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Researchers have found that people with depression tend to pursue generalized personal goals as opposed to more specific ones.
The study analyzed lists of personal goals made by people who suffered with depression and lists of goals from people who did not. The participants in the study were asked to list goals they would like to achieve at any time in the short, mid and long range. The goals were then categorized for their specificity. “To be happy” was considered a global or abstract goal compared to something like “improve my marathon time this summer,” which was considered a more specific personal goal.
Dr. Joanne Dickson from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society found that while both groups generated the same number of goals, people with depression were more likely to list goals which were general and abstract. They also were far more likely to give non-specific reasons for achieving and not achieving their goals.
Non-specific goals can actually aggravate depression. Since they are ambiguous by nature, they are difficult if not impossible to achieve, adding to a sense of failure and contributing to further depression. It is harder to visualize the goal and therefore harder to create steps toward achieving it.
“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.”
Source: MedicalNewsToday, University of Liverpool
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