These Types of Goals Linked To Depression
If you’re a productive person, you probably believe in goals.
But here’s a topic you don’t hear much about when goals are mentioned. How they affect our well-being.
In research, goal pursuit has been consistently associated with happiness. And now, there’s a newer connection that adds to the story. Experts found that there are certain goals linked to depression.
Depression Linked to General Goals
Yes, having goals can be productive. But the new study shows not all goals are created equal.
Dr. Joanne Dickinson and her team discovered that general, vague goals may not be good for your mental health:
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.
Here’s the thing. Vague goals are harder to reach. If you don’t aim for a specific outcome, you don’t really know when, or if, you’ve reached it.
The researchers found that people who weren’t depressed were better at setting specific goals such as “I want to walk 30 minutes every day”, instead of something less specific like, “I want to exercise more.”
How Vague Goals Affect Motivation
The researchers also discovered something else you wouldn’t expect.
They saw that people with depression were just as motivated as people without depression. At least in the beginning:
This was backed up by the fact that both groups listed a similar number of goals and valued their personal goals similarly.
Depressed individuals, though, approached their goals differently:
However the group with depression were more pessimistic about achieving their goals and had more difficulty generating goals focused on positive outcomes.
How does this really affect someone in the long run? Dickinson says that when they didn’t reach those goals, it was harder to try again:
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.
Can Specific Goals Help With Depression?
Here’s the big highlights from the study:
1. The types of goals linked to depression? General, vague, or non-specific. They’re harder to reach, which may further contribute to depression.
2. People with depression also focused less on positive outcomes. Instead, they focused more on “avoidance” goals, which try to prevent certain outcomes. For example, “To not get upset over small things.”
Dr. Dickinson leaves us with a bit of advice on the important of good goal setting. Especially for people who are depressed:
If we can develop better ways to help people with depression set goals that are achievable and focused on positive outcomes, and assist them in identifying ways to achieve their goals, it is likely to enhance a sense of well-being.
Having effective goals, though, is a good strategy for everyone. She continues:
Building confidence and self-belief around goal pursuit may also provide a useful strategy in preventing the onset of depression.
Goals Make Us Happy
We’re told that making our goals specific will help make them more obtainable. Which is true. But most people don’t realize that goals affect our well-being. It’s one of the basic habits of happy people.
(Read more about the 10 basic habits of happy people.)
We all want to be our best self. And having effective goals brings that reality one step closer.