Goal Setting Decreases Depression

Journal

How many times in your life have you been told to set goals?

I was told to set goals throughout high school and maybe a couple of times by my parents.

But, that statement never meant much to me.

Set goals, for what?

How do I start?

What should I be aiming for?

There was never any follow-up on the how-to or the why-bother, and that led to some pretty drastic consequences later on.

Personally, when I was told to set goals I never got past the end of the week, I always got my work done without setting goals so what else was I supposed to do?

It turns out, a lot.

Setting goals is one of the most important skills that a person, of any age, should develop.

It's a tremendous motivator, sparks excitement, and leads to real results.

Not only this but learning how to be a good goal-setter will also decrease depression.

Sounds unrelated I know but, trust me, they go hand in hand.

It's all about how you structure your goals and build the proper framework.

Today we're going to look at exactly that, how to structure individual goals, how to build the best framework for your life, and how goal setting decreases depression.

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Tracey Lundy, LCSW

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Goals and Dopamine

First of all, let's see how goal setting decreases depression.

A major player in depression is the neurochemical dopamine.

Dopamine is hugely important for a vast number of reasons when it comes to mental health.

For our purposes today the two big ones are motivation and pleasure.

One of the most common symptoms of depression is a lack of motivation and an inability to feel positive emotions.

For a long time, it was believed that serotonin was the culprit, but more recent studies show that although serotonin can be a contributing factor, it's certainly not the primary force behind depression.

Especially since we know that motivation and pleasure are tied to dopamine production the question is, how can you maximize dopamine production in the right way?

If you haven't guessed it yet, the answer is goal setting.

This is how goal setting decreases depression.

When you think about things you want to accomplish and make a plan to accomplish them you are activating dopamine.

Then, as you accomplish smaller goals more dopamine is activated which further increases motivation and pleasure allowing you to take on larger goals.

This kind of doubling up on motivation and pleasure as you achieve goals works in reverse which is what can make depression so dangerous.

Lack of motivation decreases goal achievement which further propels lack of motivation and lack of pleasure.

So, how do you start creating helpful goals?


The Right Goals

Goal setting decreases depression, we know that, but how do you set goals?

What are the right goals?

Let's start with how to set the right goals.

This is less straightforward that how to set goals.

To set the right goal is to understand why that particular thing matters.

For instance, if my goal is to do laundry, why?

It could be because laundry needs to be done, but that's a pretty low level of motivation.

What does clean laundry mean; it means I've accomplished a task that not only needs to be done but helps improve the smell, it makes my clothes more presentable which makes me more presentable, and if I am more presentable then more people will be inclined to spend time with me.

Not to mention, wearing clean clothes feels better.

Bet you haven't thought of laundry in that way before, have you?

The right goal just means that you can connect your specific goal to a larger part of your life that is important to you.

This creates a stronger motivation for doing the action and reinforces the likelihood of accomplishing that goal.

And remember, accomplishing goals, no matter how small, activates more dopamine making larger goals more possible and increasing positive emotions along the way.

The right goals are the ones that connect your actions to meaning.

The best way to find the meaning behind your actions is to ask yourself, "why does this matter?"

Or perhaps, "how does this small action impact other areas of my life?"

This is a great exercise in how goal setting decreases depression.

SMART Framework

Setting the right goals makes all the difference in the world.

Setting appropriate goals will ensure your motivation increases and your depression decreases.

Goal setting decreases depression as long as the goals you set for yourself are goals that you will actually do, and can actually do.

Setting goals that never get done, or literally can't be done will have the opposite effect.

Start small.

It does not matter how small you start.

If your first goal is to get out of bed 5 minutes earlier, then perfect, start there!

A good framework to construct goals is the SMART approach.

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely, SMART.

Most people fail to be successful goal-setters because their goals are too broad and don't have a narrow enough time frame.

"I'm going to be an astronaut" is a great goal, but there are no specific steps or time frame.

"I'm going to research the necessary steps to become an astronaut and take the first step by the end of the month" is much more specific and puts a deadline to help increase urgency.

Creating SMART goals takes some practice and you'll be surprised by how specific you can really get.

Before long you'll be looking back at some of your original goals and thinking, "how on earth did I get anything done?"

SMART goal setting decreases depression by giving you a concrete framework to begin assessing your life in simple and doable terms.

Conclusion

Goal setting decreases depression by focusing your mind on what you have control over and changes your focus from the past to the future in a productive manner.

Setting the right goal is very important, as is setting goals using the SMART method to make sure the framework you working in is doable and immediate.

Many people fail to think clearly about their goals and leave things broad and ambiguous, with ideas of grandeur somewhere in the distant future.

That type of goal-setting rarely accomplishes anything.

This approach is flexible to what goals you are ready to accomplish no matter how small.

All you have to do is start.

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February 25th, 2024

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