How to set goals that are realistic? Feeling guilty


I know the 'SMART' method. I think in the past I had trouble with what I thought was specific enough. This year in September I actually set and made measurable goals that I even scaled down to what I thought was reasonable. That involved a lot of thinking, and research of the potential time needed for things I wasn't sure about, and several sessions of couple of hours braindumping goals and thinking of what I want to achieve and why and when. Breaking into tasks even. It was all going well.
One really bad health back issue flare later I have almost no progress done in 2 months on these goals. And they are mostly important big goals, not my wishlist stuff.
How do I reset and make more realistic goals? Especially if I have a feeling like I have limited time to sort of 'get myself together' kind of?? Meaning, for several years my PTSD had been low-functioning and I was barely surviving, and that was between these critical years you start first jobs and families and so on... So now I feel like to a functioning adult at my age I need to achieve certain milestones at faster timeline than my peers to 'catch up'. Like for a first time in years I'm considering having an office job (while continuing being entrepreneur on the side) with which I face gaps in my resume from the PTSD. I still don't have my driver's license (thankfully less important where I live, but still). I still have no savings and I really need to figure out how things stand with my retirement. I've been planning to have savings for years, but debt always came first, and I never had a budget to swing both. I also need to get in shape because any weight affects my current back issue so this is now health issue as well. Like, there is a lot going on even setting aside any achievement goals like eventually having master's. I have achieved a LOT in the last year and a half(from where I started) but there is still a lot I need to be well adjusted and not feel like any crisis will blow me away(not to mention, years like this one).

How do I set realistic goals now considering wanting to catch up, but not making goals so big that they are setting me for failure?
Also how do I not feel guilty over the years I missed due to PTSD? (still have it, just now I know better how to cope. relatively)


I wouldn't feel guilty for missing years. If you weren't well then you have a valid reason which isn't anyone else's business really. Lots of people get sick and go back to work after having time off. In terms of setting goals sometimes you have to have smaller goals in order to get to the bigger ones. It's like a chain. I haven't worked in years but I've done some voluntary work and hope to get back into it. Little steps.


Late to the game here, but the nice thing about your goals is you can edit and change them as you find you need! For me, the hardest part about a SMART goal is the "realistic" piece. I never truly know what's realistic to me! So what I do is I think about what FEELS reasonable to me, set the big end goal, then set short term goals that I put on my calendar.

I'm a psychologist* that sets goals with a team with students in mind, and if the students aren't meeting the short term goals then either we need to determine what we are doing wrong or check to see if the goal can be done in a reasonable amount of time. We then adjust to keep the goal challenging but not out-of-reach. :)

Sometimes it requires a little fiddling, and that's okay! There are no rules, and sometimes the goal posts move.

My biggest suggestion is start with only one goal, work with your T (they'll be able to help you determine what is reasonable for you as well!), and set short term goals to track your progress.

I hope this helps and if you have any questions or I wasn't clear, let me know and I will clarify or answer anything!


@Chitoshi thank you for the long answer!
Two questions:
1.what if I can't discuss it with t.? (can't afford one rn and the free center is closed due to the global situation)
2. What if there are goals I feel I need to happen with a frame but at the same time I'm managing unpredictable health issue? (all of this also raising flags in my mental health)
(looking for work and no savings, some side work but need local at least part time job asap so job or some form of income-can probably manage next month with the side work but beyond I don't know)
Health issue us is back sciatica, this week managable with occasional laying breaks but 2 weeks ago I could barely walk.
How do I set goals that fit the situation but also I can cope with?


A realistic goal is a goal I can actually achieve, yes?

So if I’m struggling to even go to the bathroom once a day (health issue, extreme fatigue & muscle wasting, secondary to pulmonary issues), I can have as a goal to go to the bathroom AND shower AND get dressed AND dry my hair all in one go... but that’s a) not going to happen right away, & b) not going to happen all at once. It took months to get there.

- Was it a realistic goal? Certainly.
- Was it a realistic goal IF I set it to be achieved BY next week? Certainly not.
- Was it a realistic goal IF I set it to be all at once? Again, no.
- Was it a realistic goal IF I set it to be one & done? (After peeing, taking a shower, getting dressed, & dryin my hair once, to assume that from that day onward I’d always do/be able to do all those things together)? Nope!

