As 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:
- I feel depressed and I want to feel happier.
- I know I need to work on my self-esteem and confidence. I want to feel good about myself.
- I need to figure out how to stop being anxious all the time. I want to be more relaxed.
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.
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.