In this mindfulness practice, we reflect on goals and how to goal set mindfully so that they are realistic and achievable for us, regardless of our physical and mental health status. When we practice values-based behaviours, we tend to feel better. Doing all of this mindfully can improve our overall well-being.
I hope you can make the most of it with your mindful goals!
Whether you’re stuck inside because of terrible winter weather (I’m looking at you rainy Vancouver), or because of your illness/pain, having some indoor activities that bring enjoyment are essential. There are literally hundreds of activities that you or I could name. Lists can come up on the internet. Rather than just randomly pull from a thousand sources I thought I’d share some of my favourite indoor activities – some for when I’m feeling great but am literally stuck inside because of the weather, and others that I do when my physical (or mental) health isn’t as great.
Watching TV – standard I know but I actually enjoy watching some streaming – be it television or movies – alone. This can also be a good partner/group activity (I even have one friend I do it with over Skype every week). I thought I’d put it on the list and get it out of the way. Finding something I love to watch (new or old) can always put a smile on my face.
Playing an instrument (or listening to music) – I play the piano. I have since I was a kid and I absolutely love just sitting down to play for no one but me. It brings me great joy, and if I want, a challenge. It’s an indoor activity all about the me and the music. If you don’t play and instrument then listening to music (maybe even dancing along or singing along) is a great alternative.
Color or do some art – I’m not a good artist in that I can’t draw or paint or sculpt (but if you do then those are amazing indoor activities). I do enjoy colouring though. I tend to buy horror-themed colouring books because that’s my jam, and colouring in general has been shown to help with relaxation.
Read (and take a bath) – I personally prefer to read in the bathtub. I can read anywhere and I will read anywhere but my absolute favourite spot is when I’m in the bath. The bath itself helps with my physical body and is relaxing. Reading is fun and/or stimulating (depending on what I’m reading) and just another indoor activity that I look forward to doing.
Board Games (or card games) – this is the one that has been introduced to me the most in the past few months (mostly because my partner loves board games). I grew up playing Crib and it’s my go-to game (in general) but playing any game in a group or with a partner is a great way to spend some time indoors.
Cooking (or baking) – this is just so much more fun with another person (hopefully someone you get along well with). I’d much rather do it as a group activity than a solo activity any day and seeing how our creations turn out is just another fun part of the experience. We also tend to throw on some music and have a kitchen dance party in the middle of it all.
So these are just a few of my favourite indoor activities. I would love to hear what yours are as well. Keep making the most of it!
This year, let’s focus on living by our values instead of setting goals. Connecting with our values is one way to improve our lives with chronic pain and illness. Check out the video below for more on the difference between values and goals:
I hope this helps us all to make the most of it in the new year!
It’s ALMOST 2023! I can’t believe it because it feels like the last 3 years took a hundred years and yet also flew by. So weird. Anyway, everyone jumps on the goal setting band wagon in the new year and this post isn’t exactly that. I usually do a post of this sort in January for two reasons (1) many of you may be looking for help with goal setting, and (2) it gives me a chance to talk about values vs. goals (guess what I think is more important and beneficial in the long run?). I have nothing against goal setting. We need to do it to accomplish things in our lives. So let’s just jump into how to set a goal – for everyone really – but especially if you have chronic pain or illness.
SPECIFIC What is it exactly that you want to accomplish this year (or day, week, month, etc.). Be as detailed as possible. I’ll use my hiking goal as an example (it’s really ambitious goal for a spoonie but I have incredible support team – my physiotherapist, other healthcare practitioners, and my very avid-hiking partner). Specifically I want to be able to do a hike that is 40+ km and/or 2000m in elevation. Currently I can do about 8km and 800m elevation. Being a specific as possible helps us know what we’re going after.
Meaningful Why is this goal important to you? What values does it connect with? Values are qualities of action, or how we treat ourselves, others and the world. If the goal isn’t important to you and doesn’t align with your values it’s unlikely you’ll hit it (and if you do you are very good at finding motivation elsewhere because often our motivation comes from our values). Using my hiking goal, this is important to me because it aligns with my values of adventure, health and fitness, and connection (with my partner). I suggest writing down your values when you set your goal.
Adaptive Your goal needs to improve your life in some way. Again, this is useful for motivation. Why do something if it doesn’t help you? Think about ways your goal will make your life better. Hiking will make my life better because I will feel physically healthier, and I’ll get to have new experiences. Write down how your goal will improve your life.
Realistic When goals aren’t realistic we don’t hit them. Often, especially in the new year, we make goals that are waaaay off what is actually possible for us. We want to cut out all sugar immediately or run that 5k tomorrow or double our income in 2 months. This causes us to get frustrated and give up. Is my goal realistic? Well, I planned it out with my physiotherapist, based on my current ability, how my body is currently doing, and by breaking it down into smaller chunks so that I gradually increase distance and elevation each month. This all said, as a Spoonie, I know that I may have to adapt or change the plan in the event that my health suddenly isn’t doing as well (and due to weather, like what happened in November and December in BC). Basically you want to be 7/10 minimum in confidence that you’ll hit your goal. Are you?
