It’s New Year’s resolutions season - the time to create, take a stab at, and seemingly fail at nine out of ten resolutions. Of course, chances are that you have had some really quality resolutions before – goals that you wanted to achieve!
Society places weight on goals – fitness, health, diet, financial, career, academic, relationship, and family goals. We’re surrounded by people and culture stressing goals as part of “making it.” This is largely due to the fact that goals have been a critical part of the advancement of mankind for millennia. Although we don’t always accomplish our goals, there is a definite relationship between making goals and achievement. [i]
“You may feel too numb to even think straight, let alone craft a goal.”
But perhaps you’re in a place where you feel all your resolutions and goals are but words on a page, nebulous dreams floating in your imagination, or embarrassing failed attempts that prevent you from trying again. You may want goals and interests, but you feel too numb to even think straight, let alone craft a textbook perfect goal to achieve.
If you resonate with how overwhelming goal-setting-and-accomplishing is, you’re not alone. I want you to take courage because you can have goals again. Tell yourself, “Although this will take effort I feel I don’t have, I am capable of creating and fulfilling goals.” Saying these words out loud begins to change the neural circuiting of your brain and is a simple but important step you need to take as you begin the quest of having goals again.
1. Identify The Obstacles Keeping You From Having Goals.
If you are struggling to find goals for your life, therapist Christina Cecotto recommends identifying the obstacles that are keeping you from having goals. An obstacle could be your negative thoughts about life due to depression. It could also be that you are so perfectionistic that you are afraid to take a risk for fear of making the wrong choice. If this sounds like something you’ve struggled with before, you can write out or talk to a trusted person about the benefits of taking risks and what your fears are of not making the right choice. [ii]
When you are dejected, down, and depressed, it can be very difficult to engage in activities. If you are not able to identify any interests for your life at present, try as many healthy activities or new experiences as possible – this in and of itself can generate new goals and dreams. However, if this is still hard and you cannot discover any possible interests, ask yourself, “What are my struggles and challenges?” (everyone can identify these pretty easily). Therapist Silaine Marques brings this home with, “A goal can be as simple as tackling some of these challenges, one little step at a time. It can also be broken down into categories - relationships, habits, finances, emotional life, spiritual life, organization, etc.” [iii]
2. Begin With Small Goals And Celebrate Small Accomplishments.
Start with small goals. For example, instead of thinking “I have to go out and exercise for the full 60 minutes of daily aerobic exercise that Dr. Nedley recommends to people, I am going to go out and walk for 10 minutes.” Ten minutes of movement is something you can achieve. And it’s not as overwhelming as the 60 minutes. Or, “I’m going to get out of bed today instead of lying in bed off and on the entire day.” Getting out of bed one day, dressed the next, and outside for ten minutes of walking the next day is a progression of small, but powerful steps – also known as goals!
Sometimes we feel that we have to accomplish large goals in order to have fulfilled a goal. However, affirming ourselves for any small goal completed is imperative for our success and self-confidence. Counselor Emily King stresses this point, “Little-by-little small goals completed will lead to more confidence and purpose for your future.” [iv]
3. Create Basic Goals And An Action Plan.
Creating goals doesn’t have to happen all at once. Breaking down the thinking process into achievable pieces can help build a goal out of the swirl of feelings and thoughts and the negative self-talk that you have to have more of your life together before you will be able to achieve your goals.
This setting life goals sheet can be used as a basic place to begin. Take the time to write down your goals, not just think about them. Then, evaluate your proposed goals to see if they’re SMART goals. SMART goals are known as being:
This SMART goal sheet is a great tool that has questions for each category to help you build healthy goals. I know that this process can still be overwhelming, so consider how you can break down your SMART goals into achievable steps. An action plan for achieving goals is best made with sub goals to help you make progress toward fulfilling larger goals - you may find this worksheet helpful.
4. Not All Goals Have To Be “Meaningful.”
This is definitely counter to our culture of setting meaningful New Year’s resolutions! Licensed marriage and family therapist, Amanda Anguish, reminded me that when we are struggling to find meaningful goals for our life that we need to stop looking for something “meaningful.” Amanda put this into perspective, “Sometimes God gives us something mundane and trivial, hard or frustrating, boring or ‘meaningless’ to train us for something meaningful.” She goes on to say, “Doing something… the thing in front of you is probably what God wants you to do right now. So, do that with all your heart, mind, and soul. David and Moses tended sheep, and Joseph waited on a ‘greater’ man and then sat in prison before they were given a more ‘meaningful’ task. Your limited definition of meaningful can keep you from truly doing meaningful work.” [v] Engaging yourself with responsibilities around you is part of finding meaning and purpose in your life. Don’t shortchange yourself by thinking folding your laundry or taking your son to soccer isn’t part of fulfilling your life – your mindset about the small things of life has a role to play with your own satisfaction and life fulfillment.
When you are struggling with emotional challenges there is a tendency to minimize your accomplishments, and you may be tempted to believe that if you do not have a "grand plan", or something oh-so-important that will be life changing, or that you are not able to contribute to society as much as you wish you could, then your goals wouldn't be as valid or important. This can become even worse when you start comparing yourself to others that are apparently more successful, intelligent, beautiful etc. So, it's important to keep in mind that each person is valuable and unique and can give something in their own way that no one else could. [iii]
Although you may feel so numb that you are unable to concentrate or even think straight, you have to go through with the motions even if you can’t make sense of anything. You need outside help. Find someone to help you, such as a therapist, or a book to help you, like Telling Yourself the Truthor The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Keep trying and working at both creating goals and dispelling the underlying cognitive distortions about yourself, your experience, and your circumstances, and you will eventually start getting better. [vi] You may not feel as if you’re making progress, but simply beginning to go through the motions is already changing your brain chemistry and setting you up to slowly - a day at a time - make sense of your thoughts and rebuild your interests and goals, and start achieving reborn dreams.
Please contact us first before publishing this or other Let’s Talk Mental Health articles.
If you’re looking for a way to start the year off with setting practical life goals, check out Nedley Health’s Optimize Your Brain™ Online. Spend 6 weeks listening to informative lectures, answering helpful quiz questions, and implementing practical lifestyle habits within a structured course that sets you up for success. Sense of purpose, one of 13 character strengths covered, will help you script purpose for your life.
Please contact us first before publishing this or other Let’s Talk Mental Health articles.
[i] Aghera, A., Emery, M., Bounds, R., Bush, C., Stansfield, R. B., Gillett, B., & Santen, S. A. (2018). A Randomized Trial of SMART Goal Enhanced Debriefing after Simulation to Promote Educational Actions. The western journal of emergency medicine, 19(1), 112–120. doi:10.5811/westjem.2017.11.36524
[ii] Cecotto, C. (2019, December 10). Phone interview.
[iii] Marques, S. (2019, December 19). Email interview.
[iv] King, E. (2019, December 10). Phone interview.
[v] Anguish, A. (2019, December 10). Phone interview.
[vi] Jackson, T. (2019, December 13). Phone interview.
About the author
Cami Martin, MPH, is the Health Education Director for Nedley Health Solutions. She is the director and trainer for the community-based health education program Optimize Your Brain™, and a trainer for the 8-week Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program™. Her passion is disseminating information on living a mentally healthy lifestyle to people around the world. Cami works closely with all NHS programs to continually enhance and expand each program.