Published: July 8, 2013

People with depression tend to pursue generalised goals

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The study found those with clinical depression were more likely to set abstract goals that were difficult to achieve

Researchers from the University of Liverpool have found that people with depression have more generalised personal goals than non-depressed people.

A study conducted by Dr Joanne Dickson, in the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, analysed the lists of personal goals made by people who suffered with depression and those who didn’t.

List personal goals

The participants were asked to list goals they would like to achieve at any time in the short, medium or long-term.  The goals were categorised 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 5-mile marathon time this summer’ would represent a more specific goal.

Researchers found that whilst 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”

Having very broad and abstract goals may maintain and exacerbate depression.  Goals that are not specific are more ambiguous and, therefore, harder to visualise.  If goals are hard to visualise it may result in reduced expectation of realising them which in turn results in lower motivation to try and achieve them.

Dr Joanne Dickson said: “We know that depression is associated with negative thoughts and a tendency to overgeneralise, particularly in reference to how people think about themselves and their past memories.”

“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.

Help to set specific goals

“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 realising them which could break the cycle of negativity which is coupled with depression.”

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7 thoughts on “People with depression tend to pursue generalised goals

  1. namira

    I guess this article may be right. If you have realistic goals to go for and you achieve some sort of success you become happy and partially satisfied if a part of the goal is reached. Once you have unrealistic aims to reach you may find more and more obstacles that prevents you from actually getting closer and that is why you become upset, even frustrated.

  2. Slotter

    I guess, people should create a plan of their actions. Overcome each step sequentially. And don`t forget to rest after a hard working day. This is the point, I think. There should be a balance. Work and have fun.

  3. Rick Slot

    Paople with depression just need to have some fun. Cuz all their troubles are only in their heads, they see life only in grey tones. I thinks the best treatment for that is some emotional boom.

  4. natmind

    I may say that ‘depression’ is the perception of ‘withdrawal’ or lack of total and relaxed attention.
    Like mood swings, depression is common to most people though in a very low intensity. It is taken seriously, only when its bouts are too intense and more frequent.

    I see a point and tend to agree with Dr. J Dickson that depressed people are likely to pursue more difficult goals. My explanation to it is like this. The natural singular attention or focus is divided or fragmented and the breakaway part is constantly motivating the remaining natural part to be faster and aggressive to achieve something or the other.

    People without depression are generally ‘happy-go-lucky’ people, who naturally don’t have anything to achieve, hence they don’t bother too much, and for that they are also liked and wanted by others.

  5. Leonie Sedman

    Does the research show whether these people had a tendency to set themselves generalised goals before they became depressed? Or is it possible that the depression itself made them less able to focus on specific goals?

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