Time-Bound Knowing when we will hit our goal, the exact time frame, helps us to reach it. Is this a goal for the end of the week? Month? 6 months? Year? Can you break it down into smaller chunks if it’s one of the longer ones? Can you make it time-bound within the day or week (ex., yoga 3x week on days X, Y, Z for X minutes)? As I mentioned I have broken down my goal by month so that each month I have to hit X distance and X elevation, with a slight increase each month until I hit my goal by the end of the summer. What are your time-frames?
So, all written out your goal will look something like: I will hike 40+ km and/or 2000m elevation by the end of August, 2023 by gradually increasing my distance and elevation each month, hiking weekly or biweekly depending on the weather. The goal is important to me because I will be engaging in adventure, healthy living, and connection with my partner. It will improve my life by increasing my overall fitness and letting me experience new things.
What does your goal look like? Feel free to share! And keep making the most of it!
This short guided meditation can be a useful way to help clarify your values. Having chronic pain and illness sometimes interferes with us living by our values, or even remembering what they are. I find it useful to re-clarify what they are for me so that I can keep making the most of it, and I hope you can too!
Also, I just launched a side-business as a meditation teacher. If you’re interested in 1:1 classes online and self-paced programs online, check out my website – Aligning Mindfully. I also started a second YouTube channel for Aligning Mindfully with 5 minute meditations on it.
What are values-based activities? They are actions, activities, hobbies, practices, etc. that align with our values (how we want to treat ourselves, others, and the world/what is important to us). Colouring may seem like a silly one, but here me out! You can also check out this podcast episode I did on values-based living.
Try out a values-based activity for yourself so that you can keep making the most of it!
There is a Taoist parable that tells of an old man who fell into a river that swept him toward a dangerous waterfall. There were people watching who feared for the old man’s life. By some miracle, the old man came out of the water at the bottom of the falls completely unharmed. The onlookers asked him how he managed to survive, and he replied, “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”
If the old man had struggled against the water, he may not have survived the fall. At least that’s how he sees it and is what the parable is suggesting. This is non-contention. I came across the parable when I was… well if you read this blog regularly then you can probably guess it… meditating. I was doing a guided meditation and at the end, the meditation teacher told this parable. It really spoke to me because I have heard this idea spoken in many different ways already, and it’s something I have been practicing for sometime. I notice that in my day-to-day life, when I am swept up by my pain or symptoms of my illness or thoughts about my pain or emotions such as anxiety that arise, when I struggle with these things, it just makes the day worse. It makes the pain (physical and emotional worse) and I feel less resilient. When I do the opposite – accommodate – then my days are pretty good. Thankfully I’ve gotten good at accommodating.
While I’m sure some of you are also good at accommodating, there are probably many of you who are not. It takes a lot of work and practice to be able to do this. It’s way more natural for our minds to struggle because our minds think that it’s the best way to survive – I mean, thousands of years of evolution have told them this. Yet in modern times, the struggle often ends up being less helpful (but try telling that to the primitive part of your brain). I find that meditating is helpful for accommodation but I totally get that it’s not for everyone. I also find similar mindful practices like body scans, observing-breathing into-making room for-and allowing my feelings to also be helpful. And engaging in those values-based behaviours that I love. That doesn’t mean I push through my inner experiences. There is a delicate balance between pacing and going to my edge. And on days that I go to far and do too much, I offer myself some compassion because it is hard to be human, and it is hard to be a human with a chronic condition.
So, here’s what I suggest:
try out some mindfulness practices, like the ones found on my YouTube channel
incorporate more self-compassion into your life: kind words, soothing touching, remembering that it is human to have pain
engage in values-based activities that allow you to pace and don’t take you past your edge
seek mental health (and physical health) help from a licensed professional as often as needed.
Even when we are limited in what we can do (because of our illness or pain) we should still live by our values and take actions that we can. If you play an instrument, that might mean playing your instrument! Or if you’re unable to play at the moment, maybe it means listening to some music that you love. What can you do to live by your values?
This is just one way to keep making the most of it!
Which would you rather do – something (a behaviour) to give yourself short-term symptom relief or something (a behaviour) that aligns with your core values, even if the goal isn’t to bring you symptom relief? The first option, by the way, isn’t necessarily connected to your values. There was a time for me that I probably would’ve done the later. Hell, I did do the latter! I definitely acted in ways that weren’t indicative to what was important to me at all but did help me out in the moment. Things like lying in bed, avoiding exercise, asking my partner to rub my back or just stay near me for hours, missing work, and on and on and on. And I’m not even saying that any of these are bad things. They were just bandaids that made that moment better, but didn’t help my pain long term and ultimately had a lot of costs (like the end of that relationship, feeling physically weak, and making work more difficult). Over time, reconnecting with my values became a much more viable response – and in some ways, even helped to decrease my pain.
What are values? They are our principles or standards of behaviour that we want to engage in. They represent what is important to us. Some examples are:
and on and on and on
Different values can also show up in different areas of our life, like work and education, relationships, personal growth and health, and leisure. Values often motivate how we behave in different situations. Sometimes we just live by our values without thinking about them. However, sometimes, when we find ourselves dealing with chronic pain and chronic illness, we can get removed from our values, like I did. There are two things we can do to figure out if we have been removed from our values while dealing with the terribleness of chronic pain and illness.
