Setting goals to improve your quality of life

A good treatment program for arthritis doesn’t just provide pain relief, it also sets goals to improve the day-to-day life of the person in pain. Here’s why it’s important to set functional and attainable goals, and how to go about setting these goals. Let’s start with definitions:

    • Functional goals help people to get better at handling their daily lives with less support from others. These goals typically involve housework, work outside of the home, childcare, fun/leisure activities, school, and social situations.


  • Attainable goals are ones that are realistic and possible. People with attainable goals should be able to reach them with treatment, practice, and/or extra training.

Functional and attainable goals for someone with arthritis might include:


    • Learning how to hold a hand of cards and rejoining a bridge club.


    • Increasing walking distance before having to stop and rest.


    • Spending more time talking with friends in order to feel less lonely.


Mary is a good example. She wants to increase her walking distance before having to stop and rest so that she can take her granddaughter shopping. Here’s her plan.



Mary remembers the steps that she should take when she’s setting her goal by thinking of each letter in the word S-M-A-R-T.  This is an example of using an acronym, which refers to the first letter in a series of words, as an easy way to remember what to do.


S = specific goals that let you focus on the exact behaviors needing to be changed.  Mary focused on increasing the distance that she can walk without resting.

M = measurable goals that make it easy to track your progress.  Mary drew a chart on a large piece of paper to keep a record of how far she walks.

A = action-oriented goals that indicate you’re doing something to get results.  Mary walks every day and writes the distance she walks on her chart daily.

R = realistic goals that are within your reach.  Mary is confident that if she increases her activity gradually, she’ll be able to increase the total distance that she can walk before stopping to rest.

T = time-limited goals that need to be reached by a certain date or time. You’re accountable to others and most importantly, to yourself, if these goals aren’t met.  Mary wants to take her granddaughter shopping for her birthday one month from now.


Set the right number of goals.

If too many goals are set up at once, you run the risk of getting sidetracked and discouraged.  So if you have more than one goal:


    • Set priorities. Decide which one or two goals are the most important.


    • Stay focused on your number-one goal for at least 30 days.


    • If you’re making progress on that goal after 30 days, add a second goal.


    • Be choosy: work first on goals that matter the most to you.


Reaching an important goal can be hard work, especially if it involves a major lifestyle change. Some lifestyle changes can feel so overwhelming that giving up might look like the best option of all. How can anyone get past that negative line of thinking?

Try this: Choose a series of short-term goals so that each victory gets you closer and closer to your final goal. This strategy is based on the idea that “nothing succeeds like success.”


Set small goals.

Clear, SMART “mini” goals make it easy to track progress toward your final goal. Each time you reach a smaller goal, it raises your self-confidence. You begin to believe that each of your goals can be accomplished.  When setting clear, well-defined goals, make sure that you:


    • Match them to things that you value in life.


    • Imagine the behaviors that you’d like to practice.


    • Choose which goals are priorities.


    • Make changes that will lead to your final, hoped-for result.


    • Get inspired to keep going.


Keep in mind that if you’ve reached a goal too easily, you can make your next goal harder.  If working on a goal helps you to recognize areas where you’re missing some valuable skills, consider setting new goals to fix the problem.