A New You: Resolutions and Change with RA
‘Tis the season for making extravagant promises to yourself about getting healthy, losing weight, getting in shape and any number of other life improvements. Such goals can be intimidating when you have RA and have more barriers to success than just a waning willpower and the need for chocolate chip cookies. Pain and side effects to medication are just two of the challenges that can get between you and your goal. When you're tired from the minute you get up and it takes all your energy to get through the day, setting a goal for change — any change, really — can be overwhelming.
Eight years ago, I was in the middle of an unrelenting flare. It had been part of my life for close to a year, taking everything I had and everything I was. And eight years ago this week, I got my first shot of Enbrel and for the first time in my 40 years with RA, a medication worked. It took a long time to get strength and stamina back — not weeks or months, but years. In fact, I am still getting stronger. The increase in strength and ability is less noticeable now than in the beginning, but when I reflect on when I was a year ago and where I am now, at the beginning of another year, the change is obvious. This process has made me look at change with RA in a completely different light. I have realized that creating lasting change requires a shift in perspective. You have to balance the right now with a long-term perspective.
"If you can make today—right now—different, you don’t have to worry about a whole year of different.”
- Joel Friedlander on The Book Designer
Looking down a long road towards your future goal can be more than a bit intimidating. If you're planning to create a significant change, such as losing weight, getting fit, quitting smoking, etc., the difference between now when you've barely started and the time when you will be successful can seem insurmountable. Focusing solely on the present moment, instead of how much work it will take to reach your goal, can make all the difference.
You can't go back in time and change what happened yesterday. You can't travel into the future to see what will happen in a year. The only thing you can control is right now. Today at this moment, you can choose to eat vegetables instead of fries, not smoke, be kind to yourself, take an extra step, meditate, breathe deeply and count to 10 instead of yelling at your kids (or traffic) and recycle a magazine instead of adding it to a pile. When you wake up tomorrow, you control what happens then.
Don't think about what you'll do next week, next month or six months from now. Just focus on what you're doing today. By taking it one step at a time, change becomes a small, doable task. Over time, these small changes create bigger ones.
Had you asked me to create a plan to change from being weak and debilitated from a long-term flare to the strength and stamina I have today, I would likely have curled up into a ball, overwhelmed with the task and not believing that it was possible. Luckily, no one asked me to do that and instead, I took it one step at a time and – by necessity - focused on what happened in the present.
The Long-Term Perspective
Creating any kind of lasting change takes time. Depending on the kind of change you're trying to make, it can take anywhere from two months to a year. In other words, change doesn't happen overnight. Remembering that your one step at a time is just one piece of a larger picture can help you stay motivated. Just make sure you don't get stuck on focusing how far you still have to go.
Keeping the long view is also a built-in protection against the times when you fall off the wagon. Some days you'll forget, some days you'll hurt too much to make the extra effort and sometimes you won't be in the mood. As you set about making a change in your life, assume you won't be perfect. Be ready to forgive yourself when you get sidetracked from your goal or RA takes the lead for a while. When that happens, don't waste time and energy berating yourself or getting lost in frustration — it undermines resolve. Instead, just get back on track at the first available opportunity. Sometimes, your process will be one step forward, two steps back, but when you look at it from a long-term perspective, the direction will still be forward. And that's what it's all about.
Making changes that stick is an easy for anyone, but when you have RA or another chronic condition, you may have additional barriers to reaching your goals. Focusing on what you can do in the present is an excellent way to exert control over your life in a situation where sometimes, the disease takes control. Remembering that a lot of small moments add up to larger change in the long-term can give you the motivation and patience you need when life throws you a curve ball.
Carrie Beth’s post on making resolutions last has more on making resolutions work in the long-term.
Lene is the author of the award-winning blog The Seated View.