Figure out what our values are – using a checklist and/or a bull’s eye.
Figure out (nonjudgmentally) what “unworkable action” we are engaging in that is acting as a “bandaid” but isn’t really lining up with our values and how we want to be long-term.
Okay, but why should we do all that? You might be wondering why not just stick wth the bandaid solution. And you can. But typically we have better overall quality of life if we live by our values. We engage in behaviours that are more fitting to the person we want to be and the life we want to live. And, what research finds (plus just looking at my own life and the lives of my clients), is that pain and other symptoms bother us less. It doesn’t mean they go away, they just don’t really interfere with our lives anymore. The research finds that our self-care for our illnesses and pain improves when we are motivated by our values (everything from self-direction, pleasure, and health to responsibility and socialization). We become more willing to “make room” for our difficult sensations (and thoughts and feelings) when we live by our values.
I’ve shared in a number of posts different ways that I live by my values. Here are a few consistent ways I do in my life.
Presence (aka mindfulness) – I meditate daily, do yoga several times a week, and just try to fully engage in as many activities during the day that I can.
Fitness/health – I eat healthy (gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free – though I do allow myself some cheat days) and I exercise daily (walking and/or strength training, and/or physio exercises)
Creativity – I’m writing a book, I play the piano, I write screenplays with a friend
Adventure – I travel (looking forward to getting back to that), hike, kayak, try new restaurants, meet new people
And those are just some ways I live by my values even with an autoimmune disease and chronic pain. It took a lot of work to get here though, so be kind and patient with yourself (hey, that’s the value of self-compassion). I hope this helps you to make the most of it!
How many times have you said, “I am sick” or “I am a Spoonie” or “I am in pain” or “I am depressed,” and so on? And how often do you feel that is really so? That is what you are? If your answers to one or both of those questions is “a lot,” then know you are likely not the only one answering that way. I rarely use those phrases for myself anymore because I find them unhelpful, but before you run away I want to explain why they are unhelpful. Not just from my perspective from my lived experience, but also what theories in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and related research suggests, particularly when it comes to chronic illness.
First I think I need to introduce you to a few terms. The first is event centrality. This can be described as the degree to which a person perceives an event (often traumatic but can also work for being diagnosed with an illness) as central to their identity. In other words, being a sick person is who you are because of your diagnosis. The second concept is the conceptualized self. This refers to who we think we are (in fancy ACT terms we call this self-as-content). The conceptualized self can take on all the identities we have such as being son or daughter, a parent, a spouse, a friend, and of course a sick person. It also includes our self-evaluations, so whether we describe ourselves as smart or dumb, happy or sad, fun or boring, and so on. What sometimes happens is that we get fused with one (or a few) of these aspects of our identity. In other words, we hold it tightly, are attached to it, and in the long-run doing so usually causes us more problems.
Now this attachment to the conceptualized self can happen to anyone, and we often see it in depression and anxiety as well as chronic illness and chronic pain. There has been some research suggesting that our illness self-concept is a predictor of our adjustment to chronic illness. When we are attached to the identity of being ill we tend to have a lower overall quality of life. I talked about the use of language once on the podcast, and you should listen to that episode if you haven’t already. I want you to think about these pairs of phrases:
“I am anxious” vs. “I am experiencing the feelings of anxiety.”
“I am depressed” vs. “I am experiencing the feelings of sadness”
“I am sick” vs. “I am experiencing the symptoms of lupus” (or whatever illness you have)
“I am in pain” vs. “I am experiencing uncomfortable sensations”
You’ll likely notice that you attachment to that identity changes. And when we aren’t overly attached we actually can take better care of ourselves (health behaviours, self-caring, etc.) and our quality of life improves because we find we are able to do more values-based activities that we enjoy (yep, even with illness and pain). When we remove the attachment to our conceptualized self we are more willing to allow our experiences and see them as passing.
There’s a few ways we can learn to do this. First, we can just start to notice and name are thoughts and feelings – “I notice I’m having the feeling of an uncomfortable shooting sensation in my hip” or “I notice I’m having the thought that I’m always in pain.” There are tons of ways to create some space between us and our thoughts and feelings when we are attached to them. This is just one way. The other process we can use to change this attachment to the conceptualized self is to develop self-as-context. This is what is also referred to as the noticing self. The part of us that just watches and notices all our experiences: what see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, feel, do, etc. It’s a part of us that never changes. It’s like the sky and all of the thoughts and feelings and sensations are like the weather. The sky sees the weather but the weather cannot hurt the sky. And if you go above the clouds, the sky is still there, even when it can’t be seen. I’m going to encourage you to follow along with the video below to get an idea of what it is like to experience the noticing self.
I personally find this really helpful (and so do many of my clients) in creating a new relationship with my thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and forging out new identity, where I’m not limited by any of these things because I can notice them. They are not me. I am not chronically ill, I have the experience of having a chronic illness.