Afraid to set specific goals? You could be setting yourself up for depression

Guest Blogger

| 3 min read

A research study from the UK suggests that those who are depressed have different goal setting behavior than those who do not have depression. Scientists from the University of Liverpool found that generalized goals were more likely to be set by those diagnosed with clinical depression. These goals were vague and difficult to achieve, where as non- depressed individuals set specific attainable goals.
Participants were asked to list goals they would like to achieve at any time in short, medium or long term ranges. Dr. Joanne Dickerson then analyzed the lists comparing those who suffered with depression versus those who did not. Goals were categorized by their specificity. An example of a general goal would be “to be happy,” whereas a specific goal would be “improve my 5k running time this summer.”
While researches found that both groups identified the same number of goals, people with depression listed goals that were more general and abstract. Additionally the research cites that depressed people were more likely to give non-specific reasons for achieving and not achieving their goals. The chief researcher indicated that these non-specific goals lacked focus making them more difficult to achieve and thus contribute to a downward spiral of negative thinking and hopelessness that can maintain and exacerbate depression. Also, goals that are not specific are difficult to visualize and create a plan, making it difficult to be motivated to begin taking action. Lack of motivation is also a symptom of depression.
It has been previously examined that depressed people frequently over-generalize the way they think about themselves and their past memories. This is the first study to link generalizing to personal goals in people with depression. The authors of the study are hoping the findings will help to develop effective new ways of treating clinical depression.
One thing I do in my practice is to use a brainstorming process to help identify simple, behavioral objectives to keep individuals and families motivated and making progress. To begin reaching your goal she says to:
  • Develop a positive, future focused goal statement. (Avoid words like “Stop,” “Don’t” or “No”)
  • Keep goals brief and focus on what you want “To do”
  • Brainstorm a list of possible daily activities, behaviors that you or your supports could do to help you achieve your goal.
  • Be open, fun, use humor, and let each person speak freely without criticism
  • Rule out unreasonable, too difficult or off-topic suggestions
  • Select your top five objectives and begin to do each daily.
  • Congratulate and encourage small objectives. Shoot for 4 out of 5 of your objectives for each day.
  • Review goals and objectives every two weeks and troubleshoot as necessary.
Carrie Krawiec, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, MI ( and executive director of Michigan Assocation for Marriage and Family Therapy (
Photo credit: angietorres

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