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How to Set Goals and Achieve Them with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living Well

March 17, 2022

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Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United

Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United

by Stefanie Remson


Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ


by Stefanie Remson


Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ


Where will you be in five years? One month? Tomorrow? Chronic illness can make the future difficult to visualize.

To have success in life, you must set goals. Goals provide you with direction and focus, both personally and professionally.

This is true for people who live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), too.

Setting goals is easy, but achieving them can be tough. It’s hard to challenge yourself to be different, do more, or make a change. Your brain is wired to find the paths that work and stick with them. Setting goals requires making new pathways and stepping outside your comfort zone.

The combination of New Year’s resolutions and COVID-19 reopenings has seemingly built a universal pressure to make 2022 great. Many are striving to do more, be more, and achieve more. But doing so takes motivation, energy, time, and commitment.

These are all common hurdles everyone needs to overcome when setting new goals. We’ve all joined a gym and never gone, signed up for an art class that we never attended, or bought a skin care regimen that we just couldn’t stick to.

RA impacts your life in so many ways. Some are obvious, and some are not. Sometimes RA can make expected problems even harder, and sometimes they can seem entirely impossible to overcome.

For example, maybe you already have a hard time getting moving in the morning. To further complicate this, you took your methotrexate last night and feel mentally and physically exhausted.

Maybe you have never enjoyed exercise, but now your joint pain and inflammation in your feet makes it painful to walk.

Maybe you actually do have the motivation to finish that big project at work, but your wrist pain is limiting your ability to type.

The truth is that RA can add another layer to life’s challenges. RA can complicate goals and achievements. RA can impact your ability to be productive. RA, however, does not limit your potential to achieve your goals.

Here are some tips to help you set goals, achieve them, and increase productivity with RA.

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Goals should be specific

Setting a goal of wanting to exercise more doesn’t lead to any measurable action. A more specific goal would be deciding to walk for 10 minutes every day.

Similarly, many want to eat better. However, this is vague and hard to measure. A more achievable goal would be choosing to fill a third of your plate with vegetables for every meal. This is both actionable and measurable.

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Write down your goals

Keep the list somewhere that’s easily accessible and editable. This can be on a piece of paper taped to your mirror or in a notes application on your phone or computer.

Look at the list daily and anytime you need a little extra motivation. If your goals seem too lofty, or you are completing them with ease, change it up. There’s nothing wrong with re-evaluating as you go. Adjusting as needed helps create goals you can actually stick to long term.

The best part of a list is that you can check each item off at the end of each day with a sense of accomplishment. Celebrate those mini victories!

Keep goals achievable and realistic

Losing 60 pounds in a month, or even 3 months, is not achievable or realistic. Setting a goal of RA remission in the next 30 days is unfortunately not achievable or realistic either.

Looking to lose a few pounds? Try something slow and sustainable. Aim for 1 to 2 pounds per week. A healthy longer term goal could be to lose 5 pounds in the next 6 weeks.

Goals should not be limited to diet and exercise. Some of the biggest differences can be seen in prioritizing self-care in other ways. Maybe it’s 30 minutes a day spent outside, or developing a simple skin care routine you can actually stick to.

When it comes to RA, there are little things you can do that add up to some major life improvements. Maybe you’ve been putting off an appointment with your rheumatologist. Maybe you’re going to work to better communicate how RA impacts your life. Another realistic goal might be trying to stay open-minded to the available treatment options.

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Stay open to new opportunities

Maybe you weren’t expecting the project, promotion, or new job title, but at least consider it.

RA patients often turn down opportunities due to perceived limitations. Don’t let your assumptions hold you back. You never know where opportunities will take you.

You may not know your true limits with RA until you challenge yourself with a goal in mind.

Set a realistic time frame

If you set goals in too short of a time frame, they may not be achievable. When you have RA, tasks, like increasing physical activity, can increase joint pain and inflammation.

Even if you’re the type to hit the ground running, make sure to pace yourself and take plenty of breaks along the way.

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Break down your goals into smaller daily actions

A study from 2012 recommended small and sustainable changes for the best success. It’s more gratifying to feel a little success every day, especially in the beginning of taking on something new.

For example, it’s much less intimidating to incorporate a 15-minute walk into each day than it is to get 10,000 steps in right off the bat.

Ask for help

Asking for help is hard for people with RA, but it doesn’t have to be!

If you need extra help around the house, cooking meals, or with childcare to make time for your health goals, do not be ashamed to ask.

If cooking is just not your thing, consider a meal prep service or let yourself order takeout. If cleaning your shower is the bane of your existence, consider the logistics of hiring a cleaning service once or twice a month.

While outsourcing your chores may seem like a shortcut, doing so will allow you to prioritize other aspects of life you may be neglecting.

However, hiring extra help is not accessible to everyone. These services can be expensive, and a financial burden is the last thing you need to add to your plate.

Consider reaching out to friends or family to lend you some support while you get started. You may find that, once you fall into a routine, your goals will not seem so daunting after all.

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Find a source of accountability

Pick a point person to hold you accountable. It’s best if they have a goal of their own. This way, you can hold each other accountable and celebrate your wins together.

Social media has made connecting with people with similar goals, backgrounds, and experiences easier than ever. Find someone to be your virtual buddy in achieving your goals. If you both have the same goals, the energy you bounce off of each other becomes electric, and your wins will feel even more victorious.

Avoid multitasking

When you multitask, you’re not truly present for anything. It might seem like the best method for getting things done in a pinch, but when it comes to your own well-being, there’s no reason to sacrifice quality.

Close the door. Turn off your notifications. Focus.

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Schedule it

Dedicate dates and times to your specific goals. Put it in your calendar. When you know you have dedicated time for something, you will worry less about it.

Try to view your goals as nonnegotiable parts of your schedule. Adding them into your calendar can help solidify them into your daily routine.

Stick with it, and keep your eye on the prize

Try not to let an off day derail you. If you stray from your goals, don’t fret. Just try to get back on track tomorrow. Every day is a new day.

Setbacks are inevitable, and it’s important to acknowledge that failing to perfectly meet your goals is more likely than not. Instead of getting discouraged about a broken streak, try to redirect.

Think about why you set this goal in the first place. Why do you want to accomplish this goal? Is it for your health? Your future financial stability? Your children? Focusing on the reasoning behind the goal can be a motivating way to pick yourself back up when you feel discouraged.

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Have self compassion

You will have many setbacks. No road to success is a straight line. As you know, RA can be very unpredictable, just like life. Be kind to yourself. Show yourself extra love on the hard days.

If you have a bad day, always remember tomorrow is a brand new one. A single bad day is not a failure — instead, it’s a small bump in the road to a healthier, happier you.

It may seem daunting at first, but setting goals and achieving them is possible for you. RA may add some extra hurdles, but having RA has made you resilient. You’ve got this!

Fact checked on March 17, 2022

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About the author

Stefanie Remson

Ms. Stefanie Remson MSN, APRN, FNP-BC is the CEO and founder of She is a family nurse practitioner and is a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient herself. She has spent her entire life serving the community as a healthcare professional and has refused to let RA slow her down. She has worked with The Arthritis Foundation, The Lupus Foundation of America, Healthline, Grace and Able, Arthritis Life, Musculo, Aila, and HopeX. You can learn more at her website and on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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