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By George Maxwell

Published on 12/08/2015

So, now that you have had the opportunity to complete the Values assessment and consider a little more the principles and virtues which motivate you, we are going to elaborate upon each of these further and generate more concrete objectives – we are going to develop our goals.

When depression takes a grip of us, it can feel as though as though absolutely everything we do can lead to feelings of despair, and as such we tend to do less and less. When we start to think about treatment goals, we are actually beginning to turn the tables upon this pattern and generate a more positive template of what life could be like, often leading to an increased sense of hope for the future. For many people, the phrase “goal setting” often triggers associations with a lot of the personal-empowerment, self-help literature (think Tony Robbins or Paul McKenna) and of course they are certainly invaluable within this context, however, at this stage we are not setting out to generate huge, million dollars a day-type goals which may (at this stage!) seem impossible to fulfil. Instead, we’re going to start small, and aim for real, achievable daily successes.

The power of goal setting

First of all, please don’t be tempted to read through this bit without actually writing down some goals, or, if you do, then please take some extra time today to come back and do some goal setting. Particularly when we are not feeling at our best, low in mood, overtired and thinking that we suck at everything, taking a very short amount of time to identify and actually write down one or two goals enables us to shift our mindset out of the hyper-subjective miasmic cloud of depression and onto what we need to do to get better. It might feel hard at times, but we need to establish the destination before we start the journey.

“You can’t hit a target if you don’t know what it is.” – Anthony Robbins

SMART goals:

SMART goals are a very simple way of ensuring that the goals we set for ourselves are things that we actually stand some chance of reaching. Instead of generating vague “I just want to feel better” type goals, SMART ensures that we identify goals which are defined, monitored and evaluated, enabling us to measure our progress. There are a few different iterations of the SMART acronym knocking around, but for our purposes I suggest using the following:

Specific – A clearly defined understanding of what the goal is. For instance, “vacuum the living room” is more specific than “sort the house out.” Identify, in clear language, exactly what it is we want to do.

Measurable– It needs to be something that we can actually measure in some way. I am able to measure if I have bottle fed my daughter 5 times this week more easily that I am able to measure how often I have “tried to be a good dad.” If it is measurable, then we can count it, chart it and use it as an indicator of progress.

Attractive– Remember, this goal needs to fit in with our values and consequently needs to be in some way attractive to us. It is useful to look at the bigger picture and use our values assessment to help us decide upon the attractiveness of the goal. I personally don’t find the task of washing the dishes very attractive in the short term, however it is congruent with my overall value of being a contributor to the family and as such becomes attractive in this light. The more attractive the goal, the more motivation we will have to succeed.

Realistic – No matter how much it would help my wife out, identifying “breast feeding the baby” as part of a SMART goal is clearly unrealistic and as such has no chance of ever becoming fulfilled. It may seem obvious, but our goals certainly do need to be realistic for us to ever have any chance of hitting them. When thinking about the realisticality of your goals, useful questions to ask yourself might be: “Have I got the resources/ skills/ attributes to do this?”, “Have I ever heard of anybody who has managed to do this?”, “Does this goal rely on good luck?” Keep it real.

Time framed – When do we want to have completed our goals by? Here it is good to consider shorter term goals and goals which are to be achieved much further away in future. For instance, I might aim to complete my goal of getting to a session of “Father and Daughter Baby Yoga” within two weeks (a short term goal) and to save up enough money to buy a larger house within 12 months (a longer term goal). Once you have identified a time frame for completion of your goal then it is always useful to refer back to “Realistic” just to make sure that you have set a realistic time frame for yourself.

Nb: It can be tempting when setting goals to allow our imaginations to run away with themselves but I want to insist here that our main aims whilst working with depressed mood is to aim for small, achievable successes. No marathons, six-packs or husband of the year awards for the time being!

Creating SMART goals from Values

So, now we understand how to create SMART goals for ourselves and we have generated an understanding of our values. Let’s put the two together. Take a look at the excerpt from the completed Values assessment below:

Father – What type of Dad do you want to be? What qualities do you value in your relationship with your child? What do you value most about being a father?

Values: I want to be a loving, competent and patient father.

Here we see that there are three values which we might want to adapt into concrete goals which we can move towards: Loving, competent and patient. Let’s concentrate upon the first of these values, “Loving”, and think about how this value can be converted into actionable SMART goals. To assist us in doing this, let’s allow ourselves to ponder the following questions:

What does a loving (or whatever value you are working on) father look like?

How would you distinguish a loving father from a non-loving one?

What behaviours would I need to undertake to exhibit love to my child?

For me, I guess a loving father would spend time playing with his child, be responsive when the child is distressed or hug and cuddle his child on a regular basis. So, I can take one of these behaviours, spending time with my child for example, and work it into an actionable SMART goal. It may look something like this:

Smart goal 1:
I’m going to spend 30 minutes playing peek-a-boo with my daughter every day for one week.

And with the SMART elements identified:

Breaking down values into Goals

Breaking down values into Goals

Notice here also that the goal is framed in the positive. It can be much more motivating to think about what we are going to gain from our goal rather than what we are going to miss out on. Have you ever tried to lose weight, stop smoking or reduce drinking? In this context a goal such as “I’m going to eat chicken and salad for lunch 3 times this week” is much more motivating than “I’m not going to eat any chocolate bars at lunch this week.” The first goal gets us primed as to what we are going to do, the other tells us what we are going to miss out on. As we can already spend a lot of our time ruminating about the things that we have lost when we are depressed anyway, a positively framed goal sets our mindset up for gains even before we have taken any action.

Here’s another example based upon the “Partner” Value:

Partner – What type of Partner do you want to be? What qualities do you value in your relationship with your Partner? What do you value most in your relationship?

Values: I want to be a loving, understanding and supportive Partner.

And so, selecting the “supportive” value, a SMART goal might be:

Smart goal 2:

To offer to take the baby off my partner’s hands for 2 hours every weekend for the next month.

And with the SMART elements identified:

Making our goals SMART

Making our goals SMART

To begin with, see if you can make just one SMART goal for one Value from each of the categories of the Values assessment. You might want to make it a goal to telephone two family members each week as part of your “Family” values, or you might want to get out for a run or other form of exercise as part of your “Hobbies and Interests” values. Whatever your goals are, write them down, and work them into SMART.

The next steps

Now we are really on our way. We have identified what motivates us in life using the values assessment, and we have generated some really targeted goals. Next, we are going to incorporate this into one of the most powerful tools in our overcoming depression arsenal, Behavioural Activation.

George Maxwell is an Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and director of Access CBT UK.
He specialises in the treatment of Male depression in the post-natal period but also has extensive skills in working with PTSD, Anxiety disorders, OCD and Panic. If you would like to arrange individual therapy with him (either face to face or via the modern miracle of Skype!), or would like to receive information and updates relating to New Dad Depression then feel free to contact him at enquiries@accesscbt.co.uk