Academic Minute Podcast

Joanne Dickson, Edith Cowan University – Are You Chasing Your Dreams or Running from Your Fears?

How you approach your goals can be key to attaining them.

Joanne Dickson, professor of psychology and mental health at Edith Cowan University, determines the best way to look at where you want to go.

Joanne M. Dickson is a Professor of Psychology and Mental Health in the School of Arts & Humanities, at Edith Cowan University (ECU), Australia. Her main research focuses on mental health and wellbeing, particularly from a goal-motivational, prospective cognition and affect perspective.

Are You Chasing Your Dreams or Running from Your Fears?

Are you chasing your dreams or running from your fears?

Our recent study found that when it comes to pursuing personal goals and protecting your mental wellbeing it pays to understand your underlying motives.

We surveyed 210 participants to investigate the relationship between underlying goal motives, emotion regulation, and anxiety and depression.

Two distinct types of motives that underpin personal goal pursuit are: ‘avoidance-oriented’ motives (i.e., avoiding threatening or feared outcomes), and ‘approach-oriented’ motives (i.e., striving toward desirable outcomes).

We found those who pursue goals driven by underlying fear-based motives (i.e., avoidance), were more likely to report difficulties in emotion regulation which, in turn, exacerbated symptoms of depression and anxiety. In contrast, approach motives were not associated with difficulties in emotion regulation, nor depression or anxiety. This suggests pursuing goals for approach reasons appears to play a protective role in maintaining wellbeing.

An approach motive may underpin an avoidance goal, and vice versa. For example, an approach goal, to do well in an exam, may be driven by an avoidance motive, to prevent feeling a failure. So, it pays to understand motives that drive goal pursuit.

Personal reflection is likely to increase awareness which, in turn, creates options, such as adapting or reframing personal goals and motives, as needed, to enhance wellbeing.

Our findings advance an understanding of depression and anxiety from a motivation and emotion regulation perspective.

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This Academic Minute manuscript is based on the paper ‘Goal motives in depression and anxiety: the mediating role of emotion regulation difficulties’, published in the journal Australian Psychologist.


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