These are some weird times we are living in. The age of the ‘hustle’. Where everyone is expected to do everything and be everything. There is a perception that if you just work hard enough, wake up early enough and be productive enough you can achieve anything you set your mind to. All whilst having the time to stay super fit, cook Insta-worthy meals, have an active social life and loads of time for all the self-care.
Just thinking about it is exhausting. But more than that, whilst the message that you can achieve whatever you set out to do is a positive one, it can also make people feel like a failure when they don’t manage to achieve everything they want to.
This is particularly problematic for people suffering from depression, when everything feels that little bit more difficult. As a result, it can be hard to know how to set goals when you are depressed and how to stick to those goals without losing motivation or harming your mental health.
Over the past few years, I’ve made all the mistakes. I worked so hard I burned myself out and made myself very ill. I had other periods where I gave up trying to achieve much of anything. But those times all taught me something and slowly helped me learn how to work towards my goals in a much more healthy and measured way. Here are my tips for doing just that.
Break Things down into Smaller, More Manageable Steps
Setting big goals can be intimidating at the best of times. But when you’re suffering with a mental health problem, they can be even more overwhelming. And when your goals start to feel out of reach, all that early motivation begins to seep away.
I’m very guilty of this. I throw myself full force at everything I decide to do and feel frustrated when I don’t achieve what I want to fast enough. When I break things down into smaller, more manageable steps it helps keep me on track. Achieving small things gives me the boost I need to go on to achieve the next thing. I feel as though I am making progress towards my goal and I’m much more likely to stick to my goals rather than give up when things feel too difficult to achieve.
“If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today”
Adjust Your Expectations
When suffering from depression, you might have to accept that your goals will probably take a little longer to achieve than they would if you were well. And some days you will be more motivated and capable of working towards those goals than other days.
That’s perfectly okay.
You are already achieving so much by simply existing with depression so be kind to yourself. Accept that your goals may take a little longer to reach and make peace with that. Don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t go exactly to plan or you’re not able to do as much as you would like. If you need some time off to look after yourself and your mental health then give yourself that time. Come back feeling refreshed and ready to pick up where you left off.
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Allow Yourself Time for Self Care
When you are suffering from depression, your mental health has to be your number one priority. Don’t neglect your own self care for the sake of achieving a goal. If you don’t make time to look after yourself your mental health is going to start to deteriorate pretty quickly and that goal will become that much more difficult to achieve.
When I first started my web design business, I threw myself full force at it. I worked from sun up to sun down and made very little time for doing the things that I enjoy. I ended up burning out and sinking into one of the worst depressive episodes I ever had. All progress on the business stalled and I had to give up on it for a few years whilst I worked on getting better.
Had I taken it a little slower and looked after myself, I may have been able to continue making progress and most likely would have achieved more than I actually did.
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Appreciate Where You Are Now
When I look back over my life, the one enduring characteristic is a constant striving for something. An inability to be completely happy where I was in any specific moment and always looking forward towards the next moment or the next thing I needed to achieve. In hindsight, I can see the beauty in those moments that I overlooked at the time and wish I had taken a little more care to appreciate those times.
That mindset made it even harder to achieve anything that I set out to do. I considered my goals (whether that be moving to a new city, going travelling, starting a business) to be so important to my happiness that I felt utterly depressed when they seemed far away. Which in turn made it much more difficult to motivate myself to work towards those goals.
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Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
When you are working towards something, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to people who are already there. It’s easy to look at other people and think they have it all together. I do that all the bloody time. But you are on your own individual journey. Comparison is a sure fire way to destroy any motivation you may have and make you feel as though there is no point in continuing to strive for those things.
I’ve been trying to improve my fitness for almost a year now. I run, I do Muay Thai and I do yoga. But not always regularly. Sometimes my mental health makes it difficult to exercise. At times like these I often compare myself to friends and colleagues who are regularly exercising. That comparison does nothing positive for me. It only makes me feel crap.
I combat that by reminding myself that a year ago, my depression made it difficult to even walk around the block. Since then I have taken small steps to building my fitness and getting back to exercise. And I’ve made a hell of a lot of progress. I can’t compare myself to somebody who isn’t battling with depression who finds it easy to get out of the house and exercise as we are in completely different situations with totally different struggles.
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