Speaking Mental Health
Forward Times Mental Health Advisors
Very rarely do we achieve desired outcomes in life without being intentional. Yes, some people will win the lottery and others might end up in a very favorable position without ever having to put forth any effort. For the rest of the 99.9852% of us who are not “silver spooners,” work is required. To go through life expecting incredibly good things to always happen without having a good plan in place is not a particularly good approach at all. Simply put, expectation without consideration and preparation leads to desolation.
Some subscribe to the idea of “hard work pays off,” while others prefer to “work smarter, not harder.” If you paid close attention, you may have recognized that both schools of thought aforementioned were in favor of the idea of “work,” rather than supporting a laissez-faire attitude, which many people do live by. One of the approaches that I’ve learned over the years and actively use with supporting clients in the mental health arena is the SMART approach. The great thing about the SMART approach to establishing and achieving goals is that it doesn’t require one to be highly intellectual; the process is quite simple. With life already being so complicated and the work to improve our mental health being so arduous at times, finding and traveling a path for success that’s free and clear of many hazards is not only smart, but also a “no-brainer.”
“S” in the SMART approach means specific. Being specific when setting goals is important because the details serve as markers to help identify when the goal has been achieved. A goal of improving mental health seems great, but how will one know if their mental health has actually improved if specific target areas such as worry, stress, negative self-talk, or self-esteem are not identified? The “M” represents measurable, which is equally as important as specifying the intended result sought. Measurements help to not only quantify the goal for the purpose of tracking progress, but it also helps to create action steps. A goal of improving self-confidence becomes much clearer when it’s framed as reducing days of not making important decisions due to self-doubt from 7 days a week to 5 days a week. Days in a week are measurable and a decrease in avoiding decision making in this case can both represent progress.
The “A” in the SMART acronym helps to remind the person setting the goal that it is achievable. If a person lacks the confidence in their ability or potential to achieve the goal, the goal will not be met. When a person can visualize achieving a goal with the appropriate effort and support, the goal feels organic and is more likely to be achieved. A person who cannot read, who also has no desire to learn to read is merely wasting their time by going to the library daily; they will not learn to read through osmosis. Akin to the concept of the goal being achievable is the “R” in SMART, which means relevant. When a client receiving mental health services has identified an issue and recognizes the impact that not addressing that issue can have, actions steps can be established, and the steps are more likely to be completed because the client sees the value of doing so. If a person cannot see the relevance in learning something new or doing something different, they will likely not put forth the effort.
Lastly, and most often overlooked, is the “T”, which indicates that the goal should be time sensitive. Timing is important because it helps to not leave goal achievement open-ended; open-ended goals are easy to abandon. Think about the last few goals that you set. Did you establish time constraints? If you did not, or intentionally left the time frame open ended, it may have been because you didn’t have faith in yourself, or lacked the support needed to achieve the goal within a reasonable time frame from the onset. Because your goal lacked sufficient details, that could have been identified using the SMART approach, and to avoid totally expending your energy and effort for naught, you chose to not waste anymore of your time and the goal drifted away into nothingness. This pattern often happens for us unconsciously.
The SMART approach to goal setting is a useful tool that can help positively impact our mental health. The more we accomplish what we’ve planned, the greater the peace we experience and the healthier our outlooks become. When the approach is SMART, it makes sense, and the work effort is worth it, especially as it pertains to our mental health and quality of life.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC