Goal Setting With Chronic Pain: Work SMART, Not Hard

This post is Part 1 of 2: a series on SMART goals contributed by Ouchie’s pain psychologist, Dr. John T. Sorrell.


The likelihood of success in making life change, creating a new habit, or moving towards just about any goal can be improved by having a plan. This is especially true in the context of living life with chronic pain. Below are a few tips you can consider the next time you establish a goal towards making an important change in your life.

 

Identify an area of your life that is important to you; a life value. Examples include health, physical activity, family, friends, spirituality, nutrition, creativity, and career. Of course this is not an exhaustive list – identify your own personal life values.

 

Clarify what you want to change in that important area of your life. For example, within the area of health (life value), I want to increase range of motion and strength in my neck after struggling with chronic pain from a sports injury several years ago. This will be my outcome goal – increase strength and range of motion in my neck.

 

Establish a process goal to move towards your outcome goal. Here is where we get SMART with the outcome goal:

 

1. Specific: 

Be very specific and detailed about what you want to do and be clear about why you want to do it.

 

2. Measurable: 

This relates to how much time you will spend working on your goal, frequency, and what will let you know you have reached your goal.

 

3. Action-Oriented: 

Your goal can be described in actions, or in behavioral terms, that make it clear what steps you will take in working on your goal.

 

4. Realistic: 

Is your goal realistic or, in other words, is it doable? Here in the goal setting process you want to be sure you can achieve your goal and it is not too lofty. Ask yourself if you have what you need to meet your goal.

 

5. Timely: 

Consider how much time you need to reach your goal. Is this a short-term or long-term goal? And also consider when you will start working on the actions towards your goal.

 

 

My goal is linked to the life value of health. Outcome goal is to increase strength and range of motion in my neck. My SMART goal is as follows:

“I will complete my 6 physical therapy exercises 4 days per week. I will use my bedroom floor and yoga mat to complete the exercises. On Monday and Wednesday I will spend 20 minutes using the resistance band to complete my 3 strengthening exercises. I will complete 4 sets of 12 repetitions for each exercise on these days. On Thursdays and Saturdays I will spend 15 minutes to complete my 3 stretching exercises. I will stretch for a total of 5 minutes with each of the stretches. I plan to begin this SMART goal on June 21.”

 

Now it’s your turn. Use the SMART goal setting approach to make change in an important area of your life. Clarify what’s important, set an outcome goal, and establish your process goal using the SMART steps.


About Dr. Sorrell:

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John T. Sorrell, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with primary interests in psychological approaches to chronic pain management, pain-related anxiety, fear-avoidance, and behavioral medicine. Dr. Sorrell earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from West Virginia University in 2003. He completed his clinical internship in behavioral medicine at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, and postdoctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine at UC San Diego and the VA San Diego Health Care System. Following his fellowship, Dr. Sorrell returned to the Bay Area to join the San Mateo Medical Center where he provided clinical care to HIV patients with chronic pain and assisted in the design and institution of the Chronic Pain Management Clinic. He became part of the interdisciplinary team at the Stanford University Pain Management Center before moving on to fulltime private practice when he founded the Chronic Pain Psychology Center. Dr. Sorrell feels passionate about providing integrated care to patients in the management of chronic pain. Through cognitive behavioral and acceptance and commitment therapies, Dr. Sorrell works with patients to live more and suffer less.

John Sorrell