By Lauren S. Grider, DVM, CCFP
In the last article, we followed Katie* through the brainstorming process. She was feeling overwhelmed with work responsibilities, and she was frustrated about not spending time doing her favorite things. Through brainstorming, Katie identified two preferred strategies to bring running back into her routine: signing up for a virtual race and planning short runs with a friend after work. Now that she knows where she wants to focus, the next step for Katie will be to transform these plans into achievable goals. But how can she create a plan that is likely to be successful? How must she rearrange her schedule to accommodate her new goals?
Sometimes Less is More: The Role of Boundaries in Goal Setting
Before we talk about the mechanics of effective goal setting, I believe it is essential to address an extremely important issue, one that I have watched play out repeatedly in the lives of many healthcare workers. As Katie considers the options for re-introducing her favorite things back into her schedule, there is a glaring problem: She doesn’t have time. Katie’s current schedule is designed to facilitate her job and not much else. She is already exhausted. If she simply adds running several hours per week into her schedule, she is not likely to be successful long-term. If she doesn’t also cut back in some areas, adding running to her schedule might actually contribute to her stress rather than improve her quality of life. If that happens, then she might simply give up running again instead of addressing the underlying problem. The math just doesn’t add up. Something’s got to give.
In part three of this series, we briefly discussed interdimensional models of wellness. While many different models of wellness have been proposed, all models consist of dimensions that are interrelated and interdependent.1-5 This means that changes in one area affect one or more other areas. We can see an example of this phenomenon in Katie’s story: as pressures at work lowered her occupational wellbeing, her physical, emotional, and social dimensions of wellness also suffered. We all have a limited amount of time and energy that must be divided between our life responsibilities. If one area of life is demanding more than its fair share of time, the other areas will suffer. Sometimes this is a trade-off that we willingly make, and that choice is reasonable for short periods of time. For example, students completing veterinary training must accept the reality that academics will dominate their life for a few years. However, as students transition into the workforce, this severe time and energy imbalance must be corrected to maintain wellbeing.
Currently Katie’s work is dominating her time and energy requirements. Such a large imbalance is simply not sustainable long term, and she will need to make some big changes to safeguard her wellbeing. Katie must consider not only the addition of running to her schedule, but also strategies to create a healthier relationship with work. So, as we discuss the best strategies for approaching your goals, don’t forget that boundary setting is an integral part of the equation.
The S.M.A.R.T. Approach to Goal Setting
You may be surprised to learn that there is an established framework for successful goal setting. S.M.A.R.T. Goals are those which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed.6
- Specific: Formulating a goal begins with selecting a clear objective. Ideally, this objective is stated in a positive way. For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to stop slacking on my running,” Katie might instead say, “I’m going to enjoy running more often.”
- Measurable: Each goal should include some quantifiable element. Intensity, frequency, and duration are all great options. These metrics can also be used to adjust the goal as time goes on. For example, Katie might choose to run a short to moderate distance twice weekly. If after a few weeks she feels that she wants to do more, she might adjust her goal to a longer distance twice weekly or add a third short run each week.
- Attainable: It’s great to have high expectations for personal accomplishments, but we should be more conservative when setting goals. Taking small steps and breaking larger goals into more manageable pieces is ideal. For example, rather than setting a goal to get back into running marathons right away, Katie would be better served by focusing on more manageable distances while easing back into this activity.
- Relevant: When choosing a goal, the objective should be personally meaningful. Avoid allowing others to choose your goals. For Katie, making time for running is important because it is one of her favorite hobbies. She has a vested interest in achieving running-related goals as a result.
- Timed: Every goal should include a finish line. Creating deadlines promotes personal accountability and allows for adjustments. If the time runs out and the goal hasn’t been met, that is simply evidence that the metrics need to be tweaked. For example, Katie might decide to set a one-month timeline for accumulating ten hours of training time. If Katie reaches the end of the month with only five hours of training completed, she should make a more conservative goal next time.
An example of a new running goal for Katie might be: I’m going to enjoy running for thirty minutes twice weekly for the next month. At the end of the month, Katie would reassess her goal and make any desired changes.
Setting the Stage for Success
So, Katie has a goal outlined that she is really excited about. She has located a running buddy who would like to meet after work on Mondays and Thursdays. Katie will need to leave the veterinary clinic by 6:30 PM – thirty minutes after her shift is supposed to end – on those evenings in order to keep her commitment.
How will Katie ensure that she is leaving work at a reasonable hour most of the time? What will her boss say? Will the other staff members think poorly of her? What if there’s an emergency with a patient?
All of these are valid questions. In the next article, we will focus on creating and enforcing healthy boundaries, as well as managing the feelings that our boundaries bring up in ourselves and in others.
This is part six of a multi-part series on compassion fatigue in veterinary medicine. The next part will focus on creating and enforcing healthy boundaries.
1. Fonken, L. (2019). Living between the lines: Life, work and wellbeing. 2019 Pacific Veterinary Conference Proceedings. http://www.vin.com
2. National Wellness Institute. (2020). Retrieved August 28, 2021, from https://nationalwellness.org/resources/six-dimensions-of-wellness/
3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Creating a healthier life: A step-by-step guide to wellness. Department of Health and Human Services.
4. Swarbrick, M. (2006). A wellness approach. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal, 29(4), 311-314. https://doi.org/10.2975/29.2006.311.314
5. The Ohio State University Office of Student Life Wellness Center. (2021). Retrieved August 28, 2021, from https://swc.osu.edu/about-us/nine-dimensions-of-wellness/6. Ohrt, J. H., Clarke, P. B., & Conley, A. H. (2019). Wellness counseling: A holistic approach to prevention and intervention. American Counseling Association.