People who are depressed tend to use more generalised goals than others.
They tend to have goals such as: “I want to be happy.”
The problem with general goals is that they are difficult to achieve.
Depressed people also give less specific reasons for trying to reach their goals.
People who are not depressed, however, tend to have more specific goals, such as “I want to take a 30 minute walk every day.”
Dr Joanne Dickson, the study’s first author, said:
“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.”
It may be that more general goals are harder to visualise, which partly explains why they are harder to achieve.
Depressed people are motivated
One fascinating thing that came out of a related study was that depressed people are just as motivated as the non-depressed.
For the research the depressed and non-depressed listed their goals.
Dr Dickson said:
“…both groups listed a similar number of goals and valued their personal goals similarly.
However the group with depression were more pessimistic about achieving their goals and had more difficulty generating goals focused on positive outcomes.
The group with depression were also more likely to give up on goals they saw as unattainable and at the same time reported greater difficulty in setting new goals to pursue.
While disengaging from unattainable goals is thought to help break a cycle of goal failure, negative thinking and depression this is complicated by the difficulty in setting new goals for people with depression.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Dickson et al., 2016).