Goal-Setting Strategies and Depression — Taking a Smart Approach

image of a woman curled up in depression beside a woman triumphantly raising her hands because of goal-setting strategies

When it comes to clinical depression, roughly 16 million Americans are diagnosed with this condition annually. Clinical depression not only affects our mood and how we feel, but it can also affect our diet, sleep, and physical health. While some treatment options incorporate pharmacological elements, these are often of limited benefit. For this reason, behavioral therapies are often included in with medicinal depression treatment options. And now, research shows that the way someone creates goals can impact how well they manage their depression symptoms.

By understanding how such goal-setting strategies work, the opportunity to improve depression symptoms can increase significantly. Since the effective setting of Bold Goals is a key component of living a Bold Life, it’s no stretch of the imagination to see that an inverse relationship exists between bold living and depression!

Insights from Depression Research Studies

In an effort to better understand how goal-setting strategies might be used in depression management, research offers some insights. Researchers in a study from the University of Liverpool studied dozens of patients—both with and without clinical depression. All the participants were then asked about their goals. Goals were characterized as positive “approach” goals or negative “avoidance” goals. And participants were asked about their level of persistence and ability to set new goals. From this study, the researchers learned much about the individuals’ goal-setting strategies.

The results revealed the group with depression were more likely to give up when they believed their goal was unattainable. Similarly, this same group had more difficulty setting new goals thereafter. This finding has notable implications in using goal-setting strategies as depression treatment options. If goal-setting strategies are used that invites success, then positive mood effects are more likely to be experienced. Also, once a goal is achieved, it becomes easier for depressed individuals to set new goals then. These goal-setting strategies can thus be added to other depression treatment options.

image of a woman smiling and raising her hands in front of her desktop out of happiness in doing goal-setting strategies
Will the use of positive goal-setting strategies offer a means to reverse a depression cycle?

Goal-Setting Strategies for Clinical Depression

In addition to medicinal depression treatment options, goal-setting strategies can be a part of a behavioral approach of care. Best practices now suggest that individuals with clinical depression are best served when small, achievable goals are established. The reason why that is effective is because the successful completion of a goal results in a release of dopamine in our brains. And dopamine is our “happy” chemical that makes us feel good about ourselves. That contrasts with more challenging goals that are less likely to be achieved and so may cause a sense of let-down. Goal-setting strategies that encourage smaller accomplishments can, therefore, be ideal for those with depression.

In addition to setting smaller goals, goal-setting strategies should also adopt a S.M.A.R.T. approach. The acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound. Along with other depression treatment options, S.M.A.R.T. goals can similarly be used to boost confidence and self-esteem. By helping depressed individuals learn to create SMART goals, they can use goal-setting strategies as a form of self-care. And when used in combination with antidepressants and other depression treatment options, better outcomes can be realized.

cartoon of a man overcoming depression with the use of goal-setting strategies while he’s riding a SUCCESS spaceship
Yes, goal-setting strategies that encourage smaller accomplishments can be ideal for those with depression!

Using Positive Feedback to Improve Depression

When it comes to depression, it can be difficult to know whether depression causes goal-setting challenges or vice versa. But regardless, the use of positive goal-setting strategies offers a means to reverse a depression cycle. Through positive feedback received by small goal achievement, mood can be improved. And continued success in attaining small goals can be used to build confidence, self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. Even failures can be used as an opportunity to learn and improve. With the right approach, goal-setting strategies can be a great addition to other depression treatment options. And given the prevalence of this condition, it should be something routinely considered for anyone with clinical depression.

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