Goal Setting and Mental Health

Goal Setting and Mental Health

As we close our look at goal setting—how, why, and to what end—let’s bring this full circle and get a better understanding of how goal setting impacts, and is impacted by, mental health. Emerging research shows that not only is goal setting helpful for maintaining our mental wellness, but those who goal set are more likely to have a positive outlook and feeling of purpose.


Goal setting and psychological well being


In the first study, researchers broke participants into groups: those with no intervention, and those who were taught how to set a goal set and walked through either 3, 1-hour sessions or tasked with a self-paced goal setting program. Those in either of the second group—guided or self-paced goal setting tasks—had measurable improvements in their overall psychological well-being at the end of the study. The study also confirmed that these goal setting skills can be taught and practiced; one doesn’t just have to be inherently good at or motivated to make goals in order to reap the wellbeing of goal setting practices.


Goal setting and obtaining treatment


If you’ve ever tried to make an appointment with a new doctor (especially a specialist), the results of this study probably won’t surprise you: researchers found that implementing goal setting devices (time-bound, progress reports, looping in a friend or helper) increased the likelihood that participants broke past the barrier of making that first appointment and obtaining treatment.


The study was conducted with retirement facility patients experiencing depression, and measured perceived difficulty of barriers to care like:


  • Psychological barriers - stigma, beliefs about mental health

  • Logistical barriers - transportation, technology access, availability of services

  • Illness or disability outside of depression


Those who were simply given a referral perceived a high difficulty and multiple barriers to achieving care. On the other hand, those who were guided through goal-setting devices (like “I will make the appointment within 7 days,”) both had a higher likelihood of achieving care and perceived a lower difficulty barrier.