Goals are often thought of as healthy to have. But it seems like that statement needs to be qualified; a recent study released found that goals that are too general is linked to clinical depression. The study was conducted by the University of Liverpool and headed by Dr. Jane Dickson. They took a list of personal goals by people who have depression and people who do not. What they found was extremely interesting.
The participants of the study were asked to write down short, medium and long-term goals. These goals were then categorized into two groups, depending on how specific or abstract they were. For example, a generic or abstract goal is something like ‘to be happy’ or ‘to lose weight’ whereas specific goals were something like ‘gain 10 pounds of muscle within two months’ or ‘make $100,000 by the end of the year’.
The quantity or number of goals between both groups were similar. However, what they found was that people who were were clinically diagnosed listed goals that were much more general or abstract than those without depression. Furthermore, the study also found that those who are depressed give much more general reasons for achieving and not achieving their set goals.
Depression has been associated with negative thoughts and a tendency to be overly general; people with depression often overgeneralize how people think of them and also overgeneralize their memories. However, Dr. Joanne Dickson stated that this study is the first time that the trait to overgeneralize also encompasses personal goals. In concluding the study, Dr. Dickson said the study revealed that the goals listed of people with clinical depression “lacked a specific focus, making it more difficult to achieve them and therefore creating a downward cycle of negative thoughts.”
Goals that are not specific are harder to visualize and obtain. If goals are harder to visualize and obtain, then it may result in lower expectations of accomplishing the goals which in turn leads to lower motivation—which in turn leads to a lower chance of completing the goals. And constantly failing prolongs and aggravates depression. It’s a vicious cycle.
Setting The Right Goals
Now that we have established that not all goals are created equal, let’s talk about how to set good goals. One of the oldest goal-setting frameworks is called SMART, which is an acronym that for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound:
Specific – Specificity is perhaps the most important criterion for goal-setting. A specific goal should answer the five Ws: what is expected, why is it important, who’s involved, where is it going to happen, and which attributes are important?
Measureable – A goal must be measurable to determine progress. For instance, the goal of ‘being healthier’ is not measurable. However, the goal of ‘only eating out once a week’ is mesurable.
Attainable – Is the goal realistic? A goal can be specific and measurable, but not realistic. For instance, ‘lose 40 pounds in a week’ is not a realistic goal.
Relevant – Is the goal relevant to what you are trying to achieve long-term? Is this the right time in your life to achieve this goal? How does this goal improve your life?
Time-bound – A goal without a deadline is not time-bound. For a goal to be time-bound, it should have a clear deadline in order to establish parameters and prevent procrastination.
If your goals are able to meet all five criteria of goal-setting, the chances of achieving your goals are good, given that you are motivated to do so.