How to set goals and pace yourself

Goal setting and time management:goal-setting

Living with persistent pain can limit what you feel able or willing to do. You may avoid activities because you are concerned that they will make your pain worse or because you think you will be unable to complete what you’ve set out to achieve. However, this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.

Breaking tasks down into smaller, realistic and achievable tasks (see pacing below) can allow you to work out what you can manage. If you practice an activity regularly, you will usually slowly start to improve and you can increase the amount of the activity, that you are therefore able to do.


If you are living with persistent pain, you may find that you have good and bad days. Some people find that they do a lot on the good days to catch-up on things that they have been unable to do on the bad days.  While keeping active and doing some light activity is generally seen to be very important as it keeps our muscles strong, our joints healthy and may ease the symptoms in some cases, doing too much on good days can sometimes make your symptoms worse. A good way to avoid this is to pace your activities.

Pacing means setting small but achievable goals and dividing the task into small chunks. This could mean vacuuming one room at a time, or doing a small amount of ironing, then resting and doing something else for a while. Try to plan your activities realistically and allow enough time for tasks as this will give you more control and reduce your stress levels. Once you have worked out what you can manage, your confidence will improve and you may be able to slowly increase activity which will increase your energy levels, combat fatigue and enable you to do a bit more when you are not feeling so well. You will have to be patient with yourself as it is normal to have the odd setback when you first start out but if you persist, things will often improve.

Flare-ups with persistent pain:

It is normal to have the odd bad day when you are living with persistent pain. Your symptoms might worsen because you have performed an activity that you are not accustomed to, have over done it or sometimes for no reason at all. Osteopaths call these events ‘symptom flair-ups’.

It is a good idea to take note of the things that help you to manage your symptoms on the bad days and write all of these down in a flare-up plan, so that you have a list of things that you can try when the symptoms are worse. You might include some of the techniques outlined on this website such as distraction techniques, relaxation exercises, pacing your activities, a short period of rest or a bit of movement. Some people find applying a hot pack or cold pack helps to ease the pain. You might also consider speaking to your GP about them reviewing your medication or consult an osteopath for advice, exercises or manual therapy (Click here to find your local osteopath). Alternatively, you might want to try all of the above, decide on the technique/s that work for you and then keep these in mind for when a flare-up occurs, whatever works best for you.

Further reading

To find out more about persistent pain, you may find the following resources of interest:

Pain Toolkit provides further information on persistent pain visit their website
Download the resource, Living with long-term pain: a guide to self-management


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