Setting Personal Goals After Stroke

Goal-setting becomes the name of the game for stroke survivors as they transition from the hospital back into their homes and communities. During this time, healthcare professionals often encourage personal goal-setting to promote greater independence and achievement. However, the prospect of devising and tracking goals while also adjusting to life changes following stroke might feel more overwhelming than productive for many survivors.

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Where do I begin when setting my personal goals?

The widely-utilized SMART framework is a great place to start for those interested in making effective personal goals. SMART is an acronym including the following components of an effective goal:

Specific: State exactly what you aim to improve. Phrase goals in terms of what you will do, not just what you want to do.

Measurable: Include the way you will measure your progress. Are you measuring your outcome in terms of time spent (number of hours, sessions. completed) or a different metric (pounds lost, calories burned, dollars saved)?

Achievable: Ensure that the goal is feasible within your current capabilities. If it is not, how can the goal be modified or what resources can you attain to make things possible?

Relevant: You are more likely to meet your goals when they align with your long-term vision for yourself and your overall plans.

Timely: Set an end date. When will you achieve this goal? When will you know to reevaluate if things are not working?

By putting all the pieces together, a general stroke wellness goal of “I want to get healthier” becomes SMARTer when changed to “I am going to exercise regularly by going to the adaptive yoga class at the gym once a week for three months”.

Critics of the SMART system note that it is harder to assess feasibility and relevance of goals during uncertain life scenarios than predictable ones. They also state that rigidly sticking to this framework may emphasize failure and diminish effort in the event that one does not meet their goal. No matter what approach you use, keep in mind that you are encouraged to periodically reevaluate, modify, and update your personal goals to fit your unique situation.

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How do I stick to my personal goals?

Once you have your personal goals in place, consider the following tips to ensure that you see them through to completion:

  • Write it down: Whether hand-written or typed, you are more likely to remember and stay focused on goals that exist in the physical realm and not just your mind. Put your goals in a visible place in your daily environment to stay motivated!

  • Add a reward: If motivation to stick with your goal is waning, reward yourself for completing increments of progress as well as the big picture. While the long-term goal may be improved health, finances, or success, you're now competing for a short-term prize or privelege as well!

  • Add a consequence: Bold goal-setters may feel motivated to avoid a consequence in failing to meet an objective. Wager a financial incentive or privelege on your long-term goal date. If you meet the goal, you get to keep the money or continue your chosen activity. If you don't, you have to give the money away or avoid the activity until the goal is met!

  • Track the positives: Write down all positive feedback you get in pursuit of your goal. Keeping a record of what you've done and the achievements others have noticed might highlight your day-to-day progress.

  • Involve others: The more you make your ambitions known, the more others will check in on your progress! Individuals both in your personal life or online can help hold you accountable and provide encouragement to meet your goals.

Making and maintaining personal goals is a highly individualized process. You may have to try multiple approaches to find the system that works best. Put your efforts in perspective, even if you do not meet the goal initially. Did you learn something during the process? Did you better yourself, even temporarily? Can you reevaluate the situation, reframe the objective, and try again? As long as you are trying to improve yourself in pursuit of a goal, you will never truly fail.

Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.

Wang, Lei. “6 Reasons Not to Use SMART Goals For Everything.” TLNT Talent Management & HR, ERE Media, 1 Aug. 2017, https://www.tlnt.com/6-reasons-not-to-use-smart-goals-for-everything/.

Related Reading: The Importance of Setting Up a Post Stroke Routine

Alison Scarpa
Clinical Manager / Occupational Therapist

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