When it comes to setting goals and making resolutions, we’ve all fallen into the trap before. We set a big, ethereal goal with no real idea of how to achieve it, and then we feel depressed when we don’t manage it. It’s one of the reasons New Year’s Resolutions are considered bad for your mental health by some. But instead of setting a resolution, why not look at setting yourself some goals instead? It might sound similar but setting yourself a goal can be incredibly beneficial for your mental health.
Are Goals Good for Your Mental Health?
Having a goal is a great way to focus your attention on the thing that is important to you, and give you some form of destination and purpose in your life. They are also a way to invest in actively protecting your mental health. Psychologically speaking, setting goals engage a part of our brain called the reticular activating system, which is responsible for directing the attention necessary to recognise the steps and opportunities to help us reach those goals, and act on them. This is a key part of behaviour change, and activating this part of our brains can have some pretty big benefits. For example, some of the most common symptoms of mental illnesses include a reduced ability to do everyday tasks, or lacking the motivation to do them at all – and activating this part of the brain helps to organically provide some of that motivation you need.
Setting goals is an effective way to increase your motivation and create the changes you want in your life. Goals can be used in almost every area of your life, to improve health, relationships, productivity and more. Setting goals can also be a really important step in the recovery from more severe mental illnesses, as well as preventing mental health problems from developing in the first place.
Types of Goals
A few examples of the kind of goals you might set for yourself include:
Health: weight loss, healthier diets, training for athletic events, learning a new sport, quitting smoking or reducing alcohol. Anything that improves your physical health and wellbeing.
Career: Improving your performance at work, getting a promotion, changing careers or building your business.
Education: Starting or achieving a diploma or degree, learning a new language, or getting certain results in school.
Relationships & Family: Spending time with children or a partner, reducing conflict in existing relationships or making new friends.
Creative/artistic: Learning a musical instrument, cooking, starting a photo album, blogging or writing a book.
Community: Coaching a sports team, starting a charity project, volunteering, working on a community project or joining a spiritual practice.
Financial: Saving money, reducing debt or achieving investment goals.
Realistically, your goals can be anything you want them to be – but they should be something that genuinely excites you or will make your life better in some way. You should also consider making them ‘smart’ goals.
Setting SMART Goals
A SMART goal is something you will see often thrown about in business circles. But while the concept might have started there, the idea of SMART goals can be applied in your personal life too – or anywhere really. It’s just a way of reframing and fleshing out your ideas, and making sure your goals are actually achievable (unlike most resolutions). This can be helpful in preventing that disappointment and the accompanying negative mental health implications, as well as giving you the best chance of success. So, when you’re setting your goals, ask yourself:
Is Your Goal Specific? Don’t be vague when it comes to goal setting. The first step to developing good habits is describing exactly what you want the new habit to look like. So, instead of saying ‘I will eat more vegetables, say ‘I will fill 2/3 of my plate with non-starchy vegetables and fruits at each meal.
Is Your Goal Measurable? If you can’t measure your progress, then your goal isn’t specific enough. Measuring your progress, celebrating your success and holding yourself accountable along the way toward your goal will help you stay on track. You could do this through apps that monitor things like exercise, heart rate and steps, apps that you can log your food intake in, and an online or paper journal to record your thoughts.
Is Your Goal Attainable? Making sure you have the tools, information and resources you need to reach your goal is half the battle. For example, if you’re trying to get more exercise, make sure a gym membership is actually in your budget. If it’s not, you can look at other options that might help you achieve your goal.
Is Your Goal Realistic? Setting a realistic goal is also very important. If it’s not realistic, you’re very unlikely to achieve it and you’re setting yourself up for failure. For example, if you have a large amount of debt you want to clear, be realistic about how much you can afford to clear each month, and how much you can clear in 12 months. This means you won’t stretch your budget and end up in more debt, or not clear as much as you wanted. Set yourself goals you know you can actually achieve, rather than sabotaging yourself.
Is Your Goal Time-Bound? Goals without a starting point or a deadline are much easier for you to put off, and eventually give up on. If you truly want to succeed, you need to set some boundaries for yourself. That means spelling out when you want to achieve your main goal, and what some of the stepping stones along the way might be, with realistic timescales for each one.
A New Year means new beginnings. A chance to start afresh and begin things on a positive note. At Melp, we understand how exciting and nerve-wracking that can be but fear not, we’re here to help. Melp has resources, tools and techniques to help you understand and manage your mental health from the comfort of your own home.
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