Tips for Reaching Your Goals When You Have PTSD

Behavioral activation can help you reconnect with joyful experiences

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You can learn how to be more active in your life to create experiences that bring you joy - even as you're dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When people feel depressed or anxious, they may be less likely to do the things they enjoy.

Behavioral activation is a way to bring some joy back into your life by being a more active participant.

The goal of behavioral activation is simple. It teaches people how to be more active in areas of their life that are pleasurable and enjoyable. Being more connected and involved with these experiences can improve your mood.

Behavioral activation is easy. Follow the steps below to identify the goals and activities you want to accomplish so you can get started on your new, more active and positive lifestyle as soon as possible.

How to Reach Your Life Goals When Suffering From PTSD

  1. Identify your goals. Come up with a list of several short- and long-term goals that you would like to accomplish. These goals can have a definite end-point (for example, getting a new job) or may be ongoing (for example, being a more giving person).
  2. Next, identify smaller activities. Focus on things you can complete each week that are going to take you closer to the goals that you identify. For example, if you want to be a more giving person, you might want to choose an activity that involves volunteer work or giving to a charity.
  3. Document. On a sheet of paper, write down all the activities you want to complete for a certain week. Also, indicate how many times you want to do the activity and for how long. For example, someone who writes down exercise as an activity may also write down that they want to exercise three times a week for at least half an hour.
  4. Track your progress. When you have completed a goal for that week, place a checkmark next to the activity to indicate its completion.
  5. Celebrate success. If you complete all your goals for a certain week, reward yourself. Give yourself credit for being more active and getting closer to meeting your life goals.
  6. Capitalize on momentum. Each week, build upon the previous week. Carry activities over from week to week. If there are certain activities that you want to make into a habit (for example, weekly exercise), repetition is important.
  7. Enjoy. Practice gratitude and be fully present in your new, more active and enjoyable lifestyle.


  1. Go for variety. When coming up with goals and activities, variety is key. Choose goals and activities from a number of different life areas, such as those that involve relationships, education, career, hobbies, spirituality, and health.
  2. Focus on fun. The purpose of behavioral activation is to improve your mood, not stress you out even more. Come up with activities that you find enjoyable.
  3. Start out slow. In the first couple of weeks, come up with a list of activities that you know you can easily accomplish and then slowly build from there. Coming up with too many activities in the first week can be challenging and stressful, making it less likely that you will meet your goals.
  4. Review your progress. If you decide to use a form to keep track of your goals, hold onto forms from weeks past. Each month, review the progress you have made in getting closer to reaching your goals. There are also a variety of apps that you can use to track your goals and go back and review your progress.
  5. Commit, but be flexible. Finally, commit to completing the activities you choose from week to week. But remember that there are going to be times when other pressing needs take precedence over these activities. If you find that you are unable to complete your goals for a certain week, take a look back at the week and identify any obstacles that prevented you from doing so. Problem-solve how to side-step those obstacles next time they present themselves.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Many times when something gets in our way and we aren't able to accomplish our goal, we feel bad about it and it's easy to give up. Use self-talk and remind yourself that life happens and that doesn't mean you are a failure or failed. We are all human and need to accept that plans don't always go as planned.

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.