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The Last Word for 2021

The end of 2021 is almost upon us, and hopefully for many of you the end of year rush is slowing down and everyone is looking forward to some time off with friends and family over the holiday season. 

I think it is fair to say that 2021 was not the year we were expecting in this corner of the world, many of us started the year full of hope that it would be a ‘better’ year, with some areas even being able to enjoy concerts and sports events, however the Delta variant reminded us that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and pushed us back into the realm of lockdowns and uncertainty. 

For some, lockdowns have given us opportunity to re-evaluate what is important in life – a chance to slow down and spend time with the kids, to get outside and move our bodies or to get creative in the kitchen, however for others it was a time of increased stress of juggling work and children home from school.

The therapy professions are often based around ‘helping’ other people – helping people recover from an injury or illness, helping a person obtain equipment to maximise their independence or helping a person work towards achieving a desired goal.  But do we take steps to help ourselves?  Do we set goals for the things we want to achieve?  Potentially goals to improve our own mental and physical wellbeing?  And do we implement strategies for ourselves to ensure we achieve our goals? – this is usually the hard part!

Most of us will be familiar with SMART goals – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound, but simply ensuring our goals are SMART might not be enough to help us achieve our goal. What else do we need to consider to ensure our goals are more than wishful thinking?  The goal setting literature makes for interesting reading, with lots of little tips and tricks that may increase the odds of us achieving our goal. 

Things to consider

  • Is the goal you are wanting to achieve your own goal?  One that is meaningful to you? 
  • Are your goals ambitious but attainable?  Do we set goals that not only push us but have us feeling good when we achieve them?
  • Do we set goals for the things we want to do, not the things we don’t?  While a goal such as ‘I am going to read a book in the evening’ may not be that different from ‘I don’t want to go on social media in the evening’, the reality is our brains process these goals differently
  • Do we set an action plan as to how we are going to achieve this goal? Have we identified the practicalities of where, when and how we are going to work towards our goal?   (tip – an action plan is best reviewed weekly)
  • For the times when your action plan gets turned upside down – do you have a ‘coping plan’ to help when your usual routine gets disrupted? 
  • And lastly, what is your goal orientation?  Do you have a mastery mindset or a performance mindset?  I must admit I had to explore this concept further to fully understand the difference.

Mastery goals are goals that we set in which we compete with ourselves – these goals are typically characterised by us seeking out challenges and maximising our opportunities for leaning.

Performance goals are primarily motivated by external feedback, or where we are striving to demonstrate our competence relative to others.

Mastery goals tend to support perseverance and a desire to learn, with failure to achieve the goal leading us to reflect on where we could improve and the resilience to then try again.

Written in this light, we can see how mastery-based goals are what we should be aiming for, and while our goals may start out mastery-based, it can be easy to slip into a performance based mindset.

For example, last year I took up playing squash, with the goal of having one scheduled activity a week that got me out of my home-based office. Season one: goal achieved.  Season two, as my ability to play squash improved, the competitive side of me came out and the goal slowly evolved to wanting to win each game – so play better than my opposition (a performance-based goal). Obviously all was well when I won the game, but I must admit there were weeks when I was beaten and left feeling deflated as I hadn’t ‘achieved my goal’. 

After a series of losses I was left wondering why on earth I was persevering with this sport, when some encouragement from a fellow player lead me to reconsider my approach (and remember why I was there in the first place).  Changing my goal to ‘I need to maintain my focus on the ball’ and ‘I need to position myself to better hit the ball’ (mastery-orientated goals) meant how I felt after the game was based on how I played, not whether I won or lost. 

Why do we slip into a performance mindset?  Perhaps it is our tendency as humans to compare ourselves against others, despite knowing that doing so tends to make us more unhappy if we find ourselves wanting.  Maybe we stop working towards a goal when we become aware of how slow we are to improve on a skill relative to others, forgetting why we set out to learn the skill in the first place? 

The start of a new year can be a good opportunity to stop and reflect on the year that has been and look forward to the year ahead, thinking about what we want to achieve for ourselves and give consideration as to how we might get there.  We need to remember that when we are setting our own goals we want to ‘play our own game’ – identify a challenge that is meaningful (and challenging) to us, make a plan based on what we can manage, and base our success off criteria that are intrinsic to us. 

To those who are reading this – the therapists, the end users, the dealers, our own Permobil team, it is never too late to learn something new, try something new or go somewhere new – I challenge you all to identify something you would like to work towards in 2022, maybe even set a goal to help you get there.


Bailey. R.R. (2017). Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 13(6) DOI: 10.1177/1559827617729634.

Locke, E., Latham, G., Locke. E., et al. (2006). New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 15(5) 265-268  (downloaded from untitled (

Donald, Brooke.  (2012).  Standford Psychologist: Achievement Goals can be Shaped by Environment.  Standford Report, May 10.

Ha, Michelle. (2021) Mastery vs Performance Orientated Goals and Their Influence on Motivation and Success.  Educational Theory and Practice (Blog)

Clinical Education Specialist Rachel Maher

Rachel Maher
Clinical Education Specialist

Rachel Maher graduated from the University of Otago in 2003 with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Physiotherapy (Neurorehabilitation) in 2010. 

Rachel gained experience in inpatient rehabilitation and community Physiotherapy, before moving into a Child Development Service.

Rachel moved into a Wheelchair and Seating Outreach Advisor role at Enable New Zealand in 2014, complementing her clinical knowledge with experience in NZ Ministry of Health funding processes.

Rachel joined Permobil in June 2020, and is passionate about education and working collaboratively to achieve the best result for our end users.

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