It’s good to have goals. Goals give us something tangible to work towards and move us away from a position of inertia. We can think of goals in different ways but typically they come down to long and short-term goals. Many of our short-term goals help move us towards the achievement of the longer-term one’s. So if, for example, a long-term goal is to build your own house then short-term might be to get some related skills and qualifications.
Sounds straight forward but what if you’ve been through this process and found that you haven’t been able to achieve those long-term goals. Maybe you never did build that house, retire early or have a long and successful marriage. Maybe you had them all and they slipped away. Failure to achieve goals or the loss of them can all act as triggers to depression. The so-called midlife crisis is a case in point. There comes the realization that time is running out and that you won’t achieve some or all of your goals. It’s a point where people take stock and evaluate their lives and achievements as meaningless. Time can feel like it is slipping through your fingers.
Part of the problem here is that long-term goals may never have been that practical or achievable. You may have set a goal to become a millionaire by the age of 30, but if you didn’t, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed miserably. Maybe your goal was to be happy - tricky. Even if your goals weren’t achieved maybe it’s because life has a habit of throwing things in the way. At the end of the day goals are markers we set for ourselves. Actually some of these early goals may have been set for us but we’ve come to own them. Not everyone is going to become a doctor or a lawyer, just because their parents said they should.
Goals aren’t set in concrete and there’s nothing to say we shouldn’t change or adapt them according to the circumstances we find ourselves in. If we grip hold of goals too tightly they can become burdens as opposed to intentions. For this reason I think we should relax our grip on goals and view them as somewhat more frail and changeable. Coming out of depression often requires a different way of thinking. Letting go of those old fixed goals and replacing them with fresh ideas is no bad thing. It will free you from the burden of perceived failure and allow you the opportunity to connect with things that have greater value to you.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.