Setting Intentions and Chronic Illness

I think of everything I have talked about this is the most difficult to keep up with. When you struggle with chronic illness you do not want to see yourself as different than your former self. Because of this, many times we will fall into a vicious cycle where we fall behind on projects, push away plans and dreams because we can’t seem to keep up and chalk it up to our illness. As someone who is a driven person, Type A, if you will, this cycle will kill your spirit faster than a flare. However, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way and you can achieve everything you want to.

I have been a long time yogi, and even when I am not actively doing yoga, there is meditation and mindfulness that I try to incorporate into my everyday life. One thing I have learned in my reading and my effort in mindfulness is that those who struggle with chronic illness/pain, need to change the idea of “goals” to an idea of “intentions.” It is much more palatable to our psyche to face the day with intentions because goals have a nasty habit of setting us up for failure. Ex.: My goal for today is writing 1,500 words. But when 5pm rolls around and I look at the page and see I only made the 500 mark, suddenly I have failed and I begin the process of berating myself for my inability to keep up. I can’t stress enough how bad this can be for our mental well-being. We fight every day to stay positive and live our lives the best way we can, so the last thing we need is to throw in this monkey-wrench of inadequacy into the picture.

I’ve compiled a few tips and ideas to help you set intentions and help keep you positively focused on those dreams.

• Be Realistic

This may seem like a no-brainer but we can easily ask too much of ourselves. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t want to see ourselves as changed people from who we once were. Our bodies may have issues, but our mind and soul remains the same. I am not saying you have to see yourself differently at all only that you need to be kind to yourself and respect your body for what it can do and give yourself extra time.

• Make it Motivational,br>
Many times those nasty little goals we set are not exactly positive, but made with a sort of rigid expectation. This can set us up for failure and kick-start that vicious cycle and negative self image. Be your own cheerleader. Motivate yourself and you will see a difference. Here are a few motivational mantras I really like.

• Only Set a Few

Seriously. The only thing worse than setting a “Goal,” is setting too many of them and setting the stage for a panic attack. It really is amazing how something we say can affect us, even when we don’t mean it to. So set maybe three intentions on any given day, unless you have some long term intentions, in which case you can probably safely add one more without making your brain explode unintentionally.

• Start Slow

This goes hand in hand with only setting a few. It’s great to be excited and motivated, but that old saying about biting off more than you can chew is truly a wise bit of knowledge. Besides, it is far more empowering to set a few intentions and be successful than too many and fail.

• Break it Into Chunks

Keeping with the ongoing theme of only a few and start slow, here we have break it into chunks. Sometimes starting slow and even setting only a few is not enough. You need to break it into chunks, manageable pieces that you can conquer a bit at a time and feel like you are winning and not just barely keeping up. This one can really be a game changer because if you can see the progress you are making a little bit at a time, you are more likely to continue and it builds a foundation for good self-esteem.

• Don’t Get Caught-Up in the End Goal

That’s right boys and girls, sometimes we find ourselves so hell bent on the end result of what we want to accomplish that we forget that it is the journey that matters most. There isn’t a hurry to whatever it is you may want to do. You have to stop thinking about accomplishing things the way others might and instead, focus on how you need to accomplish it.

• Don’t be Afraid of Failure

We all fail. Every single one of us, whether we are struggling everyday with chronic illness/pain or whether you are the picture of health. Don’t beat yourself up because you only set three intentions and you could only get through two. Go back and adjust. Only set two intentions. You may have to try and fail to figure out what works for you best. You are unlike any other. You are unique and can’t try to do things the way someone else might because each of us comes with our own unique issues. Focus on yourself, what you can do and forget about the world.

• Show yourself Some Grace

I think it is more difficult for us to forgive ourselves for our failings than it is to forgive others. I think that is the nature of being human more than anything else. But you need to forgive yourself for not meeting your own expectations and more importantly, forgive your body for the act of treason on your health. Love yourself. Forgive yourself.

• Focus on what You can Control

Slightly more difficult than grace, is freeing yourself from control except where you can control things. We all worry about things beyond our control. Again, I think this is inherently human and some struggle with it more than others. But when you are already overwhelmed, fighting everyday for your health and for your life, you have to draw the line somewhere. Worrying about things not immediately in your purview of control only puts more pressure on you when you don’t need any more. So take a deep breath, let it go and relax.


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