A new UK research study suggests a difference in goal-setting behavior among those who are depressed versus those without depression.
University of Liverpool scientists found individuals with clinical depression were more likely to set generalized goals that were difficult to achieve, while non-depressed individuals were more likely to have specific goals, which were attainable.
For the research, participants were asked to list goals they would like to achieve at any time in the short, medium or long-term. Psychologist Dr. Joanne Dickson then analyzed the lists comparing people who suffered with depression and those who were not.
The goals were categorized for their specificity – for example a global or abstract goal such as, “to be happy” would represent a general goal, whereas, a goal such as “improve my five-mile marathon time this summer” would represent a more specific goal.
Researchers found that while both groups generated the same number of goals, people with depression listed goals which were more general and more abstract. The study also found that depressed people were far more likely to give non-specific reasons for achieving and not achieving their goals.
“We found that the goals that people with clinical depression listed lacked a specific focus, making it more difficult to achieve them and therefore creating a downward cycle of negative thoughts,” Dickson said.
Researchers say that having very broad and abstract goals may maintain and exacerbate depression.
Goals that are not specific are more ambiguous and, therefore, harder to visualize. If goals are hard to visualize it may result in reduced expectation of realizing them, which in turn results in lower motivation to try and achieve them.
“We know that depression is associated with negative thoughts and a tendency to overgeneralize, particularly in reference to how people think about themselves and their past memories,” said Dickson.
“This study, for the first time, examined whether this trait also encompasses personal goals. We found that the goals that people with clinical depression listed lacked a specific focus, making it more difficult to achieve them and therefore creating a downward cycle of negative thoughts.
“These findings could inform the development of effective new ways of treating clinical depression.
“Helping depressed people set specific goals and generate specific reasons for goal achievement may increase their chances of realizing them which could break the cycle of negativity which is coupled with depression.”
Source:University of Liverpool