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 confidence and independence. However, the thought of making and meeting goals while adjusting to life after stroke might feel more overwhelming than productive.

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Where do I begin when setting goals?

The SMART framework is a great place to start. 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?

A regular goal:

I am going to get healthy by exercising and eating better.

A SMART goal:

I am going to lower my blood pressure by 5 points by walking daily and eliminating added salt from my diet. I will achieve this over six months.

Do I have to use SMART goals?

Critics of the SMART system note that it is harder to assess ease and relevance of goals during uncertain life scenarios than predictable ones. They also state that rigidly sticking to this framework may highlight failure and minimize 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 privilege 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 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.

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

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/.