Lucy Flinn January 18 2022 12 min read

Mental Health Goals – Get SMART

I’ve been talking a lot with our teams about establishing SMART goals for 2022 at GovConPay and Payroll Network. Sadly, studies show that profoundly more people are struggling with anxiety, depression and substance abuse use because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, managing our mental health is important to our wellbeing, but it is also a journey, one that is not always linear, and understanding how to analyze (and celebrate) your progress is critical. One of my “umbrella” goals for 2022 is to become a better mental health “coach” for my family, friends, partners, clients, work teams and professional/social networks, and my own mental health by researching and applying SMART mental health best practices.

Before I tackle how to make a mental health goal a SMART goal, I want to give a shout out to Reese Witherspoon, who shared some of her goals in the form of achievable daily habits. Reese recommends reading Atomic Habits to help inspire creating good habits and change bad habits. The habits she is working towards include:

1. Start the day with a big glass of water

2. Get 10 minutes of outdoor light @Hubermanlab recommends morning light

3. Spend 30 to 60 minutes reading without distraction every day

4. In bed by 10 pm. No late night TV binges, Try to get 8 hours of rest.

All great habits/goals to improve both mental health and physical health!

I also wanted to share, and compare, Ina Garten commenting on Reese’s goals. “That sounds great but I’m probably not doing any of those things LOL!! My formula is easier to follow:

1. Drink more large Cosmos
2. Stay up late watching addictive streaming series
3. Stay in bed in the morning playing Sudoku instead of reading a good book
4. Spend more time (safely) with people you love. In a pandemic, I do what I can!”

Goal setting in a pandemic, both personally and professionally, feels especially daunting, to me at least. So, I’m approaching 2022 with a Reese/Ina combo — a daily dose of good habits, spiced up with weekend warrior spontaneity! Think about how we’re driven by metrics to record business performance. Fitbits, Apple and Android watches, myriad physical performance devices and apps help track physical health. While measuring mental health progress is more ambiguous, research shows that working towards mental health goals promotes hope and enhances motivation.

Setting a goal is a great starting point to figure out what works best for you, and in turn, can be something that you want to continue with (or make into a habit) to improve your well-being well after your initial goal is completed.

Everyone’s mental health journey is different, and there’s no one size-fits-all approach. Steps to take: 

Step 1. Define your why.

Reserve some quiet time for yourself to reflect and think about goals. Ask yourself “why” the goal is important and truly understand the reason. Think about an area you’d like to improve, or feelings you want to change.

For me, reducing anxiety is a key goal. How do I make this a SMART goal to increase the likelihood of success?

Step 2. Set SMART Goals

Setting goals that are “SMART” (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) helps you define your why and achieve your desired outcome. For example:

The “why” – I want to feel less anxious and more capable of coaching others.

OK goal: I will practice mindfulness.

SMART goal: I will dedicate 10 minutes each morning to meditate before I start my day. 

Step 3. Prioritize one mental health goal at a time.

According to Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, because goals increase motivation, an easy way to take advantage of that renewed energy is to prioritize one goal at a time. This intense focus will make it more likely that the goal is achieved — or that strong progress is made — faster. Once you feel comfortable with your first goal, you can incorporate others into your routine.

Even though it can be hard, don't forget to measure you progress! There is no quick fix. Here are 3 ways to ensure you're making progress:

 1. Keep a journal.

Was it a good day or a bad day? Keeping track of how you are feeling can help you understand where you are in your mental health journey. For example, if you’re working on being more present with family members, write down how you felt practicing that goal each day.

2. Ask a family member, friend or mental health professional.

Friends and family can be a great positive support system. If you’re comfortable sharing your goals, your loved ones may be able to help you recognize changes and improvements in your mood and overall well-being along your journey. They can also help hold you accountable for steps that lead toward improving your mental health, such as working out to improve mood or practicing mindfulness to reduce stress. If you are seeing a therapist or health care professional, they can help you evaluate your progress against your established goals, as well as hold you accountable in a way that’s separate but complementary to support from friends and family.

3. Explore digital behavioral health tools.

There are many digital options for self-support that can help you along in your journey. I regularly use Boho Beautiful for guided meditations and yoga classes. Calm is another app I love. Try the Sleep Stories by Rege-Jean Page and Matthew McConaughey.  Talkspace provides virtual access to licensed therapists in their state via private messaging or live video. You can also track progress using a digital tool such as Sanvello, that provides clinical techniques to help manage symptoms, supports daily tracking of emotions and progress. Happify provides cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and gives users science-based activities and games that can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Get Smart

Take some time to define your why, set a SMART goal and celebrate you! Every day is a new opportunity to create new habits, work towards your goals and drive your own positive mental health journey. Be kind to yourself and ask for help if you need it.