The Positive Effects of Setting Realistic Goals on Self-Esteem and Mood Disorders

Setting goals gives you a sense of control over your life, which is particularly helpful when you are depressed or feeling overwhelmed by life’s stressors. Goals provide you with focus and direction and help clarify your values. Setting realistic goals promotes a sense of achievement and efficacy when you succeed, which positively impacts your self-esteem and fosters hope for the future.  Writing down your goals keeps you accountable, especially if you tell other people about them, by providing a baseline against which you can measure progress. You need goals to succeed!

In order to set goals, know what you want to achieve. Start by visualizing where you want to be the future. This could be long-term, e.g., in ten or five years, or in the more immediate future if you are in crisis and can’t see past the next week or day. The idea is to break whatever chunk of time it will take to achieve your goals into small steps, so you are not overwhelmed. If you are in crisis, the goal may be to survive another day and the steps will be broken down into hours. What matters is that the goals are important to you so you are motivated to succeed. You may want to write down what you would gain if you achieved your goals (e.g., peace of mind, self-respect, financial security, better relationships with specific people) and what you miss out by not doing so.

SMART Goals: Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

  1. Specific: Goals need to be clear and well-defined to provide direction. Know what you want to achieve.
  2. Measurable: Goals should not be vague like, “Being less depressed.” What will being less depressed look like? How about setting small measurable goals such as waking up at a certain time so many times a week, taking a shower so many times a week, getting dressed, going to the supermarket, calling one friend per week, walking for a determined amount of time, etc.? Having a way to measure your progress will contribute to your sense of achievement and keep you on the right track.
  3. Attainable: Set yourself up for success by choosing realistic goals. Otherwise you may, undeservedly, feel like you failed and lose your confidence. However, resist the temptation of setting goals that are too easy as this will not only rob you of a sense of achievement, it may also cause you to fear setting goals that carry any risk of failure. Aim for a balance between setting realistic and challenging goals. This may take you out of your comfort zone and give you the greatest sense of personal satisfaction.
  4. Relevant: If your goals reflect your values and the direction you want your life to take in terms of relationships, career, physical or mental health, you are more likely to persevere and succeed.
  5. Time-Bound: Having a deadline will allow you to know when to celebrate your success and keep your focus.

Additional Tips:

  • Writing down goals makes them more tangible and real. Use words like, “I will…,” instead of “I would like to” and post this list in a place where you can see it e.g., take a photograph of your list and keep it on your phone.
  • Use positive statements to increase motivation e.g., say, “I will go for a 30-minute daily walk” rather than, “I will not sit on the couch all day.”
  • Your list is your action plan: include all the steps needed for achieving your overall goal and cross them out as they are done so you can see your progress. Give yourself reminders to meet deadlines and rewards whenever you cross out a step.
  • Review your goals. This is a work in progress.