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Goal setting during your cancer journey

Goal setting can keep you motivated, focused and empowered during your cancer journey.

"Goal setting helps us be present and move forward," says Lauren Garvey, MS, CRC, NCC, a counselor and facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. "A forward mindset and positivity are very important, especially during cancer treatment."

Benefits of goal setting during cancer treatment

Whether your goals are social, spiritual, emotional or physical, goal setting can:

  • Combat depression. At Cancer Wellness, many survivors create vision boards that represent what they want to be, feel and do now and in the future. "Vision boards are especially beneficial if someone is struggling with depression," she says. "When someone experiences depression, they often focus on the past, looking at things that have gone wrong or that they want to change."

  • Create margin for rest. Your goals do not have to be task-oriented. You may decide to look at schedule and eliminate tasks or activities that do not serve you well.

  • Give you hope. "If you've taken time to think about your goals, you've already done something good for yourself," says Garvey. "You've shifted your mindset toward the future and have taken a step toward reducing feelings of sadness or depression."

  • Help you find balance. Cancer does not happen in a vacuum. As long as it does not overwhelm you, setting goals in other areas of your life (such as in your career, volunteer work or hobbies) can help you feel like your life does not revolve around cancer.

Tips for goal setting

Ready to set your own goals? Try these tips.

  • Be kind and patient with yourself. "Practice kindness toward yourself," says Garvey. "No one can achieve 100 percent success all the time. Ultimately, when it comes to goal setting, do it with kindness and patience." 

  • Celebrate effort, not just accomplishments. "In today's world, it's common to look for praise rather than encouragement," says Garvey. "For example, if a child paints a painting, we may tell him or her, 'That's beautiful!' instead of, 'I can tell you worked really hard on that.' Focus on your efforts and not just the final result because everyone's journey looks different." 

  • Focus on self-care. "I encourage people going through cancer treatment to set goals for self-care," says Garvey. "Think of ways you can nurture your mind, body and relationships. Pick one goal for each category and start there." For example you may choose to do a five-minute meditation (mind), go for a 20-minute walk after dinner (body) and attend a weekly support group (social support).

  • Practice gratitude. Gratitude and goal setting go hand in hand. Recognizing your efforts can help you keep up momentum.

  • Realize your goals will change over time. Your goals during treatment will likely be different from when your treatment is over. "When you are done with treatment, you may become more 'awake' and realize what you want to change," says Garvey. "For example, some people realize they aren't willing to be treated a certain way anymore or that their job is too stressful."

  • Recognize positive milestones. Setting goals allows you to keep track of and celebrate your achievements. That is why at Piedmont's infusion center it is a tradition for people to ring a bell when they complete their last chemotherapy treatment to celebrate that important milestone.

  • Seek support. Whether it is from a support group or trusted friend, peer support and accountability can help you move forward with your goals. Find someone you can check in with weekly about your goals.

  • Set your own goals. While peer support can keep you accountable, it is important to select goals for your individual journey. "The most important thing about goal setting is that it is self-guided," she says.

  • Start small. The purpose of goal setting is not to cram more into your schedule and create stress. Stick with small, attainable goals, such as getting through your next round of chemotherapy. "If you're feeling like you want to make a bunch of changes all at once and feel like you need to do so quickly, seek out a counselor or support group," advises Garvey.

  • Write down your goals. After reflecting on the goals you would like to set, write them down. From there, break each goal into small, manageable chunks. For example, if your overall goal is to complete chemotherapy treatments, your smaller goals may be attending your next chemotherapy appointment, meeting with a nutritionist about what to eat during treatment and asking for extra support around the house on the days after your infusions.  

See more ways to stay strong during treatment.

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