Overcoming the Fear of Goal Setting for Cancer Patients
January is traditionally the time where we take stock of where we are in life and set goals for the year ahead. The frenzy of self-improvement intentions at this time of year is inescapable and has a tendency to leave me feeling quite disconnected. If I'm completely honest, I can feel quite jealous of my friends who are fervently setting goals and laying out plans for the year ahead. You see, since my diagnosis, I have felt very uncomfortable with anything other than very short-term planning.
I guess I just can't shake the fear of financially or emotionally committing to something that might need to be cancelled due to my cancer treatment schedule or the deterioration of my health. The fear is heightened by two occasions where the progression of my cancer has forced our family to cancel exciting plans. Both times, the whole family was plunged into a very dark place and I've tended to avoid all but very imminent future planning ever since.
But the other night, I listened to Fi Munro* being interviewed by Lynette Gray on Facebook (click here for a link to this fantastic interview). It's led me to question whether my fear of planning is doing more harm than good. When asked in the interview about her attitude to setting goals and planning for the future in the midst of such uncertainty, she was adamant that they are an essential part of living.
"Cancer is not a death sentence but a life sentence. It pushes you to live" Anon
So, I now have 5 goals for 2019 - pass my Grade 1 piano exam; publish my book; run multiple 5k park runs; learn Spanish and climb Ben Nevis. I think I'm going to have to put cancer on the back burner this year as I'm going to be busy!
Here are 5 tips that I think will help us all achieve our goals -
1. Create Rigid and Quantifiable Goal
You are more likely to achieve your goals if they are rigid and quantifiable so that we have clarity in the outcome we are seeking. My goals for 2019 include passing my grade 1 piano exam, publishing my book and running multiple 5K park runs. All of these are unambiguous and robust enough that I can formulate a plan that fits around my cancer treatment plan and other commitments. In contrast, goals such as learn the piano, write my book and get fitter are vague and far harder to plan for and are therefore far less likely to be achieved.
2. Expect Plans to be Flexible
Plans, unlike goals, must be flexible. This is especially true when you have to work around the unpredictability of your cancer journey. It can be disheartening when you have to revise plans, especially when these revisions mean that your goals further into the future. For example, last year I set myself a goal to run my first park run. I was eight weeks into a nine week training schedule when I discovered that my cancer had progressed and I would have to move to a treatment regime that had a lot worse side effects than the treatment I was currently taking. I'm pleased to say that the new treatment was successful and although I didn't achieve my goal in 2018, I'm pleased to be healthy and ready to hit it this year.
3. Now is the Time
None of us know what the future holds and how our cancer journey will unfold. If you have a desire to achieve something, go for it NOW. When I was initially diagnosed I was reluctant to set any goals for fear that my diagnosis might prevent me from achieving them (or I might die first). That kind of attitude puts cancer in control of you which creates feelings of helplessness and disempowerment. Setting goals and embarking on a plan to achieve them turns this feeling 180 degrees puts you back in control and weakens the power that your diagnosis holds over you. What's the worse that can happen? You don't quite meet your targets or you have to adjust your plans. Be brave and put yourself in control of your future.
4. Enjoy the Journey
Achieving your end goal feels amazing but there is also immense pleasure to be gained along the way. Each end goal is made up of smaller sub-goals. For example, my goal to run 5K Park Runs involves a plan which includes completing lots of shorter runs so that I can build up my fitness. I started running for just 60 seconds at a time and can now manage 5 minutes. Each time I increase the time I can run without stopping, I feel fantastic. It gives me a wonderful feeling of empowerment and spurs me on to achieve more.
Furthermore, the running itself has become really enjoyable. Being outside in nature gives me a tremendous sense of wellbeing.
5. Join a Community
The ultimate Life Coach, Tony Robbins is quoted as saying 'Proximity is Power'. His belief is that you become the person that is an average of the 5 people you spend most time with. I believe this is true and so I actively seek out people who have achieved what I am striving for. I have a piano teacher who is helping me with my goal to pass my Grade 1 piano exam; I listen to podcasts and am part of many online groups that focus on fitness; and I am part of of a group of entrepreneurs who are striving to publish books. By joining clubs, classes or even an online communities that align with your personal goals you are far more likely to achieve them.
Join me in my mission to make 2019 a year of fulfilment and empowerment by having the bravery to take control of your life. Set some goals and be open to the wonderful places they may take you.
I'd love to hear about your goals for 2019. Please leave a comment below to share your goals
* Fi Munro has been living with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer for 3 years and has been close to death many times. You can read all about her journey in her book 'Love, Light and Mermaid Tails'.