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Goal Setting and Mental Health

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Goal Setting and Mental Health

Why is there so much emphasis on setting New Year’s Resolutions? While some may achieve these goals, many people stop pursuing their goal by February. While it can be challenging to stick to a particular goal, there are many positive outcomes to personal goal setting such as: feelings of happiness, confidence, accomplishment and moving closer to self- actualization.

 Albert Einstein said it well - “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things”.

Fortunately, there’s been a great deal of research between achieving "The Good Life" and goal setting behavior. In fact, psychologists in the field of positive psychology often describe the connection between personal goals and perceived happiness. According to PositivePsychology.com: “When our goals are based on our values, they are meaningful. Meaning, purpose, and striving for something ‘bigger’ is a key element of happiness theory in positive psychology.”

Understanding these positive impacts that goal setting can have on our mental health, how can we set ourselves up for success? How do we learn how to push through barriers and challenges and not fall victim to the February Fail Effect? We’ve collected a few simple techniques that may help you stick to and achieve your goals.

Sometimes our goals may seem overwhelming, especially when it’s a larger goal or is something to achieve long-term. Instead of focusing on completing the goal as one large task, identify ways to break the large goal into smaller sections. By focusing on smaller components of our larger goals, it increases the possibility of meeting the goal in the long-term. When you complete small steps towards the goal, you create long-term positive changes and develop new habits. This embodies the idea that each day holds an opportunity for us to make meaningful change, no matter how small the step. It creates momentum. In addition, if you slip up or lose track for a few days, it’s much easier to get things back on track in working toward the goal again.

One long-term goal that is common around the start of a new year is improving physical health either through diet, exercise, or both. Using this idea of breaking down the larger goal into smaller steps, this may be setting a goal to go for a walk around your neighborhood a few times per week to start, then gradually adding or trying more intensive workouts such as jogging, weight lifting, or exercise classes as you build more momentum.

Setting a manageable daily goal gives you something to feel proud of. At the end of the week, you will have several accomplishments to reflect on for your steps towards personal improvement instead reflecting on how you haven’t accomplished your goal yet, which can be defeating. This will help build confidence and motivation, which are key qualities to support goal achievement and personal transformation.

How does this impact your mental health?

Studies show that daily reflection, journaling, and taking time to be mindful and present can lead to several positive mental health outcomes including: stress reduction and a boosted mood. Taking time to review progress and engage in daily reflection and check-ins for yourself is vital. Some days you may not feel as motivated as others. If you were still able to take positive steps for yourself on those days, write down some things that helped you push through those feelings. If you feel that way again in the future, reflecting back on what has worked in pushing through those mental barriers in the past may help you get the motivation you need for that day.

Another strategy is to shift your mindset to think about what you “can do” versus what you “can’t do”. For example, if you had a goal to start saving money and wanted to cut your budget around dining out and morning coffee runs, instead of thinking of the things you can’t do, it would be more beneficial to think about the things you can do that fall within your goal budget such as making coffee at home, looking up new recipes to try in the kitchen, learning how to meal-prep for the week, or experiment and figure out how to recreate some of your favorite dishes from your favorite dining establishments.

Some popular wellness goals for a New Year include: getting physically active, practicing mindfulness, improving sleep, healthy eating, social media breaks, developing new hobbies, improving financial literacy, achieving career goals, relationship goals, creativity goals, and mental health goals. Focus on how your smaller “can do” goals can help you work towards your bigger resolutions instead of what could stop you. If you do find yourself thinking about what could get in your way, focus instead on how you could overcome potential obstacles. 

According to the online resource Mindtools.com, A helpful way of making goals stronger and defined is to apply the SMART mnemonic. SMART represents:

S – Specific (or Significant).

M – Measurable (or Meaningful).

A – Attainable (or Action-Oriented).

R – Relevant (or Rewarding).

T – Time-bound (or Trackable).

Using these principles when setting goals often helps define the goal and give you a better sense of how to best achieve it, allowing you to measure your progress each step of the way.

In short, set long-term goals with the mindset of “working towards” it through smaller tasks to build the momentum you need to stay successful. Focus on what you “can do” versus what you “can’t do”, and set yourself up for long term success by making sure your goals are SMART. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey to your goals regardless of any setbacks. Remember, perseverance is key. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support system if you need help and encouragement along the way. Stay realistic and don’t forget to celebrate your wins along the way.

“By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands — your own” Mark Victor Hansen.

Remember…There is hope at Aurora

If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health or addiction symptoms that are concerning or worry you, Aurora is here to help. Our caring team of professionals takes a holistic and authentic approach while providing expert psychiatric care for teens and adults. For more information or to schedule a free confidential assessment, call our 24/7 Admissions Line at 877.870.7012.