I used to play pick-up soccer three times a week. And within a few months, I couldn't dress myself dressed, hold a pen, or turn the key in the ignition. I felt like I aged 50 years in 50 days, and the experience was humbling and invaluable.
Before I got sick, I'd always been competitive, mostly with myself. As a patient, I had to teach myself to celebrate improvement and gently forgive my body.
As a healthy person, I set goals and pushed myself. As a sick person, I observed progress and celebrated.
Perhaps we fail to recognize the distinction between goals and progress. Maybe that's why fitness and diet plans fail for those who most badly need them. By setting goals, a patient might fail by missing them. I know that Weight Watchers achieves lasting success using goal setting. But I wonder how much of that was due to goal setting, and how much was due to community support? I'd love to know if their success rates are as successful with their digital, non-community based model.
We need to change the dialogue about health from goal setting to creating acceptable choices. By offering patients a menu of options that lead to progress, rather than some future goal that does nothing to help me deal with the pain/craving/exhaustion that I'm feeling right now.
Here’s what I mean: when I was most sick, I gave myself three choices every day:
- drive to the gym and go for a swim
- drive to the gym and sit in the sauna
- drive to the gym and then go right back home again.
Before the medications kicked in, getting in the car and driving to the gym was a feat! I could barely get out of PJs much less into a swimsuit! But as the meds took hold, the lure of a warm soak got me past the pain of squeezing into a bathing suit. And within a year, I was swimming 40 laps per day.
By allowing “drive to the gym” to be an "achievement" (and believe me, there were plenty of days that driving to the gym didn't happen), I put myself in the path of the gym every day. To be able to say “This morning, I drove to gym,” felt as good as it would eventually feel to tick off “swim 40 laps.”