Goal setting is a crucial aspect of managing your arthritis. Setting goals provides clarity around which aspects of your health need more attention – aspects that you have control over – and focuses your attention on those daily activities and choices that can add up to make a big difference to how you feel.  

The problem arises when people set goals that are unrealistic and overly ambitious. That is why we’ve designed 5 top tips to make your goals more successful this year 

Let’s talk about health goals! 

There’s a reason why experts tell us to set small, realistic goals when it comes to improving our health. It’s fine to have a big, ambitious goal – such as aiming to become super fit or losing a few stone – but the research tells us that breaking that big goal into smaller, more realistic goals is more likely to set you up for success. The main reason? When we see ourselves succeeding, and achieving something (no matter how small), it boosts our confidence.  


The opposite is also true – setting unrealistic and overly ambitious goals could be undermining your efforts. When we do this, we suffer from low self-esteem and a sense of failure. In some serious cases, this can even lead to inactivity or poor eating habits that can aggravate health problems and make people feel worse. But there is another way to approach health goals that can work for us much better.  

The 5 secrets of successful goal-setting 

  1. Focus on processgoals: Goals can focus on outcomes or the process. An outcome goal — what you hope to achieve in the end — might be to lose a certain amount of weight. While this goal may give you a target, it doesn't address how you will reach it, plus it might feel too far away or too hard to reach. Instead, focus a process goal – such as trying to eat more greens or to walk 30 minutes each day. Try not to take too many goals on at once – for now, just one is enough. Turning your attention towards your behaviours and your habits are an integral part of achieving a healthier weight. By focusing on a specific weight you want to be, it may actually get you nowhere. 

  1. Don’t forget short-term goals: Long-term goals may seem too difficult or too far away, so it’s crucial we build in some shorter-term goals (and rewards!). If your ultimate goal is to change your activity habits over the course of three months, you may want to start by just walking 10 minutes a day. If you achieve this on most days, make sure to build in a reward on Friday or Saturday, such as a new magazine, a massage or even a new haircut. When you’ve mastered that for a few weeks in a row, you can then add in longer walks. Small and realistic goal setting will help you monitor your progress, keep you motivated, inspired, and feeling accomplished – then you’re ready to move onto the next goal (such as completing 20-minute walks on five days of the week). Read our blog on walking to get inspired here. 

  1. Re-examine what ‘achievement’ and ‘ideal’ are: Perhaps it’s time turn to turn off the social media and to be a bit more sceptical when engaging with media such as magazines or advertisements. Why? Because we’re being ‘sold’ the idea of what being healthy really is. We might be led to believe that we’re only ‘fit’ if we have muscles or can run for over an hour. Over time, we internalise these ideas, evaluating ourselves and others in comparison to them. It’s time to start deciding for ourselves and to draw new, more helpful conclusions. For instance, maybe ‘being fit’, for you, means being able to walk for half an hour, consistently, on most days? And maybe, for us, ‘being healthy’ is eating not five or portions, but even just three portions of veg and fruit a day, particularly if this is a big improvement on our usual intake. It’s time to set our own targets and decide for ourselves what ‘ideal’ truly means to us. It’s also time to approach goals in a gentle, sustained way, rather than the ‘all or nothing’ method that seems so popular in the media.  

  1. Allow for setbacks: Setbacks are a natural part of behaviour change. Everyone who successfully makes changes in his or her life has experienced setbacks at some point. It's better to expect them and develop a plan for dealing with them than to pretend to ourselves that it will never happen. Identify potential challenges, such as times when we may experience a flare-up, or the winter months where we might struggle to get outside as much. Brainstorm specific strategies to overcome these to help stay on course or even get back on course. Read our marathon runner, Ken Byrne’s interview here to be inspired. Ken is adept at setting a realistic, flexible goals. Most importantly, he builds in plenty of time - by starting his training well before most other people, he allows room for setbacks and, in fact, accepts them as part of the journey. As a result, the whole experience becomes more enjoyable and, actually, makes the goal much more achievable.  

  1. Be realistic about how long it takes: The time it takes to achieve a goal depends on so many factors but, most certainly, living with arthritis can make it more challenging. So many aspects of dealing with pain and discomfort means that you can’t predict or control how things will go. For this reason, it’s usually best to accept that it may take longer than you hoped, but that you’ll enjoy the journey and that you’ll get there. Again, read Ken’s interview to see how he does this – many people start their marathon training only a few months from the actual day, whereas Ken builds in extra months to take account of the fact that he is living with arthritis and may experience flare-ups. Achieving goals can take time and it’s okay for it to take longer than other people – being patient with ourselves will go a long way in helping us to stick to our goals and see them through.  

Remember to adjust your goals as needed as you progress along your journey. Be as flexible as you can, celebrate the small wins and, most importantly, enjoy all the little steps along the way! 

If you’re feeling motivated and interested in reading more about what it takes to change habits, take a look at our blog on how to achieve real and sustainable behaviour change here.