How to Create Achievable Goals for Your Mental Wellness

Rear view of person standing by curtains of French doors and looking outAs we approach the final stretch of 2016, now might be a good time to reflect on where you are with any goals you might have set for yourself at the beginning of the year. Remember those? The beginning of the year is typically a time that brings the hope of change, renewal, and commitment to oneself. I often hear about people using specific benchmarks to track health goals: “I’ll know I’ve become a better runner when I can match my running partner and still have a conversation,” or, “I’ll know I’m eating healthier when I finish one big bag of greens a week.” These are concrete, measurable goals that allow you to track your progress. But what about your mental health? How do you create goals around something that can often feel too large or amorphous to grasp?

Common goals I hear from people who are interested in addressing their mental health are:

Let me be clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these goals! Verbalizing any of the above sets the intention of where you would like to focus your energy and can set the stage for active reflection and growth. However, with these broad statements, it might be challenging to figure out where to start, what to do, and how to know if you’re moving toward the goal in ways that are sustainable, realistic, and healthy. Below are some steps you can take to break down large goals into smaller groups of behaviors and mind-sets to promote mental wellness.

1. Ask yourself how you might engage in life differently if you were to achieve your goal.

This approach allows you to move toward your desired state of being rather than away from depression, low self-image, or anxiety. Sample questions:

  • What would you be doing and experiencing more of if you were feeling happier?
  • What assertions would you begin to make and what would your self-talk sound like if you were to have increased self-esteem and confidence?
  • What would you be more engaged in if you were to feel more relaxed? What mindset or approach to life would you take on?

2. Provide detailed and concrete answers to the questions.

Identifying specific and actionable behaviors or mindsets can serve as a guide. Sample answers:

  • If I were feeling happier, I would be spending more time with my close friends. At least two social outings a week would be a sign I was feeling happier.
  • My self-talk would sound more affirming. I would tell myself, “I’m really proud of how I handled that situation, and I believe I can handle future issues. I would have this kind of self-talk at least once a day.”

3. Set a time period to track your goals.

Give yourself an overall time frame to track your goals and then begin tracking on a daily or weekly basis. How many social outings did you get to that week? How many times a day did you take time to affirm yourself? What, if anything, got in the way of achieving those goals?

The process of routinely checking in on where you are with your goals can lead to greater success. Focusing on the areas you are working toward engaging in and finding ways to honor your accomplishments for that day, week, or month can increase your sense of self-efficacy.

4. Take a step back to look at the overall progress and make revisions as needed.

Taking time to look back at the weeks of tracking allows you to better see the larger picture. How consistently have you been meeting your goals and how do you feel about the changes you’ve experienced as a result? Are there any revisions that might need to be made for goals that feel misaligned or areas you feel you no longer need to spend energy cultivating? How do you want to celebrate the time you have spent reengaging in life on different terms?

The process of routinely checking in on where you are with your goals can lead to greater success.

Creating room to reflect on how you have been feeling with the changes you have attempted to make is an invaluable part of this process. It presents you with an opportunity to recognize your accomplishment and can allow you to note any areas where you have felt unsuccessful in meeting your goals.

Sometimes there are barriers that can get in the way of progress. Identifying what the barriers are to each of the answers on your list may allow you to engage in problem-solving and to practice disengaging from negative thought patterns that can hold you back from your goals.

If you experience significant barriers that are preventing you from engaging in the way you would like to, seeking the help of a professional counselor can be a great way to move you further along. If you are already in therapy, this can be a great addition to your sessions if both you and your therapist are keeping track of your pursuit of mental wellness goals.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deanna Richards, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tara

    Tara

    August 22nd, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    I am always on the verge of feeling so depressed and I hate that feeling but have tried taking antidepressants and it is like they take the edge off a little but I feel almost numb when I do take the if that makes any sense. I want to just be normal, live every day with a little high and a little low, but none of this severe depression that keeps me wanting to cry all the time.

  • Lo

    Lo

    August 26th, 2016 at 5:09 PM

    If you are feeling numb, then you are either on too high a dose or you need to try a different antidepressant. Sometimes it take time to find the right medication for your system. Go back to your doctor.

  • MSWKitKat

    MSWKitKat

    May 26th, 2018 at 2:34 AM

    Have you ever had your hormone levels checked, for your “wanting to cry all the time”, feelings?

  • Susann

    Susann

    August 22nd, 2016 at 9:22 AM

    I am wondering how my life would actually be different if I veer did lose that 50 or so pounds that I know that I need to shed, and always start over new on Mondays saying that this is the time I am committing and going to do it, but here I am, still the same.

    Will I ever change? And will my life really change in any way if I do decide to do it?

  • Lo

    Lo

    August 26th, 2016 at 5:10 PM

    Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of happening if I do lose weight?”

  • Ryanne

    Ryanne

    August 22nd, 2016 at 3:30 PM

    This is where I always get bogged down, coming up with goals that are actually obtainable for the regular gal.
    I set my expectations pretty high but I guess I am not one much for the follow through.
    I like to work on them for a little while but then when I don’t see anything tangible happening immediately, well, I give up.
    I am pretty sure that a big part of that problem is that I am setting the bar a little too high, and I would probably be a whole lot better off with some smaller steps.

  • bailey

    bailey

    August 23rd, 2016 at 8:16 AM

    As with any other task, you have to be willing to set yourself a time frame within which you hope to achieve certain steps of the goal. If you continue to extend the timeline, are you just making it easier to avoid the work and not accomplish what you have initially set out to do.
    I am not saying that everyone would do this but there are those of us, myself included, who needs to have deadlines imposed on them because if not, the work might not evr get finished!

  • Max

    Max

    August 23rd, 2016 at 2:11 PM

    I feel like I get very unrealistic when I am goal setting, for me it feels like I either have to go from 0 to 100 or I am not getting anything done.
    Burn out pretty fast like that

  • brody

    brody

    August 24th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    When something was working for you three weeks ago but really doesn’t seem to be working anymore,a re you going to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome?

    No, you just need to reevaluate what you are doing and check if there are some things that you could change to give you positive momentum once again.

  • Linda S

    Linda S

    August 25th, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    I have to set goals for myself that are not only manageable but also very specific.

    I have never been good with those broad brushstrokes because that leaves too many things open ended.

    I could never just say that I wanted to lose weight. Every single thing that I would have to do to achieve that would have to be noted and accounted for.

  • Perry

    Perry

    August 27th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    I was reading something just a few days ago form an Olympic athlete I think and even he suggested that real people like you and me take small steps in the beginning of any new fitness program so as to not feel so overwhelmed.
    I am sure I am not the only one who has given up much too soon with any kind of self improvement because I am so instant gratification if I can’t see results than I give up.
    Like he said though, if I were to commit to taking smaller steps and be at peace with doing things in smaller increments then I would probably find more satisfaction with my completion rate.

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