Depression and Goals: You're Worth It

In January 2014, I didn’t want to set any goals. In the previous year, I had been shot during a shooting at a community college, had three surgeries, was in occupational therapy three times a week, counseling once per week, and dealing with countless court proceedings. My goal that year was just to get out of bed, or so it seemed.

So when January of 2014 came around and all my friends were busy setting goals for the new year, I was just glad I had made it to a new year at all. In spite of that, I spent $35 on the popular goal setting system Powersheets. All my friends were buying them and filling them up with big goals and big dreams and I wanted desperately to have big goals and big dreams. So I bought them. And then I watched them sit on my desk unused for a whole year. It didn’t seem right to write down in this expensive notebook “Get out of bed” or “Go to occupational therapy” or “Go to the grocery store.” But those were my goals. And honestly? Those were a big deal back then. Those were the things I needed to do. But in my mind, my goals were not worth that $35.

Now I know that what I really thought was that I wasn’t worthy of goals. I was extremely depressed. Without goals to reach for and and benchmarks to hit, I didn’t feel like myself. I felt small and weak. I wanted desperately to get up and do something important and feel validated in my pursuits, but I needed time. I needed to heal. I needed to rest. And ultimately, looking back, I needed to know that those things were important, and they were definitely not small.

That’s what depression does to us. It convinces us that we are small, unimportant, and inconsequential. It yells at us from the darkness that we have nothing to offer or that we aren’t doing enough. And worst of all? It tells us we have to prove our worth, all while making sure that we feel none at all.

So what do we do when January comes around and we are facing deep depression and heavy self-doubt? What do we do when we want a fresh start and goals to pursue but we feel too small? Maybe you don’t feel like your goals are worth $1, let alone $35.

I’m actually not really past all these feelings. Sometimes I still feel trapped by my current circumstances, and I daily have to resist the urge to prove my worth with achievement. But over the past three years, I have learned a lot about setting meaningful goals for your season. And if your season happens to be one where you’re thinking you can’t have goals because you feel small, unimportant, depressed, like you have nothing to offer, or all of the above -- I’d like to try and prove you wrong. The only reason I can even attempt such a feat is because I have felt all of those things, and God has proven me wrong every single time.

If you desire to set goals but you’re in a season of sadness, depression, or your life just feels dark, here are my tips for you.

Don’t be afraid to make your goal list your to-do list.

I’ve read multiple times that your goals shouldn’t be a to-do list. And I get it. Sometimes using your goals list as a to-do list can actually hinder progress. But what about when conquering your to-do list IS your goal? For some seasons of life, your biggest goal may be to wash the laundry, or empty the dishwasher. Or even take a walk outside. And if this is you, write these things down, and feel the sense of accomplishment as you check off the boxes. Do you feel that? It’s a sense of accomplishment. Use that joy and move onto the next thing. When someone is experiencing depression, their self-worth is low and their sense of accomplishment is almost non-existent. So if you are feeling that way and can add a sense of achievement into your day, even if it feels small, it can have a tremendous effect. And just remember, If you don’t get to check a few boxes, tomorrow is a new day, everyday.

Keep your eyes on your own paper.

It’s a popular thing in the blogging world to share your monthly goals with your readers. I do this occasionally myself and usually I love reading others’ posts. But sometimes I need to keep my eyes on my own paper, especially if I’m struggling with the idea that my goals aren’t important enough. If that is you, then chances are, reading about what other people are trying to accomplish isn’t going to help. There’s nothing wrong with following along and seeing what other people are doing, but your goals are about you. Your goals do not need to feel small because someone else’s seem big.

One day at a time.

Take it one day at a time. There are times in our lives when one day seems insurmountable, and we should never minimize the strength it can take to walk through a hard day. Look at the ‘small’ picture. This gives you the opportunity to continually adjust your goals according to what you may need that day and not feel pressured by some overarching life plan. You don’t need to know what you’ll be doing in a couple months or years. Sometimes thinking too much about the ‘big picture’ can make things feel impossible and lead us into a “why even try?” mentality.There is nothing wrong with taking your life one day at a time.

Be honest with yourself.

When you’re dealing with depression and setting goals, honesty is key. It’s important to be real with yourself about your strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Is this goal a good idea? Would attempting this goal push me in good ways, or hinder my healing? It’s okay if it’s the latter. Self-awareness is crucial.

Don’t set any goals.

You don’t have to set any goals right now if you don’t want to. This may seem contrary to what our achievement-focused society might tell you, but it’s okay to not write out all your goals for the new year. Like I said, your goals can be whatever you want, but you can also just be still and live minute by minute. This may be just what you need to do. I did this for a long time, and I know it was critical to my continued healing. There is nothing wrong with taking one step at a time. And if you start to feel inferior to those around you who are setting big goals, just remember to keep your eyes on your own paper.

Looking back, I know I made things too hard for myself. I looked to the left and to the right, instead of just looking straight ahead. I forced myself to try to feel motivation for goals that sounded good but weren’t what I needed at the time and then was discouraged when I couldn’t reach them. My hope for you is  that, if you’re in a similar season, you’ll look straight ahead onto your own path and do what works for you. I hope that you know you are important, and loved. I hope you know that you are strong and brave for walking this road. And lastly, I hope that you know you and your goals are worth $35 a million times over.