As we conclude the first month of 2023, many of us find ourselves looking back at the goal (or goals) we set for ourselves when the clock struck midnight on January 1. Statistically, 64% of us have already abandoned the pursuit of our New Year’s resolution, and by the end of the year, 91% of us will have left those goals behind.
Yet, we know that goal-setting can make a huge difference for our mental health. Setting goals helps us prioritize what is important to us. It is a way in which we develop strength. Every time we set and achieve a goal for ourselves, we receive a dopamine boost, and that boost increases our motivation, which then creates a positive sense of well-being in us.
So, if we know that goal-setting is good for our mental health, why is it so hard for us to stick to the goals we set for ourselves?
The problem is that many of us fall into the trap of focusing solely on the end goal – the finish line. We declare lofty, ambitious goals and think that through pushing ourselves to achieve something big, we will find that motivation and that sense of well-being. But the reality is quite the opposite.
What most motivates us and benefits our mental health is when we turn our ultimate end goal into many smaller goals. This is because those smaller moments of progress invite us to go on a journey where we can enjoy the process and feel successful along the way.
So, what are some tips for setting healthy goals like this that can benefit our mental health?
- Be sure you can visualize your goal:
It is important for us to be able to visualize ourselves achieving a goal. When it is difficult to visualize yourself, it is likely that the goal you’ve set is too lofty for this moment now. Instead, think about what smaller actions you can take today or this week that will allow you to make progress toward that larger goal, and make those smaller actions your goals.
- Write them down:
Writing down your goals helps you to visualize them, which can make them easier to begin. When a goal is written down, it also serves as a reminder that can help to boost your motivation and ensure consistency in pursuit of that goal.
- Tell trusted friends and family members:
Sharing your goals with someone you trust can promote accountability. It is harder to quit something when you know that someone else is also hoping and expecting you to keep going. By sharing your goal with someone else, they can become a strong source of encouragement and motivation to you.
- Be kind to yourself:
When pursuing a goal, it is almost a guarantee that there will be some times when you are unable to make the progress you had hoped to. When this happens, use this as an opportunity to reflect on why this may have happened, and be open to making adjustments to your goal to make it more attainable. Fear of failure can lead to anxiety, which can have a negative impact on mental health. That is why it is so important to be kind to yourself and willing to adjust your goal-setting to allow you to feel successful, rather than fearing failure.
- Be honest about your habits:
It’s important to reflect on your habits and how some of them have prevented you from achieving your goals in the past. You can experience fewer setbacks in achieving a goal when you take your habits into account. For example, if you are not a morning person, setting a goal to wake up and run every morning is not being honest with yourself. You will have a higher probability of meeting your goal of running each day if you set the goal to align with what works best for you.
- Celebrate small successes:
Your goal may have been to make healthy food choices the entire day, but taking the time to celebrate making a healthy breakfast choice is necessary and worth it. The small victories on the path toward a larger goal can provide that same sense of strength, accomplishment, and motivation, and are critical to reaching your ultimate outcome.
When done in a healthy way, goal-setting can be integral to helping you find motivation, focus, a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment, and moments of joy.
So, instead of throwing out that goal you set at the beginning of this month, why not try to adapt it into one that works specifically for you? We know you can do it.
- “Goal Setting: A Practical Way to Improve Your Mental Health”. The London Psychiatry Centre. January 2023. https://www.psychiatrycentre.co.uk/blog/goal-setting-a-practical-way
- “Goal Setting”. Eisenberg Family Depression Center. University of Michigan. https://depressioncenter.org/outreach-education/community-education/depression-toolkit/want-stay-mentally-healthy/goal-setting
- “Mental Health is…Setting Goals.” Health & Wellness Services. University of Colorado-Boulder. https://www.colorado.edu/health/mental-health-is-setting-goals