themighty logo

6 Steps to Achieving Your Goals With Chronic Illness

If you have a long-term health issue, it can take years to get diagnosed. You may feel depressed when the doctor cheerfully says, “Good news, the tests are all negative.” “Yes, right, great news, there is no sign in my body that I am as ill as I feel,” you think.

Then one day, at what feels like just another appointment, the doctor says, “We’ve found something,” and you discover what has been plaguing your life for months (possibly years) has a name. There is this weird moment of joy – “I’m not imagining it and making it up” – and then grief – “Damn, there really is something wrong.” It can be hard to take in everything the doctor says, so by the time you get home you are already Googling what the illness means, misreading the help group pages and worrying about the side effects of the medications.


Within a few weeks, it’s rolling off your tongue as you tell people what they’ve found and how you are coping. And within months it’s become second nature. It becomes, well, part of you. However, should it define you?

I often meet clients who want to work with me because they are looking to achieve more and build their confidence, and yet a long-term health condition has been getting in the way. I think because I use digital media to showcase how I can handle lupus, two other autoimmune diseases and a plethora of other fun stuff and still achieve success no matter what state my body is in, people want to learn more.

So, should your illness define you? In my opinion, our illnesses are an opportunity to refine us. Here are my top tips to getting what you want out of life when you feel like your illness is defining you (and not the other way around!).

1. One Step Ahead

While others ignore their bodies with the assumption it will always be there and it will always work, you’ve probably learned (the hard way!) that your body needs respecting. So while others work 24/7 to get what they want, you are going to need to be a bit sensitive about it. And to be honest, so should everyone else – they’ve just not had the hard health lessons you have. It’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter.

As I speak about in my book on fear, in one of the chapters I look at the fear to take time out, the smartest thing I ever did was to learn to outsource, automate and employ. A general idea to consider is if it is something you do regularly and find yourself not really thinking about it, then it’s likely elements of it will be able to be automated, outsourced or given to someone else to do. There are tons of smart apps and tech that can take some of the hard work out of daily life.

2. Plan

While everyone should plan what they want to achieve because you are far more likely to achieve it that way, not everyone does. And while some are still able to achieve, if you have long-term health problems then planning what you want to achieve helps you get there faster. It’s not just about planning work goals; plan social ones as well as health ones. However, never have more than five actions to do at any one time.

3. Be Realistic

I’m all for thinking big and achieving our big ambitions. However, in my experience, people tend to overstretch themselves and attempt to achieve too much, or like a pendulum swinging so far the other way, they create tiny goals you could achieve before breakfast. Be realistic with your goals. They need to challenge and stimulate you. Not demotivate you and make you feel like giving up. Structure in rest time and things that protect your health.

4. Diary It

On top of planning your actions and being realistic, you need some form of a diary so you appreciate time. Learn to appreciate how much rest you need after a busy day. If you need a whole day, schedule it. If you know you can’t work at all, don’t. The “I will just do this” approach will always backfire, because time slips away and before you know it you need to be on family mode or cooking an evening meal and not had the rest you needed. Your rest is as important as anything else when it comes to success with a long-term health issue. And remember no one need know you are not out taking over the world. If you were with a customer or in a meeting, you wouldn’t answer your phone, so treat your rest time with the same level of respect.

5. Sort the Stress

As someone with a long-term health issue, stress can hit you harder and faster. Learn how to manage your stress levels. Learn to recognize how you breathe – from your chest or your stomach? Deeply or shallowly? How do you speak? Are you feeling it in your voice? Does your throat feel closed? How does your back feel and/or shoulders? Are you carrying your stress around in tired and achey muscles? Our bodies hold onto negativity and bad days and it can build into a real issue. Introduce yoga, mediation or mindfulness to your life. Not for you? Explore classical music, get outdoors, stroke a pet, indulge in art or reading. Whatever you do, listen to your body’s ability to deal with stress. Long-term success will need it.

6. Accountability

The hardest thing I personally feel for someone with big goals and a long-term health issue is keeping yourself accountable. Not to get things done, but to slow down. I’ve learned that in actual fact because in order to do the above, the most important thing I need to do is have faith I’m getting to where I want to go. Keeping me accountable are the right people who won’t encourage me to overwork or attend too many events but also won’t say, “Leave it, it doesn’t matter.” They are the ones who accept I have goals and want to achieve them and I just need someone to keep me accountable to the things I’ve said above.

black and white photo of two friends smiling

Of all the things I could say to someone with long-term goals, the last thing I would say is be nice to yourself. My Dad’s favorite saying is “Mandie, if you were well you’d be dangerous” because he knows what I used to achieve before I got ill. This used to really annoy me; however, I’ve learned to reframe the negativity out of that statement and turn it into a positive. No matter what, my Dad (like so many others) sees my true potential, and on a tough day when I am in agony, feeling exhausted and like giving up, that is a priceless statement to hold on to.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.