Developing S.M.A.R.T GOALS – to help us deal with CHANGE

The blog on CHANGE reminded us that any type of CHANGE can be stressful, challenging, or even overwhelming. But, over time (and perhaps with a little insight and work) that CHANGE can prove to be positive and useful.

A planned change – developing an exercise program, losing/gaining weight, embarking on a new career or relationship, going back to school – may be  stressful. But, it is a change that we have arranged ourselves, we are ready, we are in control. It can therefore be considered  positive stress.

And life brings with it many normal changes – which many of us can work through on our own, or with the help and  support of our friends and family, or with physical and mental health providers.  It may be difficult to work  through those significant life challenges, but in time, we can establish a ‘new’ plan or direction.

A major challenge often occurs however, when the CHANGE is unexpected or sudden. Physical injury, concussion, loss of a body part,  the death of others who were with us at the time of the trauma. We are possibly overwhelmed and likely unprepared for all the resultant changes that need to happen for us to deal with the new situation and in time move forward in our lives.

And no matter how helpful our medical, health or exercise providers can be, it is up to us to ultimately develop our own  specific pathway.

Rehabilitation providers are generally good, well-meaning people who have chosen a helping profession because they really do want to help others.

But everyone has their own personality, and there are times when the professional and the patient (the person in need of help) are NOT the best match.

There are also times when the plan or goals established by the professional may not meet the needs of where the traumatized person is right now.

Scheduling, pacing, organizing, planning are all very important and essential tools that are used to develop a realistic (beneficial) treatment/recovery plan.

But it is also important for us to be our own advocate (or have someone who knows you well assist with this planning) and work with rehabilitation/exercise personnel who can then better understand and acknowledge your physical as well as emotional needs – at this particular  point in time).

A framework that some rehabilitation providers use to dialogue about establishing goals is to use the acronym S.M.A.R.T.



Let’s look at  a few scenarios:

Scenario One:

I was a good tennis player before the accident. My leg fracture has healed and the doctor has told me I can now put full weight on the limb. How can I work with my exercise trainer and develop a plan to get me back on the court?

  • I will try and move/ run back and forth across the room as if I was on a tennis court.
  • I will count how many times I can do this before I need a rest and/or my leg tells me ’enough’.
  • I have been able to go back and forth 3 times. I will work on increasing that number each day.
  • (After 2 weeks) Not feeling too bad. I will now increase my speed and do that for 5 minutes.
  • I have been able to increase that time to 15 minutes, though it has taken me 3 more weeks.
  • Let’s see if I can also: hold the racquet, hit the tennis ball and run at the same time. (Laughing, well that did not work out well!)

Over time, our tennis player may be able to get back to playing tennis – but  he may not be able to regain all his skills and be the great player he was before the accident.

If he was a tennis professional, this situation could certainly be a bigger problem because he would have to consider other work options.

Scenario Two:

The deadline for submitting my PhD these is in 6 months. How am I going to be able to do this? This accident has left me with headaches, dizziness and neck pain. Even though everyone says I look fine and am lucky to have survived that terrible crash, I feel terrible.

  • I tried working on the computer for a few minutes. I moved the laptop onto different surfaces with varying heights. I cannot look on the screen, think, and write at the same time.
  • It is important for me to go back to my family doctor and tell him/her that I am having these problems. Perhaps I need to see another specialist.

And so time moves along, and our student now acknowledges that he needs more time to both recover from injuries sustained in the accident.

He also needs to  speak to his supervisor at University and arrange for an extension to submit his thesis.

It also means that he will need more help at home with cooking and cleaning. And because he is anxious driving his car, he needs to arrange to have friends take him to appointments or contact his insurance company to see if they will pay for that service.

A very challenging scenario, resulting in the need to make many changes.


Working with the  S.M.A.R.T goals as a framework, it is evident that there are times when many changes must occur  before any new ‘schedule’ is established.

It is challenging for most of us to use words like ‘minutes’ (rather than as long as it takes), or at a slow speed (rather than as fast as possible) and still feel that we will recover, from physical or emotional trauma.

But we are fortunate to live in a safe place where there are also good helping professionals and caring family and friends around us. Often, it may take time and  trial and error to find the right team of people and professionals that can work with you.

Acknowledging that we cannot do it alone is the first step to success.