found themselves in. So grab a paper and pen and follow us!

1. Work Out Your Baseline

To get ourselves started, it’s key to recognise our current activity level status. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be sports related, but should include some kind of activity that demands physical exertion. Breaking down daily tasks, such as shopping, cooking, hoovering, gardening; into the length of time we can tolerate doing them, how we feel whilst doing them and how we feel after doing them is a helpful measure that we can compare ourselves to. This can help to ascertain our progress over the coming weeks and months. Using a numerical score system (0= no problem, 10=unable), is a useful subjective tool also to help us compare our exercise tolerance over a period of time.

2. Identifying a SMART Goal

Sometimes in longer roads to recovery, we can often lose motivation without the presence of a well-reasoned goal that is important to us. Think of pretty much any of your favourite movies – every single one of them will have their storyline based around a particular goal the main character(s) need to achieve. But remember, this is not just for Hollywood, but just as important in our lives.

Your goal should follow the SMART structure to ensure its robust enough for us to be able to map a plan towards. SMART stands for:

Specific: The goal must be something meaningful to you for you to chase after it. Vagueness when setting goals is a sure fire way to lose motivation as your progress becomes cloudy and you’ll never know if you achieve it. For example, rather than saying that you’d like to get back to running, you could say that you’d like to run a 5km without stopping.

Measurable: You should be able to track this goal, ideally with numerical data. Using the same example above of wanting to run a 5km, this is a clear measurable distance. It can be measured using a free application on your phone, such as Strava or Nike Running Club, to ensure you’ve covered your distance goal. You have to make sure you can track the goal throughout the time period to make sure you’re on track too, so keeping a diary to measure distances/times/perceived exertion is ideal- though the aforementioned applications have this feature built in too.

Achievable: Setting unachievable goals will likely lead to reduced self-esteem and the goal will quickly become a step too far, leading to you feeling like ‘what’s the point?’. When setting medium and especially longer term goals there is usually ‘the messy middle’ where you’re quite a distance in from when you started but still have some way to go – having achievable short term goals leading towards a longer term goal is key. If you’ve never ran more than 5km before, then just wanting to do that straight away without any stepping stones may be off-putting. Set yourself up for mini wins, such as trying to run for more than 5 minutes without stopping, running 2.5km without stopping, or running 5km stopping for a break after every kilometer. The NHS Couch to 5K free application is another example of technology facilitating the goal setting process.

Realistic: Similar to the above point, but if the goal is unrealistic for you then you can lose confidence. If you change your goal to wanting to run a marathon, but get exhausted after 5 minutes of running, your goal will become more of an enemy than a guide. Not to say that you’d not be able to run a marathon, but we always encourage people to think ‘what do you need to be able to do to achieve that?’. If we row back from running a marathon, we’d need to be able to do a half marathon, to do that you’d need to have experience running 10km, but before attempting such distances then you’d need to be able to run a 5km. This then provides us with a much clearer picture and understanding to set challenging goals we can actually achieve.

Timed: Last but not least, the goal must be timed. If there’s no deadline for reaching a goal, then we can fall into a place of complacency and end up leaving it at the bottom of our lists of to dos. On the other hand, if you wanted to run that 5km in a park run in 6 weeks without stopping, then there is an absolute clear marker for you to literally and figuratively run towards.

3. Must, Should, Could

Our lives can become very busy, very quickly. With trying to juggle family, work, friends and our own to-do’s, sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to see the wood for the trees. By sitting down at the beginning of the week, or even at the beginning of each day, it gives us a moment of clarity, to write down what we’re expecting to happen this week.

Things that we must do are unavoidable and should be priritised. Whether that’s going to a medical appointment, completing a work presentation, finding time for self-care or spending time with a family member or friend. If we’re looking at a week, then it would be most sensible to try as much as possible to space out your musts, so as not to end up with a number of high priority things that need doing at the end of the week. This can cause our anxiety to increase and find it more difficult to pace ourselves.

Should and could to-dos are things that we likely do regularly, in terms of housework, shopping and socialising Every person’s situation is different and even our own situation will likely drastically change from each day to week to month.

Our advice would be to ensure all your musts are high stressful, unenjoyable things that you’re trying to avoid. You must look after yourself and giving yourself that protected time to meditate, do yoga, go on a nature walk or allow time to cook yourself a healthy meal, should not be something bottom of the pile. If we can give ourselves positive musts each and every day, we’ll be in a better headspace to take on more daunting tasks.

