If you are depressed you probably also feel apathetic, and lack energy or motivation. However, one of the best ways to overcome depression is to get yourself moving. How can you do that when you can barely get out of bed? Here’s the basic formula: find something to get excited about doing, make a plan to do it, make a decision that you are going to do it, and without any further thought or consideration JUST DO IT.
Find Something to Get Excited About
If you are depressed this is probably the hardest step. One of the primary symptoms of depression is that you aren’t as interested in the things that used to make you happy. Part of the reason for that is you are thinking negatively (see my article on Changing Your Thinking). Your unconscious focus is on the negative so it is harder for your mind to find happy memories. Your memory is state specific, this means that you are more likely to recall memories that were stored while your brain was in the same state as when you are trying to recall them. So memories stored when you were depressed are more likely to be recalled when you are depressed. This doesn’t mean you can’t remember any happy memories, it just means they will be harder to find.
If no ideas for enjoyable activities come to you, try changing your emotional state. You can watch a funny movie or TV show, or listen to upbeat music. Think about when you were a child; what did you enjoy doing? Does any of that still hold any of your interest? Or think about something that usually makes you happy. Spend some time thinking about that activity, remember how you felt last time you did it, or imagine how good it will feel to do it right now. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but never did?
If you don’t already keep a journal it would be a good idea to start one. You don’t have to write in it every day, but when going through these exercises it will be useful to be able to look back and see what techniques worked for you and what did not. When things are written down they can jog your state-specific memory even if you are in the wrong state. The act of writing things down can also help make the memory more accessible to you in the future.
Once you have two or more ideas for activities that would make you happy, write them down in detail. Remember everything about them that was pleasant. The best way to bring a memory to life is to recall all of the sensations of the event. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, flavors and physical sensations associated with that activity. Try as best you can to actually sense those things now as you imagine the activity.
When choosing an activity be sure you don’t pick something that will only stress you out by deciding to undertake some overly ambitious goal. Be realistic. So you’ve always wanted to be the principle dancer with the New York City Ballet, but you’ve never taken any dance lessons, you might want to reconsider that as a goal just now. Instead consider attending a ballet performance; then perhaps sign up for lessons.
You want to choose an activity that will inspire and motivate you but it also should be easily achievable. If you choose something too difficult you are setting yourself up for disappointment. One of the goals of this exercise is to give you a positive experience to add to your memories, one that will add to your confidence and will motivate you in the future.
With that in mind, hopefully you have been able to choose an activity that you want to engage in that is both motivating and easy to do.
Make a Plan
For more complete details on making and following through on a plan see my article: Make a Plan to Recover from Depression. The short version is that you should spend some time thinking about what steps you need to take to do this activity and what resources you might need. Will you need money, time, help, lessons, travel or just the gumption to get up off the couch? Write down your goal and the steps to follow.
Decide to Do It
Now that you have your goal and steps in mind you have to make a decision to do it. You’ve spent all this time thinking about it, writing it down, planning it out; convince yourself that it would be a waste of time to drop the idea now. And besides, you’re really going to enjoy it. Think of all the reasons to do it; write them down and commit to yourself that you will do it.
Now JUST DO IT!
Like the old Nike ad used to say: Just do it! Do not think about it anymore; you’ve made the commitment, now get up and do it. I have a long history as a procrastinator and sufferer of depression and I have trained myself to do things this way; it really works for me. You do all the planning ahead of time so that when it comes to the time to do it you don’t have to think about it anymore. If you start thinking about it again just before doing it you have too much of a chance of talking yourself out of it. Trust me. Just Do It!
Don't forget to give yourself credit for your accomplishment even if it was only getting up and going for a walk. Record your progress in your journal, remember to include all the good feelings that were associated with your activity. Congratulations! Now make a plan to do something else, don't stop with just one success; build on it to ensure future success.