Goal setting is a hot topic in the business world. A quick Internet search will give you a plethora of advice on how to set and achieve your goals, from making them SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) to creating a vision board to sketching out a mind map.
But what about goals that are less tangible, like many mental health goals are? You might not have your sights set on starting your own business or training for a marathon, but that doesn’t mean your goal to practice self-love and compassion is any less valid.
Many mental health goals are tangible and concrete; many others are intangible and abstract. Some examples of both types of mental health goals include
- I will speak to myself with kindness and respect,
- I will write in my journal every night before bed,
- I will pay attention to my emotions, and
- I will limit my social media scrolling to 10 minutes per day.
Setting mental health goals
Mental health goals are varied and unique. Everyone has different needs and priorities, so everyone’s goals should be tailored to their own circumstances.
Regardless of what your mental health goals are, here are some guidelines that can help you achieve them.
1. Evaluate your mental health.
Before you can know where you’re going, you have to know where you are. Take a moment to check in with yourself and assess what your mental state is. Ask yourself what you’re worried about, if you’re feeling easily overwhelmed and what negative thoughts continually pop up.
For a starting point, use the mental health continuum self-check from The Working Mind as a guide.
2. Create a self-care and resilience plan
We often neglect to take care of ourselves, especially during times of stress and chaos. Rather than treat self-care as an afterthought, strive to build it into your daily routine so it becomes a natural part of your life.
Some common examples of self-care include writing in a journal, practicing yoga or taking a bath. But self-care can also include taking a break from social media, not answering emails past 6 p.m. or choosing to break habits that no longer serve you.
Whatever self-care techniques you choose to practice, create a framework around them by listing your top three self-care strategies and answering the following questions for each:
- When will you practice this?
- Who or what can support you?
3. Take small steps
Working towards a goal is like walking up a powerful river: if you take too big of a step at once, you might get swept away. But by taking small steps, you can reach your destination.
To break your goal down into small steps, we recommend making a Tiny Habits recipe card, a formula created by Dr. BJ Fogg. The point is to work small habits into your everyday life by adding them to your existing routine, then celebrating afterwards.
For example, your goal may be to read 12 books throughout the year. To achieve that goal, you can break it down to reading one book a month, which breaks down even further to reading 10 pages a day. Here’s a sample of the formula you can follow to achieve that goal:
- After I finish eating dinner, I will read 10 pages of my book. Then, I celebrate by watching one episode of my favourite TV show.
This formula is called a habit loop, and it’s the driving force behind both good and bad habits. By staying mindful of your habit loops, you can use them to achieve your goals.
4. Make daily promises to yourself
If you’ve struggled to reach your goals in the past, you may have difficulty trusting yourself to follow through on future goals. In order to nurture, build or rebuild self-trust, try making daily promises to yourself.
According to Dr. Sarah Kuburic, The Millennial Therapist, daily promises can be simple, playful or part of a longer mental health journey. By following through on your daily promises, you can start taking those small steps necessary to reaching your bigger goals.
Some examples of daily promises include
- I will turn my phone off at 10 p.m.,
- I will take 60 seconds to practice deep breathing,
- I will take the stairs instead of the elevator, and
- I will cook a healthy meal for dinner.
Keeping mental health goals
Setting a mental health goal is just the first step: keeping it is where the real work comes in. It’s easy to get let everyday struggles or a perceived lack of progress discourage us from sticking to our mental health goals, especially during times of uncertainty.
However, a bad day, a bad week or even a bad month doesn’t erase all the hard work you’ve put in up to that point. Once you’ve set your mental health goals, follow these tips to help you stay on track.
1. Create a support team
We all need help at some point. When life gets overwhelming or difficult, don’t power through and try to take on everything yourself—that’s a recipe for burnout. Instead, reach out to your support team for help.
Having a therapist in your corner is an amazing resource, but your support team doesn’t have to be made up of professionals. Seek the advice and support of your trusted friends, family members and mentors. Talking to someone about what you’re going through helps keep you both accountable and grounded.
2. Set and enforce boundaries
When people continually violate our boundaries—or when we violate our own—we become angry, resentful and burnt out. None of those are conducive to good mental health, so setting and enforcing boundaries is a key component to reaching our mental health goals.
According to Dr. Sarah Crosby, author of 5 Minute Therapy: Mental Notes for Everyday Happiness, Confidence and Calm, “Boundaries are like limits for our emotional, psychological and physical health. And having a lack of them opens the door for others to determine our thoughts, feelings and needs.”
Setting and enforcing boundaries follows these four steps:
- Identify: determine what your boundaries are by identifying what behaviours you are and are not willing to tolerate.
- Communicate: let others know what your boundaries are.
- Set consequences: explain what the consequences are for violating your boundaries.
- Follow through: stand by your boundaries. When you receive pushback, stay firm and remind yourself why you set that boundary in the first place.
3. Practice mindfulness
As you work towards your mental health goals, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. Our behaviours are rooted in emotion, so identifying what we’re feeling and why can help us shift harmful habits and adopt good ones.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean just sitting still and meditating (although if that’s what works for you, then go for it). Being mindful also means paying attention to yourself, living in the moment and accepting your emotions instead of ignoring them.
You can practice mindfulness by checking in with yourself throughout the day, working through your emotions and digging to the root cause of what you’re feeling.
4. Be kind to yourself
When you’re working towards your mental health goals, you will have good days as well as hard days. Be kind to yourself on hard days. Accept that this will not always be a linear process, and rather than give up or berate yourself, practice self-compassion. Not only do you deserve to speak to yourself kindly, but research shows that people who have greater levels of self-compassion tend to be more motivated and more successful over time.
Ready to set and keep mental health goals?
Alberta Blue Cross® plan members have access to Balance®, our online wellness program that helps users take control of their health. You can set up notifications in Balance that will remind you to take a deep breath, call a loved one, go for a walk and more. You can also use the tracker tool to monitor your mood, sleep and stress levels.
If you are a plan member, try the Balance platform today by logging into the member site and clicking on “Balance” under the “Your benefits” tab.
Interested in checking out one of our benefits plans to provide you access to Balance? Visit our website today for more information.