Before my concussion, I was always busy.
I worked long hours, travelled three times a year, hosted parties, played sports, volunteered and maintained a blog. I had one-year fitness goals, five-year career goals, 10-year family goals, and 30-year financial goals. After my injury, my symptoms were so debilitating and unpredictable that I couldn’t even make plans for 10 minutes in the future. I was close to giving up entirely, until I changed my perspective and approach to goal-setting.
How to Set Goals After a Brain Injury
Step 1: Change Your Perspective and Set Your Goal(s).
First you have to decide what you want your goal to be. It is imperative you don’t set yourself up for failure by having unfair expectations. If you set an unrealistic goal, you will de-motivate yourself and give up. Through accomplishing a series of challenging, yet do-able goals, you will achieve the once seemingly impossible ones.
Set simple goals that are achievable in the short term (i.e. daily and/or weekly). Then gradually work your way up to more difficult goals.
After my injury, just lifting my head off the bed to drink water was exhausting, so my first goal was to perform one task every three days. Tasks included taking a shower, folding clothes, or going to an appointment. Once I could do that, I slowly increased the frequency and difficulty of the tasks.
I then added outings to my goals, which later included running errands. Eventually, I was performing multiple tasks each day, having outings a few times per week, and running multiple errands per outing.
As my energy levels improved, I also set my first fitness goal, to walk for at least 10 minutes each day. Over time, this evolved to taking longer walks and faster-paced walks. Once I had more confidence in my capabilities, I focused on social goals. I started with phone conversations and one-on-one meetings, before working my way up to group dinners at bustling restaurants. Finally, I started hosting parties in my home.
Exercise is well-known to improve brain function, depression, anxiety, and sleeping problems. Furthermore, recent studies indicate that moderate exercise is the best treatment for concussions.
Step 2: Plan Out Your Goals and Take One Tiny Step at a Time.
Now that you’ve set your goal, the next step towards achieving it is to make a plan. Write your plan down on a piece of paper so you can follow it easily and cross things off as you complete them.
The best approach to planning (and executing that plan), is to take things one tiny step at a time. Break down each goal into as many small, manageable components as you can, then tackle one component at a time. The definition of ‘manageable’ is different for everyone and will change as you recover.
For example, these were the tiny, manageable steps that I planned for my goal of going for a walk:
- Stand up (you could break this step down further. e.g. lift head off bed, then lift head and shoulders off bed, then sit up, then sit on the side of the bed, then stand up.)
- Drink some water
- Change my clothes
- Gather my cell phone, keys, and health card
- Put walking/running shoes on
- Leave the house (i.e. simply step outside)
- Start walking (even if it’s just a few feet) and rest as needed
- Walk home and rest as needed
- Drink some water
When you start executing your plan, the most important thing to remember is to focus only on the task. Don’t even think about how you’re going to tackle the next step until you’ve completed the current one. That means, not worrying about whether or not you’ll be able to complete all of the steps, and not counting the number of steps you have left.
Taking one tiny step at a time will earn you little wins, keep you motivated, and make your goal seem less daunting. Take breaks when you need them and try again later.
It helps to have someone else’s support when you’re working towards a goal, but only if they understand the importance of taking things one step at a time. I remember one night in the winter, my partner wanted to take me to the mall to help me achieve my daily walking goal. I was fatigued and dizzy and convinced that I wouldn’t be able to do it. But he talked me through one step at a time. He said, we’re just going to get in the car and we’re just going to drive to the mall. If you’re still not feeling well when we get there, you don’t have to get out of the car, we’ll come straight home. So he helped me up off the couch and into the car. He drove me to the mall, turned the engine off, and asked if I was able to get out of the car. I was, and in that moment, we set a goal of walking to the mall entrance and back. When I got to the entrance, I felt okay, so we went inside. That night, I ended up walking for longer than my daily goal.
So when you’re faced with a particularly daunting moment, keep repeating to yourself, “I’m just going to do this tiny task. That’s not too hard.” One and a half years of tiny steps later, I jogged 5 km in the BIST Run, Walk & Roll. I’m working towards running a 10 km race next year.
Step 3: Be Flexible and Be Kind to Yourself.
