Life is richer when you can pursue the things that matter, such as love, work, feelings of competence, being part of a caring social network of family and friends, growing as a person.  Chronic pain makes goal pursuit more difficult. Pain can interfere with effective motivational strategies and can lead to intense frustration. Your roles and your sense of who you are may change. Sometimes pain may make you forget what you used to want—you may find that all you care about is getting rid of the pain.

Life with Chronic Pain Can Still be Full and Rich

One of the most important steps in learning to live with pain is finding ways to pursue goals even though you have pain. If you have given up on anything more than getting through the day, you may find it hard to think about “goal pursuit.” It may sound daunting and unrealistic. But, you still have it in you – the human brain was designed for goal pursuit. Your brain wants to set a goal, find a path, take the steps to achieve something. You may find that what matters may be different now. That’s okay. To pursue goals, you may have to think smaller, be flexible, and creative.

Select a Goal

The first step is to select a goal. By “goal,” I mean something you want to do, experience, create, feel, learn, understand, achieve. It should not be big or grand. It should be something with a bit of challenge that is definitely achievable. The point is simply to work toward a goal so you can exert control and feel alive and purposeful. Make sure your goal is something concrete like “prepare a meal” or “start exercising again”—that way, you will easily know whether you have reached your goal. Abstract goals like “get closer to my husband” should be broken down into something specific such as “take a 10 minute walk each evening with my husband.” Spend a day or two and think of a goal that you can get started on.

Create a Plan: Paths and Steps

To reach a goal, you need a specific plan. Once you have identified your goal, brainstorm about different paths.

trong> to reach it. There may be 2 or 3 paths that sound reasonable. Next, list the steps that will be necessary for each path. Ask family and friends to brainstorm with you.  Once you have created your paths and your steps, work on one path by scheduling the steps on your calendar. If you use an electronic calendar, send yourself reminders.  It is important to track your progress at the end of each day. Have you reached your goal? If so, allow yourself to feel good about it. If you aren’t there yet, how is it going? Do you need to try the other paths? Or, do you just need to revise the steps? Most importantly, how do you feel while working toward your goal? Does working on a goal improve your mood and your sense of control and hope?

Identify Resources

You may find that your plan requires resources. You may want to ask a friend to join you or give you guidance. You my need to buy a book or take a class. You may want to learn how to manage barriers, such as depression or stress. If you need money to work toward your goal, start saving now  – even if it is only a small amount each week, at least you are getting started. You may need to develop a skill or learn something new. Make sure that your plan is reasonable and that it reflects the resources you have now or will be able to obtain in the near future.

Remember that no goal is too small or insignificant if it helps you to take control and move forward. As you begin to find satisfaction in working on one goal, you can add others. Don’t let pain dominate your life.

About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.

DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.