It matters not one bit how much I wanted to be able to do those things, (because we were talking illness, not motivation), nor what I’d lose if I couldn’t do those things.

The goal, by itself, was realistic. The time frame was unrealistic, and the pressures in no way make the time frame more realistic. Again, because we’re not talking motivation. We were talking illness.

If you’re used to setting goals that are based on a motivational framework? Yep. Dealing with a different framework (like physical inability) can be a barefoot path over broken glass to try and navigate, if you try and apply the same rules as you do for things like anxiety & depression & loss of motivation.

Remove the pressures. Desire & detriment don’t give a f*ck about physical issues. So it doesn’t matter how much you want it, or what happens if you don’t achieve it. Look PURELY at the goal. Do what you can to achieve it. The closer you get towards achieving it, the better an idea you’ll have about the timeframe.


Thank you for saying this, first of all! I always find that you have very thoughtful and useful responses.
Second, I am sorry for your health issues, that sounds rough!

As far as the setting goals advice, I think I needed to hear this. As mentioned, I am not new to trying to cope and nudge my way through the whole world of PTSD/anxiety/depression etc. issues. Dealing with trying to achieve what's needed and coping with physical issue (of the sort that goes on for longer than a month and is big and possibly chronic?)- totally new to me.

Ballet used to be my domain for venting out mental stuff and expressing myself and all that... and now every showing up for class is a struggle. And even more- having to sit out certain things when my back is too bad. Physical activities and exercise has been a huge coping skill for me and having to push myself to do exercise or even go to the store- also completely new. I will admit I'm a little lost.

I am in need to job hunt, and of course, I have other things I want to achieve. And yes. I have spent most of my life setting goals under the motivational framework. Though to be fair, that also may have lead to me being super hard on myself in the first years of coping with PTSD.

I will do my best to apply the advice you gave in the last paragraph. This whole thing with physical illness is reaaaally new to me and I guess I'm still adapting to the fact that it's happening/going to be around for a while. (started last december, though it's had good and bad periods of course).
Again, Thank you so much! I REALLY needed to hear this~!


I'm dealing with this too. Take cleaning my apartment for instance. To clean one room in one day is unrealistic. Maybe I can clean a kitchen counter in one day might work, that is if I don't just put the stuff on another counter. Hiring house keepers hasn't even helped. One just gave me notice that she is quitting at the end of the year. I think I found another, but time will tell.


I'm dealing with this too. Take cleaning my apartment for instance. To clean one room in one day is unrealistic. Maybe I can clean a kitchen counter in one day might work, that is if I don't just put the stuff on another counter. Hiring house keepers hasn't even helped. One just gave me notice that she is quitting at the end of the year. I think I found another, but time will tell.
I've found a huge help to that end is having a place for everything. So for example when you get mail, to have space for it near the door, not just throw on a random table. Or have a basket next to your bed for the clothes you take off. Things like that. I literally recently added a hook in my hallway for putting any masks that would usually be staying on tables because until last year we didn't need them and hence they didn't have place. The bathroom washing mashine cover and the kitchen table started to pile with random sanitary masks now- so eventually, they got their own hook to put on.
It's something that took me years to master and didn't even notice I had mastered until I moved in with a younger roommate. She cleans a lot but she can also make chaos in 2 seconds flat because when she cooks or does her make up and she's in a hurry, she never returns things back in place. So you know, the more you automatically have a spot to return things to, the harder is the make a mess without thinking. Though I have to admit when I was at my worst anxiety wise I couldn't think about that, it was painful to at all exist and do any task. So you know... do the best you can and just keep improving over time... it's all we can do.

I'm super-struggling with the goals right now, because I think that they usually anchor me to work in a certain direction, you know? So if I push myself too much I can get overwhelmed. But if I don't work on goals at all for a while I start feeling like I'm drifting with no purpose or direction and that can easily spiral in the other direction.

Anyway. Thank you for writing. Good to know I'm not alone. I'm struggling a lot now, it's a hard month.
Maybe it's good that you reminded me of this thread now. Maybe I need to try to reset my goals to be more grounded for whatever may come.