Learning to Live With Chronic Pain: Re-evaluating Your Priorities

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • Too often life with chronic pain becomes a life focused on just getting through another day – preferably with as little pain as possible.  15 years ago, that was me.  I was miserable and saw no hope that anything would change.  Then one day I came across two sentences that would change my life. 

    Many things in life will catch your eye, but only a few will capture your heart.  Pursue what captures your heart.  

    I realized that when I was healthy, many things had “caught my eye” and I pursued most of them.  In addition to working long hours, I took college classes, taught aerobics, did costumes and choreography for the local theater group... and the list goes on. 

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    But when chronic pain entered my life in the form of fibromyalgia, all of those eye-catching activities suddenly ground to a halt.  My life became a struggle just to try to work enough hours to support myself. 

    At that point, I knew things had to change.  I couldn't stand to go on just existing.  I needed to feel that my life had a purpose.  It was time to figure out what “captured my heart” and to pursue it.  It was time to re-evaluate my priorities. 

    I read whatever I could find on evaluating priorities and setting goals.  Then I put together and worked through two sets of exercises, which helped me first identify what my own personal priorities were, then figure out how to adapt my life to match those priorities. 

    For me one of the best things that came out of doing these exercises was the realization that I was spending most of my time doing things I thought I should or had to do and very little time doing the things that were really the most important to me.  Following is the process I used.

    Re-evaluating Your Priorities: The Process

    Re-evaluating your priorities is a two-part process.  Don't try rush through.  Take as much time as you need to carefully think about each step. 

    It is important that you write down your answers to these steps either on paper or on your computer.  Besides the obvious advantage of being able to go back and reread them at will, there is something about writing priorities and goals down that seems to implant them in your subconscious.  You'll find yourself making progress toward your goals without even realizing.

    Part I – Identify Your Priorities

    1.  Write down the top three things that are most important to you.  Be honest with yourself.  Don't write what you think you should feel; write what you truly feel.  If everybody and everything else in life were stripped away, who or what would be essential to your life and happiness.  Some examples might be family, faith, career or friendships.
    2.  List 10 things you most enjoy doing.  How do you like to spend your time?  What makes you feel good or gives you a sense of purpose and fulfillment?   Some examples might include: listening to music, painting, playing video games, soaking in a hot tub, caring for your pets, or volunteering at a hospice.

    3.  Go back to the list you made in step 2 and put a star by those things that “capture your heart.”  Mark at least one, but no more than three.  Which things on your list are you most passionate about?  Which do you get the most excited about doing?  About which would you say, “I can't imagine my life without...?” 

  • 4.  List the necessities in your life.  Some examples might include financial requirements, family responsibilities, and health care.  Do you have to work?  Is your income essential for your family's survival?  Do you have small children or elderly parents to care for?  Before you write each one, ask yourself whether it is really a necessity or is just what is expected of you. 

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    5.  Finish this sentence:  If I could only accomplish one thing in life, it would be...   What do you feel is the single most important thing you can do in this life?  How do you want people to remember you?

    By the time you finish Part I, you should have a pretty good idea of what your real priorities are.  Next, it's time to figure out how to

    Part II – Put First Things First

    1.  Write down the top three things you currently spend most of your time doing.  If you're not sure which activities consume most of your time, try keeping an hour-by-hour log for a week.  You may be surprised at what is actually taking up your time and energy.

    2.  Compare your top thre time consumers with the three things you listed as most important to you in step 1 of “Identify Your Priorities.”  Are you spending most of your time doing what is most important to you?  Chances are you're not.  You may be surprised how much time you spend doing things that seem necessary at the moment, but are not really so important when you look at the big picture.

    3.  List any changes you think would be necessary to enable you to spend more of your time doing what is most important to you.  For example: Get help with house cleaning so I am able to go to my son's soccer game.  Write down any changes that come to mind.  Don't analyze or reject any idea . . . even if it seems far-fetched or impossible.  You can always modify them later – or you may find they are more realistic than you originally thought. 

    4.  List three small steps you can take toward making one or more the changes you identified in step 3.  For example: Search the Internet for ideas of work I can do from home.  Divide household chores among family members.  Check with local grocery stores to see if they have a delivery service.

    These are the beginning steps.  Once you know what your priorities are, you can develop more long range goals and lay out the steps you need to reach them. 

    Remember, changing your life is a long-term process.  Do not be discouraged if some of your goals seem out of reach.  They may be closer than you think.  When I first did these exercises 15 years ago, my top two goals seemed virtually impossible to ever accomplish.  To my surprise, within one year, I had achieved my first goal.  The second followed four years later. 

    Go forth and pursue what captures your heart!

Published On: September 28, 2011