Friday, October 24, 2008

Goals and Depression, Mood Swings, ADD, OCD, etc.

Lately, a lot of people have been mentioning their frustration with Goal Setting. Sometimes they’ve read a popular book on the topic and tried to follow the suggestions in it. Sometimes they’ve visualized and listed their goals. Or even determined the steps and added them to their to-do lists for a few weeks.

And then nothing happens. Except frustration.

“There’s too many things to do. I’ll never get there.”

“I don’t have the energy.”

“I start something and get distracted; then I do the other task and get distracted again.”

“I just can’t find the focus to get much done.”

For one thing, if you get out of bed in the morning, go to work, take care of the kids, cook a meal---you’re getting things done. You’re taking steps toward your goals. Often, we forget to add the “ordinary” activities to our goals lists. “Continue being a good parent.” “Maintain my home.” “Make a living.” These are ongoing goals. Include them in your list.

Secondly, most of the material on goal setting presents a cookie-cutter approach that works for many people, but not all people. Often, you need to take the information in the books/seminars/classes and remold it to your own needs. In fact, finding your own style of accomplishing steps to your goals is included in part in many of these books.

Third: most approaches are tailored to people who are already functioning fairly well.

But what if you’re not functioning all that well to start with? What if you’re depressed, or anxious; what if you have severe mood swings, or have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The most important step here, if you feel you really are suffering, is to see a doctor and get some medication to break through the biochemical side of your illness.

Then, you need to reassess your immediate goals. Yes, you want to do the long-term, 10- and 5-year visualizations, but I’d say, tuck them away in a safe place for later reference. Instead, concentrate on short-term goals. What would you like to accomplish in the next three months?

When you’re depressed, or suffering from any mental health problems, three months becomes a long time, subjectively. So start with three months, then work back to one month, one week, and today. Take it, as they say in the 12-step programs, one day at a time. Be sure, however, to write up your list of do-able steps, and set up your calendar so you can keep track of your accomplishments.

Here’s an example if you’re depressed. For those who are severely depressed, just getting out of bed can be a major accomplishment. Start with simple things, maybe one a day. On your way to the bathroom, open the curtains and let light in. It’s been proven scientifically that lack of light adds to depression; addition of natural light helps relieve it. Get out of bed and get dressed. Do not wander around in your nightgown or pj’s all day---even if you’re staying in the house. hoose one activity to accomplish each day. Make sure you acknowledge yourself for each small step you take.

For those with ADD (attention deficit disorder), you might want to choose a task and break it up into very small activities. Pay attention to your attention: can you focus for 15 minutes at a time? Only 10 minutes? Or five? Make each task into minitasks that take that amount of time to accomplish. Instead of exerting energy trying to focus longer (and then beating yourself up for failing), train yourself to return to the next step of a larger task. For you, choosing two or three tasks for a day, each one broken up into mini-tasks, and rotating from one to the next---and back again (that’s the trick for success!)---will allow you to get more accomplished.

I’m writing an eBook that addresses these issues in more detail. The working title is: The UPositive Guide to Goal Attainment for People with Depression, Anxiety, Mood Swings, ADD, OCD, and more. It will be available at the beginning of 2009. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more, please email me at, or visit

If you have stories about your own frustrations and successes attaining your goals, feel free post here, or send me an email.