A lesson from my military days helps me manage holiday plans

The CARVER matrix is a good tool for activity planning with MS

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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When I was in the military, I wore several different hats. A U.S. Special Forces team has only 12 soldiers, so we couldn’t afford for anyone to know just one trick, no matter how good that trick might be.

In addition to each person’s primary job, everyone had to know how to carry out detailed planning and make decisions. A frequently used tool for these tasks is known as the CARVER matrix. It’s a simple acronym used in business settings and military operations, with each letter standing for an aspect of target, or goal, selection. Each potential target is assigned a numeric value for every letter, the numbers are added up, and the best goal is chosen accordingly.

I explained this aid to my kids once, and they were so taken by it that they’ve used forms of CARVER to decide between vacation spots and places to eat. I’ve even started to use a version adapted for my multiple sclerosis (MS). I may not be choosing military targets anymore, but all too often, MS symptoms and related disabilities make careful planning for outings a must.

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Using CARVER for holiday plans

The “C” stands for criticality. Social events are especially plentiful during the holiday season. When choosing which ones to attend, how critical — how important — is it that I go? The expectations of family and friends, along with my own wishes, all play a part in assigning a value. In the end, one will be most valuable to me and the others may have to wait, depending on how they score in the other five categories.

The “A” stands for accessibility. This term means nearly the same thing for a soldier as it does for someone with limited mobility because of MS. Can I get into the venue easily, or at all? A choice may rank first in criticality, but be completely derailed by accessibility.

The “R” is for recuperability. In military terms, this concept refers to how quickly something can be repaired, rebuilt, or replaced after it’s been attacked. In MS terms, I’m that something. How long will it take me to recover from an activity? Some things are worth the recovery, but it’s still an important self-care consideration.

Next is “V,” for vulnerability. From a targeting standpoint, an objective’s vulnerability should be an obvious consideration. For my MS decision-making process, this step encompasses all of the things I might not have covered under accessibility — things like parking, weather, overnight stays, bathrooms, and so on. How easy will it be for me to just “be” at the event?

Then there’s “E,” which stands for effect. This one is simple to explain, but not always simple to consider. What effect will my choice have on me if I don’t attend? What effect will it have on others?

Finally, we have “R,” for recognizability. This term would normally mean how easy a target is to identify, which is pretty important. In my MS version of CARVER, I think about how recognizable my abilities are. Knowing my capabilities and being aware that they’re prone to change helps keep expectations realistic. That includes my own expectations. I’m often guilty of not recognizing my capabilities or being realistic about them.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you draw a chart every time a decision has to be made, because I certainly don’t. CARVER is just another concept from my past that I’ve applied to my present and am now boring you with. We all probably subconsciously do something like this protocol before any outing anyway. But CARVER is perhaps a more conscious version of that decision-making process. It offers a few things to consider if you find yourself swamped with holiday activities this season.

Proper and realistic planning is caring for yourself and those who care about you.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Carole Trainer avatar

Carole Trainer

Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thank you Carrie. I read that to my kids and they got a good laugh over the "wisdom" part.
Thanks for reading and the compliment.

Marybeth avatar


I always enjoy your column but today’s truly resonated. Thank you!

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

You are so welcome! Thanks for reading it.


Mike avatar


Great stuff! Thank you for your service to our county as well as to our MS community.

CARVER is magnificent.

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

CARVER is pretty magnificent right up until it stops me from doing what I want with its practical reasoning. Thanks Mike!


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