Set Goals for Your Mental Health
Did you know that you can set goals for your mental health? It’s true. Would you care to join me, dear reader, in finding out how happy, peaceful, positive, healthy, and connected we could become in 2024?
Mental health skills can be learned, practiced, and eventually mastered, just like any other skill, through the repetition of small, strengthening tasks. Through many days of showing up in the zone of “just-right-challenge” – not too hard, not too easy – we will meet real-world milestones.
Gradually, as we collect milestones, and the covered ground behind us grows long, we get somewhere. Building on each success, we get stronger. We wake up one day and realize we are quite resilient, actually rather capable of facing what’s ours to dance with today.
The Power of Goals
Having change goals is part of feeling connected and engaged with life. Goals imply feelings of purpose and hope, bringing color and shape to our imagined future.
Before learning a new skill, even a mental health skill, we can only hope that we will be able to learn it. Once we’ve learned it, we are in a different situation. We know for certain we can do that skill. But also, we now know that we can learn new things.
But we can only have this learning, this change in understanding of ourselves when we try (which often involves a lot of falling down and then trying again). It is through experience (including failure) that we find out for ourselves that we do have the capacity within us to change, to direct our destinies.
If you’re someone struggling with addictions or other kinds of heartbreaking, self-defeating, demoralizing difficulties, I do mean you too. I promise.
Three Ingredients of Change: What, Why, and How
To change, we need three things. A clear definition of our desired outcome (what), a good personal reason that we can rely upon to powerfully motivate us to do the work of the change (why), and a good plan (how).
When we know where we’re going, why we’re going there, and have mapped out the road, we’ll have nothing left to stop us and naturally we’ll set out walking in the direction we intend to go.
7 Tips for Making Mental Health Changes
1: Less Is More, Rinse and Repeat
Even if you’re walking across the country, you can only take so many steps each day. Start at whatever level you can have success at, and know that when you’re stronger, you’ll be able to tackle more, but you have to build up your strength.
If you want to be physically fit (a very good mental health goal), but it is a challenge to even walk for 5 minutes, start with 5 minutes. Do 5 minutes a day for a predetermined amount of time that you know for sure you can commit to, even if it’s only 5 days in a row. Then when the 5 days are up, set a new little, achievable goal. You might be ready for 10 minutes a day.
If we size and frame things in a way that we feel a natural motivation and desire to engage, and we see the very real possibility of our success if we keep showing up, then we’re very likely to succeed. As they say in AA, easy does it.
2: Make a Decision (Again)
If we get blocked or start self-sabotaging, we may need to start over again and make a new decision. That’s always ok. Our own will and our commitment are necessary, we won’t get far without them.
Many of us are attached to our suffering and are scared of health and happiness. If we subconsciously connect our suffering with staying safe, and happiness with risk, then we will stay in our suffering.
The only way to work with this factor is to be honest with ourselves. Everything is in place for a reason.
When we see our priorities, and once we accept them, we may be able to change them or find them changing naturally. We may realize, yes, I want to be safe, but actually, at this point, I want safe and happy. I will try for both.
3: Make a Time-Based Practice Plan of Right-Sized, Challenging Tasks
The way to change is to put ourselves in the place of gentle challenge, over and over again.
Here are some sample ideas for how you could work on the mental health goal “think more positive thoughts” – an example for inspiration.
The idea is to set up a short plan of very achievable challenges which you complete from start to finish before evaluating or changing anything.
Easy Peasy: for 14 days, every day for 5 minutes I write down all my negative thoughts and just let them be, practicing my observing skills.
Medium: for 21 days, every day for 15 minutes, I will take the time to write down several negative thoughts, and reframe each of them to better thoughts that still feel true to me.
Hard: for 30 days, every day for 7 minutes, I will look in the mirror, and I will speak positive things out loud about myself and my life.
At the end of your short practice plan, you would devise and commit to a new one, adjusting the level of challenge to keep you in the just-right challenge zone.
4: Use Time as a Tool
Every goal can be achieved through tiny time boxes.
Think about working out more, a fine mental health goal. Perhaps it sounds most doable and enjoyable to you to work out for 20 minutes on three separate days. You could also do 10 minutes a day 6 days a week instead. 60 minutes on one day is also a possibility.
Those all are ways of working out for 60 minutes total. Each one has different pros and cons, but all are a way of improving physical fitness. They will all strengthen you, more quickly or more slowly.
What you’re looking for in mapping any goal is a frame that’s doable and very repeatable, so that the large task of change moves through time in an easy, flowing way.
5: Decide How You Will Get Back in the Saddle
Slips happen. Decide in advance how you will handle it if you miss the mark for a day, if you slip out of the practice or if something comes up which makes it impossible to complete.
Perhaps you agree with yourself that you will make up the practice by doing a double time box the next day. Whatever it is, decide how you approach this in advance, so that you keep your promise with yourself.
This is a kind of contingency plan – I will do my best to follow this practice plan, but if I do slip, here is how I correct it and get back on track.
6: Evaluate Only at Pre-determined Moments
With all goals, it’s important to complete the task in the time frame you set out for yourself, before evaluating results or deciding to change the frame.
Resist the urge to reach big conclusions about yourself during the change process itself. Thinking we’re doing terribly and thinking we’re doing magnificently are both ego traps that throw us off the path.
Remember it takes a couple of weeks for a change to have benefits. Only change or adapt your practice at pre-determined points between cycles.
And again, make those cycles as small as they need to be. Completing even a very short plan builds confidence, and can always be repeated or extended if you want more. This is psychologically more strengthening than setting a big, vague, unsustainable, or unrealistic plan and failing.
The paradox of change is, that the moment we start moving, the letting go begins. While remembering our what, our why, and our how, we must now find the grace to adapt to the reality of the journey, the difference between the plan and how it unfolds.
We stay flexible. We do not turn against ourselves when it turns out there was an unforeseen obstacle when the terrain is not exactly like the map portrayed it. We let go of control and defenses, to face the fires of change, knowing there is no change without suffering.
We lean into our humility. We are not, and we do not have to be, the best. It’s not a competition. It is a practice, a process, a cultivation of ourselves. All are allowed to grow, to find out what potential we have inside of ourselves. Growth is its joy, all living things grow.
We surrender to the journey. It’s ok to be unequal to the totality of the task because we only ever need to do the small little part right in front of us. Life will move heaven and earth to help us.
Villa Kali Ma Can Assist With Your Mental Health
Villa Kali Ma was founded because we care about mental health, our own, and everybody else’s. We know a lot about it – how things go wrong and how to set them right again. If you want to get some help for feeling good, strong, positive, and healthy in 2024, well drop by – that’s exactly what we’re here for!