The power of daily goals – What healthcare can learn from the Olympics.

Recently I was invited out to coffee by a very successful doctor. As we sat talking and enjoying our extravagant coffee creations, the conversation moved to his oldest son. I was about to learn that my new friend’s son was in a special training camp for elite athletes. Naturally, I asked about his son’s ambitions for competing in the olympics and the response I got was very unexpected.

What I learned is that his son and fellow teammates focus on setting small, short term goals. My new friend’s words were this: (repeating what the trainer said) “we don’t train to get to the Olympics. We train for perfect turns, perfect jumps, perfect form, perfect technique. When those fundamentals get perfected and we can build on them, then our athletes will naturally find their way to the Olympics, but that is never the goal on its own.” I found this little tidbit of information to be intuitive but not obvious. My second thought was how important this small goal mentality is for managing a chronic condition.

This changes the whole conversation, or at least it should.

Often times in the world of medicine I hear about how someone is going to help this patient do something great for their health. Like for instance manage their diabetes. Problem is the goal is too big – we humans can’t wrap our minds around it. In an article I just read about setting small goals the author puts it like this: “…when we set large goals, we are requiring ourselves to also have an equally large belief system to support it.”

So, what happens when the patient doesn’t believe they have the power to manage their condition? The default behavior is to try hard for a period of time and eventually give up because, well… it was bound to happen eventually.

Let’s try this again…

What happens when a care manager says something like this:

“Here is an app that will help you get outside and play with your kids. All you have to do is check this button after the reminder goes off to take your medication.”

If you’re like me, the second option sounds much more achievable and realistic.

  • In time, your goals get a little bigger.
  • You take a moment to consider where you are today, and where you were yesterday.
  • A sense of achievement and accomplishment washes over, a smile starts to form.
  • The smile turns to a smirk.
  • You realize for the first time – you are doing it.

Keep up the great work.


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