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5 Tips for Setting and Keeping Mental Health Goals

Feb 20, 2019

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According to U.S. News, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. If you want to be one of the people who succeeds, keep reading.

According to U.S. News, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. If you want to be one of the people who succeeds, keep reading.

Setting goals and reaching them is very beneficial to your mental health. However, not reaching goals can also increase feelings of depression and anxiety. So how do you make sure you stick to your goals and reap the positive benefits? In this blog, we will discuss 5 tips for setting and keeping goals. 

1. Identify the Areas of Your Life You Want to Improve

When setting goals, the first thing you need to do is identify the area of your life that you want to improve. Just a few areas of your life that you may want to improve include:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Finances
  • Relationships 

Evaluate your life and try to pick out the things that you would like to change. Then you’re ready to start setting goals.

2. Identify Your Overall Goals

After you identify the areas of your life you want to focus on, you can set your overall goals. Your overall goal could be something like manage your mental health, finish college, get a graduate degree, find a job, buy a house, or doing anything else that you want for your life.

3. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

When setting goals or resolutions, many people stop after they’ve identified their overall goals. But setting a general, non-specific goal like managing your mental health is what causes people to fail to reach their goals. And studies show that these types of goals also cause people with depression to feel worse. So general or overall goals are a good starting point but definitely not where you should stop. 

Once you’ve identified your overall goals, the next step is to make yourself a plan for achieving them by defining exactly how you’re going to get to the finish line. Consider this the who, what, where, when, how and why of your journey to reaching your goals. A great way to do this is by using the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting system. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound. Now, get out a pen and start writing your most important goal; what outcome do you want to achieve? Then, describe exactly how you will achieve it by writing out a plan that covers each of the S.M.A.R.T. components below. Remember, the more detailed you are, the better your chance at making your dreams come true!

Specific  

The first thing to keep in mind when setting a goal is to make it very specific. Research shows that when you set specific, manageable goals and reach them, the levels of dopamine in your brain increase, making you feel good about yourself. So make sure you are clear on exactly what you want, then visualize and describe exactly what success will look like to you. 

For example, perhaps you decide to set a goal to track your mood so that you and your psychiatrist can better understand your symptoms, triggers, and other factors affecting your mental health.

Measurable  

The M in SMART stands for measurable. If you set a measurable goal, you can more easily hold yourself accountable. Quantifying your goal makes it much more clear when you’ve achieved that goal, and will help you measure your progress along the way to stay motivated. Sticking with the mood tracking example, maybe you decide that you are going to track your mood at least five days a week for a month or even every day. Now you not only have a specific goal but also a specific amount that you can keep track of daily.

Attainable  

The next letter, A, is for attainable. You need to set goals that are possible to achieve because, as we said earlier, achievable goals help improve your mental health. So if you don’t think you’ll be able to track your mood every day, start out by setting a goal to do it three to five days a week, giving yourself room for days that you may forget. Adjust your goals to your personality and habits to help yourself succeed.

Relevant 

The next guideline for SMART goals is that they need to be relevant to the life you want, and aligned with your values. Ask yourself why you want to achieve this goal, and how will it help you get closer to the life you really want to live? Be sure to consider how your goal fits into your current life situation. Will it fit into other aspects of your routine like school or work and home/family obligations?

So, if your overall goal is to gain control of your mental health, tracking your mood daily will definitely help you reach that goal because it will give you important information to know where your mental health stands. 

Time-bound  

The last aspect of your goal is that it should be time-bound. You will have a significantly greater chance of reaching your goal if set yourself a deadline. When you plan with a timeline, you will naturally be more motivated to stick to that plan. However, be sure the deadline you set allows you enough time to realistically achieve your goal, or you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment, which can negatively affect your mental health and stunt your motivation.

Perhaps you decide to track your mood every day for a month. Or maybe you decide to do it at least three days a week until your next psychiatry appointment so you can go over the results with him/her. Remember the other aspects of SMART goals and pick a time limit that fits with your habits and lifestyle.

Using the S.M.A.R.T. goals methodology is very effective. To set yourself up for success, make sure you are 80-100% certain that you can achieve your goal by working your plan in the time you allow yourself, and the plan fits well with your daily routine, habits, and lifestyle. You know yourself best – taking the mood charting example – can you confidently say that you will actually do log your mood every single day?

If the answer is no, then just scale back a little bit on your goal and set one you’ll have to stretch for, but you know you are more likely achieve. Maybe that’s logging in your mood chart three times a week instead of every day; you know it will still get you to your end goal, and you are much more likely to keep up with it.

4. Accept Setbacks & Keep Moving Forward

Sometimes, life doesn’t go our way. Even S.M.A.R.T. goals might not be reached for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean you should give up! Remember, we learn infinitely more from our failures than we do from our successes. Learn from your mistakes, cut out what doesn’t work for you, and try again tomorrow. Keeping trying new things and readjust your plan as much as you need to get to the finish line.

5. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Don’t get discouraged by others’ successes. Remember to focus on yourself and your journey. Learn who you are and set goals that work for your life and personality — not someone else’s.

Setting mental health recovery goals is a great way to take back control of your life and symptoms. For more ideas on goals to set, check out our other blog posts with suggestions on how to make 2019 a happy and healthy year.