When you are depressed it is hard to get motivated to do anything, it’s a symptom of the disorder, but movement, especially toward a goal, is one of the best ways to overcome depression.  Whether you are depressed at the moment or not, working to develop a goal and a plan to reach it is a valuable way to spend your time.

The feeling of moving forward, even toward a small goal, is heartening and increases your sense of self-worth and control.  You should not to place too much pressure on yourself to achieve the goal; you don’t want a minor set-back in your progress to send you into a spiral of negativity and depression.  You want to strive to reach your goal but don’t let it define you or your abilities.  There’s a saying that it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey.  That’s true in this case; working through the process is the therapy, reaching the goal is icing on the cake.

Pick a Goal

I’m not talking about working on a major life goal like starting a career, being elected mayor or writing the Great American Novel.  I’m suggesting that you find a goal big enough to motivate you, but small enough that your world won’t collapse if you struggle to achieve it.  We are using this exercise as a tool to get you motivated and to get you out of the doldrums of depression.

Think for a while about some things you’ve wanted to do but never got around to; or think about things you wanted to do as a child that still capture your imagination.  Would you like to sing, learn to ice skate, climb a mountain, do stand-up comedy, or create a rose garden in your back yard?  Do a little research on a few of those things and see what would be involved in trying them.  After doing your research one thing will probably stand out as being the easiest or most fun to try. 

 Make Your Plan

From the information you have gathered about your chosen activity you should have a pretty good idea of what steps you will need to take.  Make the process more formal by writing out your plan.  Writing it down gives it a sense of commitment and serves to remind you of what steps you have taken and what you have to do next.  First write down your goal in one sentence and give yourself a reasonable deadline to achieve it.  For example:  I will be able to ice skate backwards all the way around the rink by next January. Then decide what your first step is toward this goal; for instance, call the ice rink about beginner classes.  Then your next step would be to sign up for a class; then continue to list what else you will do to achieve your goal.  Also note in your plan how often you will practice along the way; and remember to note how you will celebrate when you have reached your goal.

Implement Your Plan

Now that you have a written plan, look at step number one and do it NOW.  Don’t wait, don’t think about it, just do it. The longer you wait the more chance you will have to talk yourself out of it and get stuck again.  As you work through the steps it will become easier to keep going because you will be able to see yourself moving toward your goal.  The first few steps will be the hardest.  Some people suggest that you visualize yourself doing those steps before you begin to take action.  If that works for you then do it that way.  I’ve found that when you are first trying to get yourself motivated, thinking about it tends to turn negative.  You’ve already thought through the steps when you researched them and made your plan, so you should be able to take the first few steps without having to think about them.  If you are a worrier it is best to start taking action immediately without giving yourself the chance to start worrying.

If you lose confidence or motivation later on in the process be sure to give yourself credit for all the work you have already done.  Pat yourself on the back, you’ve done the seemingly impossible, you got yourself up and working toward a goal.  If you need motivation, remind yourself how good it will feel to reach that goal; remember what made you want to achieve it in the first place.  Now you can visualize yourself actually doing what you have planned and enjoy the feeling of success.  That should help you get moving again.

Remember, this whole exercise is a tool to get you motivated, energized and moving forward.  Don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you start to feel bad and defeat the purpose.  If the plan isn’t going well, don’t beat yourself up about it; instead, calmly analyze what went wrong and see if you can get yourself back on track.  Leave your emotions out of it; imagine that an acquaintance asked you for help in solving this problem, what would you suggest they do?  Would that be good advice to give yourself?  One of the best feelings in life is the feeling of accomplishment; you want to give yourself that feeling.  Remember to enjoy the process and congratulate yourself when you reach your goal.