But there is another strategy we can employ and one that works well when dealing with unknowns like the outcome of healing. This strategy is the art of the small goal.
The path of recovering from illness and injury can be unpredictable. We don't know how far we will come or what the ups and downs and turns along the way might bring. Focusing only on a long range intended result may both frustrate and discourage us and may take our attention away from what we need to do.
This not to say that we should wander aimlessly without direction and a sense of purpose. But we might try holding that direction in a general way without giving ourselves a fixed outcome. We can do this both with strength and with a kind of spaciousness, allowing for discovery and variation. I have met people who, in the course of their recovery, had one specific goal in mind. Their sense of their healing is defined by the belief that if they didn't achieve that one specific goal and achieve it quickly their efforts are a "failure". And I have known other people who decided to become and stay as well as they possibly can be but are open to discovering exactly what that means, without a preconceived specific idea or a particular measure.
I saw a person the other day whom I had not seen since his stroke a few months ago. Paul is early into his recovery. He is young, in college still (Yes, young people have strokes). Initially paralyzed on his dominant side, Paul is healing well, but still has a long way to go. Paul intends to go back to college. He does not know what that will mean for him yet - if he will have full use of his hand when he goes - if his walking will be more even and without a cane - but Paul is determined to go back to school. Paul has established going back to school as a general direction. And he is willing to discover and work with whatever amount of healing he has along the way.
Paul could have said that he would not be well enough to go back to college unless he met a big, specific goal, like the complete restoration of use of his dominant hand, but he hasn't. There is no doubt that Paul wants the use of his hand, but there is also no doubt that Paul is willing to work to find out what he might achieve by focusing on what he can do each day and continuing with his life regardless.
The art of the small goal is putting our full attention on the small thing we can achieve today and letting go of the need to measure our success by some narrowly defined, long-range outcome. Martha, when she began to learn to walk again, started by being able to lift her injured leg only a very short distance. Her hip began to respond, but she could not yet bend her knee. The changes were slow. She could move her leg a little bit. The next day she could move it a tiny fraction more, and then, after many more days she could bend the knee a little. Each day brought a tiny discovery. Martha didn't judge her results by measuring them against the whole leg movement. She didn't say to herself, "Oh this is no good. I can't walk around the block. I haven't achieved the results I want so this amount of movement is a failure." She said to herself, "Let me see what small improvement I can find today."
You might be amazed at how many people I meet who become deeply discouraged because they don't meet a big goal quickly and then give up trying altogether. Holding determination for a general direction of healing, while letting go of outcomes is essential. One small goal at a time is the focus that will help us. When we learn to focus on the small goals, we have achievements to celebrate, rather than measurements of failures to dishearten us.
When we focus on the small goals our creativity is stimulated. When we let go of big, specific outcomes, we make a space to discover what is emerging. What emerges might be something we never imagined, something we can work with in a new way.
And, amazingly enough, when we focus on small goals and achieve them one at a time, more often than not they add up to big goals.