4. Focus on Things in Your Control

We so often spend our lives ruing things that happen to us, that we have absolutely no say in, but can feel guilty if it impacts upon what we’re trying to achieve. If we’ve set ourselves a comprehensive regime to achieve a certain goal, but then you contract COVID, or you’re stuck in a massive traffic queue, or you have a sudden bereavement, then these are factors completely out of your control but can have a direct impact upon you. In situations that mean that we are more fatigued or are short on time for any reason, then demonstrating flexibility to adjust our plans is vital. For example, if we’ve had back pain but we’re aiming to finish planting some flowers in the garden by the end of the week, but the UK has experienced a freak snowstorm, then rather than beat ourselves up, we could maybe do some work around the house that you’d been putting off, or do an exercise class on YouTube to ensure you’re still doing some physical activity. Although we cannot control everything that happens to us, we can control how we react and process things.

5. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

There will be circumstances where we overdo it. In terms of wanting to achieve goals, we’re in a position where we have to push ourselves to seek progression. It is impossible to completely predict our absolute limit and therefore we can sometimes have an increase in achiness, fatigue and subsequent reduced confidence moving forwards.

If you wake up the day after a workout where you have pushed yourself and you are feeling a little sorer than usual, listen to your body, keep yourself active and if you had a particular training session lined up, then potentially modify it to not aggravate your symptoms further.

Sometimes we see people that feel a return of pain and think that they’re on a one-way street back to square one and to remedy this, they push even harder, unknowingly pushing further into their inflammatory cycle and driving straight towards flare up city.

Keep calm, the discomfort will not last, as long as you take care of yourself you will not undo all your good week if you take a few sessions, shopping trips, gardening periods a little more lightly.

6. Reflect on Failure

Failure is a scary word. Failure is suggestive that we’ve done something wrong and should be blamed, as well as taking on a load of guilt in that very same process. But failure is completely normal and is necessary to be able to progress.

As mentioned above, it can be impossible to predict when we may or may not overdo things, but sometimes there may be a pattern. Sitting down and writing what happened in the lead up to a flare up is key. Maybe we had been neglecting our sleep, or eating less responsibly, not drinking water as much as we normally would or simply not giving ourselves any permission to rest.

If we do notice a developed pattern, then this gives us a valuable opportunity to develop an action plan to reduce the likelihood of this happening again. It also gives us the chance to recognise signs and symptoms that had been manageable before lading to a full blown flare up, which we can then look out for next time.

7. Recognising Troublesome Habits

It’s vital that we take stock of our own habits and identifying certain ones that may not be beneficial for our progress towards our goal. For example, if we are trying to achieve certain fitness goals, but we are still drinking half a bottle of wine or smoking 10-20 cigarettes per day, this may be something that could be negatively impacting upon our fitness and recovery. Likewise, if we feel that we have no time to be able to work towards our goals, but then spend 3-4 hours in front of the television every single night and wake up late, then these could be aspects of our daily routine that are unhelpful.

By honestly evaluating all areas of our lives, then we can begin to use the time and resources to invest into aspects that better our lives and lead us closer to our goals, as well as seeking help for potential addictive behaviours, such as with smoking or alcohol.

8. Gradual Progression is Key

Whether this be in sports or other areas of our lives, we need to create ourselves a plan of how we will achieve our goals gradually. When a professional footballer has been injured for months, they would not be expected to return straight away, without any training and play a full match, but rather be gradually introduced to more specific, physically demanding training drills, before gradually returning to match fitness. This is just as true for someone who has had a joint replacement surgery but wants to be able to get back to doing their 2-3 hour long walk in the Peak District. Breaking down the goal of being able to gradually walk further, by doing exercises for longer hold times, less rest durations, higher weights lifted and greater distances covered, gives us the chance to break down these goals and see how we can use those smaller wins to subsequently achieve our end goals.

9. Write it Down

No matter what your goal may be, it is immensely powerful to write it down. In fact, writing it down multiple times and leaving it in places that you regularly will see it, is even more inspirational. If your goal is to be able to be able to do 3 sets of 10 pull ups after sustaining a shoulder injury, then make sure you write that down and when you’d like to do it by. You can put your goals in front of your work computer, above the mirror in your room, even next to the kettle. By seeing your goal repeatedly written down, it allows you to manifest, or visualise, your goal. Research has found that manifestation is hugely beneficial to push people towards their goals. So grab a pen and paper and get goal setting!

f you want to get back to feeling your best and performing at your peak, then don’t wait any longer! Contact Pure Physio Sports today and schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained physiotherapists. Our team is dedicated to helping you overcome your injuries and get you back on the road to recovery. Whether you’re an athlete looking to improve your performance or simply want to feel your best, Pure Physio Sports has the expertise and experience to help you achieve your goals. Don’t let your injuries hold you back any longer – take control of your health and wellbeing with Pure Physio Sports. Contact us now to schedule your appointment and start your journey to a pain-free, active lifestyle!


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