Working with goals


I mentioned in my post yesterday that it’s not easy to help people work out goals.  Most people have a fairly general idea of how they’d like their life to be, despite pain, but have lost sight of the possibility of how life might be in the future. I spoke about this with a person this morning who told me that he has lost confidence that life can be anything different, so when he was asked ‘what do you want from pain management’, he was floored!  He told me that he has lived ‘from day to day’ for so long that he had lost sight of considering where he was going in his life. I don’t think this is uncommon for people living with long-term pain, before they start accepting pain as chronic and start ‘living’ with their pain.

So the first step may be to use a menu approach as I suggested yesterday, but somehow this needs to lead in to longer-term ‘life change’ goals, so the new knowledge can be integrated and retained.  My vision for people learning to live with pain is that they move from thinking of themselves as ‘patients’ and move to thinking of themselves as ‘people’ – and more importantly, that they are people who are doing things. That way their pain condition becomes no more important a part of them than their height, ability to do maths, or interpersonal skill: just part of who they are.

We’ve discussed the menu approach, which helps people to look at things they’re interested in.  Then quite often we help the person develop the pain management skills are linked to the clinical hypotheses we, as clinicians, developed about the factors that we have assessed as influencing their pain presentation.  These are may be things like activity management, relaxation training to reduce physiological arousal, communication skills and so on…

Then the part that I think is vitally important, but not always recognised: change management in ‘real life’.  Some people call this ‘goal setting’!

The ‘wish list’ (I promise I’ll feature this tomorrow!) asks people to identify general areas they’d like to see change in their lives.  This goal-planning worksheet is one way to help people develop specific ‘next steps’ to take, and ways to identify and measure the actions and resources they need to take to make it happen.

Click on it, and you’ll be able to see that in the centre is the ‘goals area’. I’ve described this as ‘I want to…’ with lots of space to draw or write exactly what the person wants. If they can’t be very specific, that’s fine because details are refined as part of this worksheet process.

Starting at the top, working clockwise, are a series of headings that the person can complete that will help shape up the way to achieve the ‘I want to’ part. Going in order is important (from top, clockwise), because each section builds on the others.

Step one and probably most helpful for retaining motivation is ‘Why is this important to me?’. We know that internal motivation is drawn from values, or reasons that something is important. By helping the person think through why they want this change, we help them generate their own reasons for change, rather than reasons we might generate.

Step two is about time frame: often this depends on the level of confidence the person has for acheiving their goal.  The time frame also may determine the steps the person may take, and reflect other people’s actions or proceses (eg case manager). It may be helpful to revisit the time frame once other areas are completed and adjust, but it’s useful to work out what the person believes is possible first.

Step three is about where the goal will be achieved – for example, at home, at work, in a clinic… This may help determine the strategies that can be employed.  Some activities can be used in one setting, but not another, while it may be important to help the person see that they can achieve in one setting before generalising to another (eg using relaxation at home to enable them to complete vacuuming, before developing the skill to self-regulate at work, where it can be much more difficult).

Step four asks about general resources the person may need. This can be revisited also, but is often the real action phase of goal setting.  It’s OK to not know all the resources required – this may, in fact, be one of the sub-tasks required to achieve a goal.  So it’s fine to put down ‘I don’t know what resources are available – I’ll need to identify these as my ‘next best step” – which is one of the other steps in this process.

Step five identifies the ‘people’ resources the person has to help them achieve their goal. This can range from speaking to their partner, family or friends, right through to asking for a referral to see a specialist career counsellor.  If the person is receiving compensation, and has a case manager, then the case manager must be one of the ‘people’ identified in this step.  You, as health provider, should also be listed.

Step six is about what the person can do to recruit help from people – because it is all about self management and self responsibility.  What does this person need to do to get the help they want? Do they need to write letters? Meet with someone? Leave notes? Arrange regular phone calls?

Step seven identifies ‘what are my next best steps?’. This can be about finding out resources, contacting people who can support them, maybe identifying where the goal can be carried out, or even refining the time frame.

Finally, (and next to ‘why’, the most important part of this process) is ‘how will I know I’ve achieved my goal’. This is often the most challenging part of this whole process, because it provides the person with a specific way to measure achievement. This may require additional input from you as health care provider.

It’s not very easy for someone to think about how they will know whether they have achieved a goal – quite often the person hasn’t thought about the goal in more than general or vague terms.

For example, a goal may be ‘to sleep better’.  This isn’t precise enough for anyone to decide whether the goal has been achieved or not.  Remember that subjective feelings ‘sleeping better’ are often determined by proximal experiences (a bad night’s sleep or two close to the day the person is asked about their sleep will likely influence them to say it is no better), and by demand characteristics of the person asking (a treating clinician will obtain a different answer than if the person’s partner asks), as well as a number of other response biases.

It’s far more effective to ask the person ‘how will you (know) measure that your sleep is better?  Is it that you sleep all the way through the night, every night of the week?  That you wake up feeling like you’ve had a good sleep, five days out of seven?  That you no longer use any sleeping medication to help you get off to sleep?’

These latter measures help identify the different ways that ‘success’ can be achieved, and as a result both reduce the chance for measurement biases as well as determine just what the ‘end point’ will be (at what point will the person be personally satisfied with their progress?).  It’s much more client-centred, as well as more easily recorded and reproduced.

Have a go at using this worksheet for a person goal for yourself.  What would you like to see different in your life?  Then work out how you’ll achieve it using this step-by-step process.  Let me know how you go!

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