Celebrate each tiny success and never criticize or punish yourself for set-backs. Goal-setting after a brain injury requires time and practice through trial and error, so be patient with yourself, do what you can, and be flexible with changes to your plans. If something’s not working for you, try again and then try something different. You might need to re-evaluate your goals, revisit them at a later time, or break certain steps into smaller components. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help.
Step 4: Set New Goals and Keep Challenging Yourself.
As your symptoms improve, you’ll be able to accomplish more each day. When you’re further along in your recovery process, gradually increase the breadth and difficulty of your steps. Soon, you’ll be working on various goals (e.g. fitness, cognitive, financial and social) simultaneously.
Eventually, your goals will become more and more challenging, complex, and long-term. No matter what your physical barriers are, there’s always something to learn, something to improve, and new ways to challenge yourself. As long as you take things one step at a time, you’ll look back one day and surprise yourself with how far you’ve come.
‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other trauma). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.
As many of you know, we’re saying goodbye to our longtime programs and services coordinator, Kat Powell, this week as she heads off to school in another province. Over the past eight years, Kat has been the heart of BIST, and has helped us become what we are today. We’ll miss you Kat, and we wish you the very best with this new phase of your life!
Read our blogger and peer mentor volunteer Mark Koning’s tribute to Kat below. Even if you haven’t meet Kat, you’ll be touched.
BY: MARK KONING
It was at the tender age of six that I was hospitalized with a viral brain infection. While I became a Survivor, I grew up shadowed by a darkness I did not understand. Years passed by before I received the diagnosis I did not even know to ask for.
Confusion, fear, frustration, anger, loneliness, and a further list the length of a forearm, made it clear to me that during the “unknown” period in my life, something was not right. But also, that there was something bright and shiny from within to give and share with others.
When I first became truly aware of my injury, certain relief was felt. It was not until I met Kat that I became awakened to a purpose.
Along my path since that young age of six, I have learned many things, including this: those that inspire often don’t realize what they have done or come to mean in someone’s life.
My uncertainty was put at ease as I was brought to a safe space. The comfort I was given led to confidence being built.
O’ Mentor, my Mentor;
From Coordinator to inspiration;
Through the love, the laughter, the growth, awareness and knowledge;
You have developed Superheroes in a small community, all of whom I have witnessed look up to you. You have left your mark and will always be remembered by many.
My journey with BIST was a new step. With uncertainty and a little hesitation, I reached out and you offered me a branch of strength. You made me believe in what I could give, that I had something to offer, and you helped me continue to grow; as I’m sure you did with others.
Because of your helping hand, I can now be referred to as, not only Survivor, but:
Thank you, Kat.
As your position changes, I know your heart does not.
This is not a “goodbye”, but “until next time”. Because once inspiration is engraved, it never really leaves.
Get to know Julie Notto, BIST’s new programs and services coordinator, HERE!
Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back, has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing, for others as well as himself. His experience as a Survivor, Caregiver, Mentor and Writer, has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com.
BY: MARK KONING
Whether you are a survivor or caregiver to someone with a brain injury, it is sometimes quite difficult to find a confidant that you can feel comfortable talking with when it comes to issues such as the stresses, emotional trauma or everyday hardships that can be inflicted upon one’s life. An individual can run the risk of losing friends, or in some cases, even family members.
BY: JANET CRAIG
While breakfast may not be in fact the most important meal of the day, our columnist Chef Janet Craig has this mind blowing vanilla protein pancake recipe for you to enjoy, which might just put that ‘most important meal’ of the day theory to the test.
As always, this recipe is easy, nutritious and delicious. So what are you waiting for?
Vanilla Protein Pancakes
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 to 1/3 cup club soda
3 egg whites
1 cup vanilla protein powder
Stevia to taste
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Heat a nonstick pan on medium high and use a coating spray. Cook pancakes and serve with berries or light agave syrup.
Chef Janet Craig recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.
BY: RICHARD HASKELL
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”
Human beings are emotional and irrational creatures. We’re guided by the heart, and we respond emotionally to the sounds that music creates.
According to a paper presented at the University of London, music can even affect our perception of visual images.
The role of music in brain rehabilitation therapy has undergone some significant changes as a result of new information gathered from research into music and brain function. Because music is a highly-structured auditory language, one that requires perception and cognitive motor control, researchers have now found it can be a vital way of retraining and re-educating an injured brain.
