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Goal setting during COVID-19

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Many of us are living with an unprecedented amount of uncertainty in our daily lives right now. We don’t know when we’ll be able to see our friends and family again, or when our work life will return to normal. Some of us are stuck in childcare or home situations that feel unsustainable and we worry about ourselves or our loved ones who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19.

To a large extent, we’ve lost control over parts of our lives that we previously took for granted. On top of that, we’ve been asked to give up pleasures, big and small, be it picnics in the park with friends, visiting relatives or the vacation to Italy that we’d been looking forward to for over a year.

It’s normal to feel frustrated, powerless and anxious given the current circumstances. One way to cope with these feelings is to focus on the small things over which we do have control. We can commit to taking small, concrete actions each week to regain a sense of purpose and self-efficacy.

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to goal setting, consider what would need to change for you to feel happier and more satisfied with your life.

Perhaps it’s having better relationships, getting in shape or feeling less anxious. Once you’ve identified some larger intentions, then spend some time brainstorming smaller, more concrete goals that can help get you there.

For example, if your larger intention is to get into better shape, then a smaller goal might be to take two 30-minute walks each day.

When setting goals, it can also be helpful to consider your broader life values. These values might include taking care of your family, deriving meaning from your work, financial security or nourishing your creativity. You can then work on setting short-term, doable goals that align with these values. A person who values close relationships, for instance, might set a goal to reach out to friends regularly via virtual platforms or schedule weekly phone calls with loved ones.

To ensure that your goals are doable and realistic, it can also be helpful to make them SMART:

Specific: Make sure that your goal is specific enough that you’re clear on exactly how to focus your energy. For instance, if your overall intention is to reduce your stress levels, a specific goal might to listen to a short guided meditation each morning.

Measurable: Ensure your goal is concrete and measurable so that you can clearly track your progress. For instance, the goal of “exercising for 30 minutes, three times this week” is more measurable than a goal of “exercising a lot this week.”

Attainable: Make sure your goals are achievable within your current circumstances. For example, a lofty goal of throwing three dinner parties for friends might not be realistic during the time of COVID-19, whereas initiating two Zoom meetings with friends is.

Relevant: It’s important that your specific goal aligns with your broader ambitions and values. If you deeply value creativity in your life, a SMART goal related to making time for creative endeavours during the week might be more relevant (and therefore more motivating and satisfying) than a goal regarding exercise.

Time-based: Giving yourself a specific time by which you intend to complete the goal will provide motivation and keep you on track. It’s helpful to set fairly a short timeframe (e.g., one week) to complete your goal so that you can quickly experience and appreciate your progress.

We’re currently living in a time of great uncertainty and many important aspects of our lives are out of our control. Setting short-term, specific, measurable and attainable goals can help us regain a sense of purpose and empowerment in our lives. It can ensure that, despite COVID-19, we can continue to build a meaningful and satisfying life that aligns with our broader values.

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It’s normal to feel frustrated, powerless and anxious given the current circumstances. One way to cope with these feelings is to focus on the small things over which we do have control.

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.