Goal Setting and Mental Health | How Setting and Achieving Goals Can Boost our Mental Health

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Goal Setting and Mental Health

We’re into a new year and we’re already a month in!

Soon after we ring in a new year, many of us sit down and plan our goals or new year’s resolutions. But some of us may have given up goal setting for the new year, as we usually find it difficult to stick to our goals, or can’t seem to manage to make them work long term.

In this blog, we look at how to set achievable goals, and the impact of goal setting and mental health at any time of the year!

So, whether you’re someone who smashes their goals each year, or someone who struggles with goal setting, read on to discover some top tips for setting attainable goals, and the benefits that achieving these goals could have on your mental health.

Setting Achievable Goals

Ensuring that the goals we set are manageable is a great first step to making sure that they are achievable.

The SMART acronym, often used for setting work-related goals, can also help us to set attainable personal goals that we are more likely to achieve, as it helps us to clearly define our goals.


So, what does SMART stand for?

S- Specific

The first letter of the SMART acronym stands for specific. This is designed to encourage us to be as specific as possible with our goals, as this can help us have something to work towards.

For example, instead of saying, “My new year goals are to get fitter and healthier”, we could say “My new year goals are to be able to run 5k in 40 minutes, and eat my 5 a day”.

M- Measurable

A goal needs to be measurable in order to be attainable. Having a way to measure our goals in an objective way means that we can evaluate our progress towards our goals, and whether or not we are on track to achieve them.

In our example, the terms of measurement are a 5k distance, and 5 portions of fruit and veg per day.

A- Achievable

When setting a goal, it needs to be achievable. It is important to find a balance between challenging and easy, as a goal that is too challenging can be demotivating; on the other hand, a goal that is too easy will not bring as much satisfaction once achieved.

Research by Locke et al. published in 1981 reviewed laboratory and field studies on the effects of goal setting on performance, and found that in 90% of the studies, results showed that “specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance than when people were set either easy goals, “do your best” goals, or no goals”.

R- Realistic

This section links in with achievable. Whilst it is important that our goals are achievable, they also need to be realistic. For example, if we are new to running, having a goal of running a half-marathon in 2 months is technically achievable, however it might not be realistic when you factor in other elements of your lifestyle.

T- Timebound

The final letter of the SMART acronym stands for time bound.

Setting a deadline for our goals ensures that we have something to work towards. For example, our new year goal could be that we want to run 5k. Without having a time scale to work towards, it is harder to break down our goal into objectives and it can be harder to motivate ourselves to work towards it.

If we specify a time limit, for example, “I want to be able to run 5k non-stop by March 31st”, this gives us a target to aim towards, and we can create objectives within the time frame to help us achieve the goal. An example of this may be following a Couch to 5k plan.

This video from Freedom Kingdom looks at setting achievable goals in more detail:

By using the SMART acronym, we can set achievable goals, and reaching our goals can provide a variety of mental health benefits.

Mental Health Benefits of Achieving Goals

There are lots of benefits to setting goals, and achieving our goals can have a positive impact on our mental health.

Achieving a goal we have set ourselves causes a dopamine boost, aka the “feel good hormone”. Fulfilling our goals can also lead to improved self-esteem and confidence, provide a sense of purpose and direction in the different areas of our lives, and offer accountability.

In addition, achieving our goals can lead to improvements in our lives, for example within work, relationships, and finances. Achieving goals within one area of our lives can provide encouragement for us to continue improving in other areas.

Furthermore, in a study conducted by Weinberger et al. on older adults in the community with depression, goal setting was shown to help improve the outcome of treatment for adults with depression.

This video from PersonalTraining.Development shares the benefits of goal setting:

Setting new year goals that are realistic and achievable can have great positive impacts on our mental health, so it can be beneficial to continue with goal setting practices throughout the year.

At Northern Healthcare, we provide an enhanced level of bespoke care to our residents, with support from Mental Health Support Workers, Registered Mental Health Nurses, and Registered Occupational Therapists.

Our residents work closely with our OT team to set achievable goals to work towards in a safe and supportive environment. These can include relearning an old skill, trying out a new hobby, or looking for volunteering or paid work opportunities.


Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969-1980. 

Mark I Weinberger, Camila Mateo, Jo Anne Sirey (2009). Perceived barriers to mental health care and goal setting among depressed, community-dwelling older adults. 


Photo by Ronnie Overgoor on Unsplash.

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