Is Goal Setting Beneficial for those with Mental Health Issues?

In a word – yes.
Although I must say that setting goals when you have mental health issues is a whole lot different than that for a person who has no issues at all. There are many things to take into consideration.
Goal setting can be an effective way for people to manage their mental health issues. It allows them to increase their motivation and create the changes they desire.

Effective goal setting can be included as part of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to start the process of getting well and creating a meaningful life.
Having goals allows a person with mental health issues to focus on the things that are important as people tend to increase the amount of time and effort that they spend on activities when they are working to achieve a goal.

When setting goals, the following points should be taken into consideration:

  • Psychiatric disorders are illnesses. And as with any illness, a person must readjust their expectations daily, sometimes hourly, in relation to their own health and needs.
  • Goals easily accomplished previously may be unrealistic right now however you might be able to re-visit it in the future.
  • Baby steps are crucial for those wishing to achieve success, self esteem and recovery.
  • It is critical to choose goals that you are able to reach otherwise you are setting yourself up for self-recrimination if you don’t achieve.
  • Acknowledge every achievement. If your goal is go out for a walk, then acknowledge your achievement if you managed to put on your shoes and make it to the door.
  • Use compassion, gentleness and re-framing to combat negative self-talk.
  • Start where you are. Go slow. Pace yourself.
  • Stop looking at the ‘big picture’ and focus on the part that concerns you right now.
  • Don’t wait until you ‘feel’ like you want to do something. Do it now and the motivation may just show up.
  • Be grateful for the days when you are motivated to achieve.
  • Do something to help others as this takes the focus off how you are feeling within yourself.
  • Be careful who you share your goals with as people can often be negative.
  • Re-evaluate your goals frequently.

Some common mistakes that cause people to fall short of their goals include:

  • Setting goals too high – unrealistic goals can lead to stress, or becoming demoralised and giving up altogether.
  • Too many goals – goals that conflict with each other, such as ‘increase my business income’ and ‘spend more time with the family’ may be set up to fail. It’s important to adjust goals to fit in with all aspects of life.
  • Setting goals that aren’t aligned with your values.
  • Goals are not specific enough.

There can also be a downside to goal setting. Some researchers have found that when people become too focused on personal goal pursuits, they tended to ignore or neglect other areas of their life, particularly their relationships. Some researchers have also noted that excessively focusing on certain types of business goals can lead to competitive or unethical behaviour, or conflict in the workplace.

Struggling to reach ordinary goals that you would usually be capable of can be a sign that something is wrong. A reduced ability to achieve everyday tasks can be an indication that you’re not coping. Visiting your doctor or mental health professional can help and you should not hesitate to do so.