How To Set & Achieve Goals When You’re Chronically Ill

Have I ever mentioned how I’m a type A person stuck in a chronically ill body? Oh, the torture! 😉

You might think that once you get your diagnosis life as you know it is over. No more hope and dreams fulfilled – no more sense of achievement.

Set & Achieve Goals


Goal setting for someone with a chronic illness can seem like a waste of time. How are we ever supposed to successfully reach our goals when our body is trying to shut us down?

I’ve learned a few things over the years and one of those is that it IS possible to set and achieve goals. You just have to go about it differently than most.

Here are 9 important things to remember when setting goals:

  1. Be realistic. It’s not going to do you a bit of good to set a goal you have no way of accomplishing. I’ve always admired people who complete triathlons, but let’s be honest here, that ain’t happening for me. Make sure your goal pushes you but make it one you also have the ability to achieve. For example, you may not exercise self-care to the extent your body needs. Maybe that’s a realistic goal for you. You can try new ways to relax or connect with others or even choose a new hobby to try.
  2. Make it motivational. If you can already walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes at a time, setting a goal to walk for 15 minutes, 3 days a week by the end of the year isn’t stretching yourself. Give yourself something to push toward. That’s when you’ll really feel alive again – when you see yourself reaching goals that took an effort to accomplish.
  3. Only set a few. I hear top self-help gurus talking about the eight to ten goals they set each year covering different areas of their lives. That’s just too much for someone to focus on when they happen to be at war with their own body. If you’ve never set goals before try one or two this year. If you have set goals in the past I would still stick to no more than four. The amount of time and energy our illness takes is huge. We don’t need to add a stressor of 25 goals to the list of things to do.
  4. Always pick one health-related goal. When picking goals for the year, be sure you add one that is health related. You might want to ignore this area of your life altogether because it already demands so much of your time, but your health is essential. Choose a goal that would make you feel a bit healthier when you reach it by the end of the year. Maybe it’s to research your illness better so you feel like you actually know your enemy inside and out – pick a few books you’ll read this year or set a plan to spend two hours a month researching from your laptop.
  5. Start slow. If your goal is to gain strength, don’t start by joining a gym and trying a 30-minute workout on day one. You’ll only throw yourself into a flare. Start by grabbing some soup cans and doing a few arm curls. As you periodically review your goals, you’ll increase your amount of exercises and repetitions.
  6. Don’t always get caught up on an end goal. Make progress the true goal. Some goals do have an end game like writing a book or organizing your house. Most experts will tell you these are the only kind of goals to make. I tend to argue this when it comes to those with chronic illness. Like I mentioned in #5, if your goal is to get your body stronger, then decide on a few exercises and the number of reps you’ll do. Complete that consistently for a week or two and then re-evaluate. Increase the number of exercises and reps as you go. By the end of the year, you’ll be stronger than you were when you started.
  7. Break it down into workable chunks. Take a few minutes to break each goal into pieces. Maybe you want to try a new elimination diet to see if that helps your symptoms. Take the first month to come up with some tasty food that will fit with the new diet before you even begin any cooking. Set yourself up for success. If your goal is to learn about your illness, decide which month you’ll read which book and which months you’ll be doing online research.
  8. Review frequently. Write your goals down on paper and put them somewhere you’ll see them often – if not daily! Set a specific time frame for reviewing your goals. I suggest once a month but you might choose to review your goals weekly. Whatever you decide is fine. Just be sure to stick to the review periods. These are crucial. During your review period, you’ll need to look at your goals and reassess. Don’t toss a goal out the window if it isn’t working right away. Reassess. Did you try doing too much at once? Did an added illness or extended flare stop you from reaching the goals for that month? You might need to alter the plan a bit.
  9. Show yourself some grace. There are some things you can control when it comes to your health. But let’s face it, our health has a huge control over us. You have to allow yourself the grace to get through the goals or to scrap them all together and regroup.


The whole point to setting goals is to make progress and be the best you possible. You may find some goals don’t work for you or you may find they aren’t that important after all. That’s ok! Just don’t let your illness force you into a situation where you feel like your life is over. Like I’ve said before, it may not be the life you imagined but it can still be a good one!


I’m setting three goals a year right now and I find that to be manageable for me. What about you? Do you have any goals for this year? I’d love to hear about them – share them with us in the comments below!



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6 thoughts on “How To Set & Achieve Goals When You’re Chronically Ill

  1. What a great post. I am trying to figure out how to make some positive changes in my life – slowly. I was in a fantastic mood on Saturday and was so excited to start walking on my treadmill and start eating better, but then the very next day, I felt simply awful. I felt awful today, too, so what did I do? I ate the last piece of cake in the refrigerator. Not good!

    But if I can remind myself that tomorrow I can try again, that helps.

    • That sounds like me Melissa! My first thoughts are to chuck the idea all together. Just remember the big picture. Small steps forward still result in moving forward even when you get hit with something that takes you a step back.

  2. I get a new chronic condition every couple of years and in the off years I suffer from complications of my primary illnesses. I do appreciate the idea of keeping it small. So here goes: Write in my owl journal once a week. Dance to music, even if from a sitting position, every day. Get two chapters of my novel written. Reduce the number of doctor visits from an average of 10 per month to 5 per month. Thanks!

    • Great goals Bel! Make sure to allow yourself the ability to adjust as you go. Any progress is still progress!