For example, people who have suffered an ABI often have difficulties regaining speech, particularly if the trauma happened on the left side of the brain, the side that controls speech and comprehension. Music areas are located on both sides of the brain, and music can be used to bypass the language channels that have been damaged. This “backdoor” approach has been used to teach those suffering an ABI or a stroke to regain their control of speech, often by means of singing familiar songs.
Therapists and physicians now use music in rehabilitation in ways that are not only backed up by clinical research findings but also supported by an understanding of some of the mechanisms of music and brain function.
In 2011, American congresswoman Gabby Giffords suffered an TBI after an assassination attempt on her life. Five weeks later, she was experiencing a challenging time relearning how to talk as she attempted to recall words for certain objects. A therapist implemented a program of music therapy and from then on, her progress skyrocketed. Nineteen months later, in September 2012, Gabby was able to walk on stage at the Democratic National Convention to address the delegates. And just two months after that, she met her assailant face –to- face in the courtroom where he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The power of music in brain injury rehabilitation is two-fold –
- It provides unconditional emotional support and enjoyment for an ABI survivor
- From a medical perspective, it’s proving to play a significant role in the healing process of brain injuries.
Songs that instill a sense of strength and survival take on a special meaning for those with the affects of brain injury.
Here’s a list of 15 – in no particular order – with just this theme – compiled especially for Brain Injury Awareness Month – ENJOY!
Heal the World – Michael Jackson
From Michael Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous, the uplifting Heal the World was the song he was most proud to have written.
Carry On – Olivia Holt
This song released in 2014 by actor and singer Olivia Holt explains that life is full of challenges and that we must make the best of them by simply carrying on.
It’s Gonna be Alright – Sara Groves
This song by American contemporary Christian singer Sara Groves was included on her 2005 CD Add to the Beauty, its lyrics offer words of reassurance to those facing hard times.
The Climb – Miley Cyrus
Written for the 2009 film Hanna Montana, The Climb focuses not only on overcoming adversity but recognizing the merit in dealing with struggle. Try not to get too distracted by Cyrus’ back-in-the-day G-Rated appearance.
Hall of Fame –The Script ft. will.i.am
The lead single from The Script’s third studio album #3, Hall of Fame also features hip-hop artist will.i.am and focuses on following dreams and achieving greatness in yourself.
Don’t Give Up – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush
Inspired by the depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange, Peter Gabriel wrote this song in 1986 and recorded it with Kate Bush for his CD So.
Ain’t no Mountain High enough- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
This classic from 1967 with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell relates the timeless message that having a special person we can depend on is paramount.
Brave – Sara Bareilles
Written by the American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, Brave appeared in her fourth studio album The Blessed Unrest and deals with having enough courage to say what you think and the importance of being yourself.
Hey World (Don’t Give Up) – Michael Franti & Spearhead
Musician, filmmaker and humanitarian Michael Franti wrote this song about holding on in hard times and remembering that all things are possible.
So Small – Carrie Underwood
So Small was the first single from Carrie Underwood’s second studio album, Carnival Ride, released during the summer of 2007. In her own words, “it’s a feeling song on how people invest so much of their time and energy into things that aren’t really important, and how they don’t really realize it until it’s too late.”
Go the Distance – Michael Bolton
Written for Disney’s 1997 animated feature film, Hercules, Go the Distance focuses on reaching a goal while facing obstacles and the power of persistence.
Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
Journey’s classic anthem from 1981 relates that no matter how difficult the circumstances we may find ourselves in, the solution is simple – never give up!
Not Afraid – Eminem
This 2010 release by American rapper Eminem contains a defiant message urging us to take a stand no matter how difficult the odds.
You Gotta Be – Des’Ree
Written by the singer with the track’s producer, Ashley Ingram, You Gotta Be was the first song on Des’ree’s 1994 album I Ain’t Movin’. New York critic Stuart Elliott described it as “an infectiously sunny tune about the affirmative powers of self-confidence.”
When You Believe – Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston
Written by Stephen Schwartz for the 1998 animated feature The Prince of Egypt, When You Believe was recorded by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston for the end credits. Its powerful message is simple – miracles can occur if you simply believe in them.