One of the most difficult aspects of managing your mental health is that feedback is neither regular nor guaranteed. While some treatments produce noticeable results, as was the case with the counselling I received at the beginning of this year, others simply don’t. Often, the same activities can have different effects at different times. For example, going out with friends can be a great way to expand my comfort zone when I’m anxious, but it can also increase my anxiety. To further complicate things, I can’t always tell which result is most likely.
That’s why persistence is so important when managing your mental health. It might feel like your self help tactics are having little or no effect, but they could be changing you in ways that you can’t perceive. Or the results might come later than anticipated.
It’s easy to give up when it feels like nothing is working, but then you lose the benefits of what you are doing. What feels like a waste of time might be very successful in the long term, but you will never know if you give up within weeks or even months. So how do you keep faith in your strategies?
1. Look for persistent role models
This year’s Wimbledon was particularly inspiring. After he won the men’s singles, Andy Murray acknowledged that he has had a lot of disppointments and said that it makes the wins even sweeter. I have experienced this in my own life; nothing worth having comes easily, but hard work usually pays off in one way or another. Look at Marcus Willis — he was about to give up playing tennis to become a coach, but he qualified for Wimbledon by winning several matches in a row and then won in the first round to set up a dream match against Federer on Centre Court. Relatively few British tennis players have played on Centre Court at Wimbledon, but Marcus Willis achieved it through persistence and determination.
2. Look at your own experience
Find examples of times when you could have given up and are glad you didn’t. I have felt like giving up during every single course I have taken. I kept going because I had spent money on the courses and/or materials, I had invested a lot of time and I thought a successful result would be worth the effort. Learning to drive was especially challenging and only my sheer stubbornness got me to the point where I was ready to take my test — which I passed first time!
3. Predict possible outcomes
When you feel like giving up on anything, draw a tree diagram and work through every possible outcome. What would happen if you gave up now? What would happen if you persist and fail? What would happen if you succeed? Once you have thought of everything, weigh up the outcomes against each other. Often, the possibility of success wins out and it’s this you should focus on.
4. Record your observations
How many times have you not noticed a change until someone ekse points it out? Many times in the past, I have realised that my mood has improved only after other people point it out. It is difficult to accurately assess your mental health without recording the data — that’s why counsellors and therapists often use self-reported tests to determine a client’s current state of mind and compare it to past tests.
You don’t need to complete a test every week (though if you find it less tedious than I do, go ahead!), but noting your feelings, thoughts, emotions and behaviour can be very helpful. You might not notice feeling better over the course of a month, but comparing your notes could be revealing — you might be going out or setting goals more often, indicating improvement.
5. Set goals which excite you
This can be tricky to negotiate, because you don’t want to feel overwhelmed by a massive goal, but it needs to be something which you will look forward to. Pick something you want to do — not something you think you should want to do. Make it something you are passionate about.
Your goal might seem big to everyone, or only to you. It could be climbing Everest or going out to dinner with friends. It doesn’t matter, as long as you want to accomplish your goal.
Once you have set your goal(s) work out what needs to happen to achieve it/them. Break it/them down into mini-goals. Strike a balance between progressing by achieving mini-goals and keeping your end goal in sight to keep motivated.