Monday, March 30, 2009


I find these lists of “How To” get better irritating when I read them because it’s never as easy as the bullet point notes imply. This article has been on my waitlist for a while as I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it. Then this morning, very early, at an hour I would never usually be awake at if I didn’t try, I had one of those really obvious epiphanies which you are certain everybody else knew about all along.

Motivation is not synonymous with eagerness (I checked in the thesaurus just to be sure). Eagerness is excitement, fervour, impatience. A motive is an incentive, reason, purpose, inspiration. Certainly eagerness aids in motivation, but it is not necessary. Rather, eagerness is something that is developed through motivation; the more you work at something, the more you enjoy it, and the more you want to continue doing it.

Yet, I think eagerness can be what motivates a person with a mood or personality disorder as excitement is sometimes easier to conjure up than purpose, which tends to be lacking. But eagerness needs motivation to be sustained and if it fades too quickly, it becomes a reason to not engage in an activity; if you’re not excited about it, why should you bother, right? So instead your depression has increased your motivation to remain in that state.

This is not an easy cycle to break. It takes time and work. That said, for those with more severe depressive symptoms who do not have a reason to do anything, eagerness might be a necessary starting point – motivation through exposure. Depression is not as constant as it appears to be. The immutable state is an illusion of the depression. When you find yourself feeling better, make note of it, without thinking about it. This will give you evidence that there were times when things were better and material on which to build motivation.

Of the following list, accepting setbacks is probably the most important. If you accept setbacks as a natural occurrence in the process of any undertaking, then your illness will have a more difficult time convincing you that the regression is an indicator of failure.

Staying Motivated:

* Find a way to personalise the activity. If your goal is to go running every morning but you really hate running, try cycling or rollerblading instead. Or try running in different locations, explore other neighbourhoods, run along the beach or on trails, run at a track, or use a treadmill.

* Recognise progress, celebrate success, and reward yourself. The reward does not have to be material, maybe you allow yourself to read and have tea for one hour instead of cleaning house.

* Ask for help. Get some tutoring, take classes, discuss on a forum, talk to your therapist, and ask friends or strangers questions (people like to help others with the same interests. Asking a stranger for help, even if you make up the question, can help you develop your social network).

* Share your goals, efforts, and progress with others.

* Have a role model. When you feel you need a bit of a push, ask yourself, “What would (insert name of role model here) do?”

* Have short and long term goals. Break larger goals into smaller pieces. Accept setbacks and readjust short term goals as necessary.

* Keep daily priority list of things to do and do at least 3 of them a day.

* Help others in same area. You will gain a new perspective on things when approached from a different angle.

* Don’t overdo it. Zealousness is great, but keep your goals realistic. This doesn’t mean settling for less, only don’t make becoming an Olympic athlete a top priority if you don’t know how to swim.

* Think of the activity as a prescription, a medicine you take regularly to help manage symptoms.

* Be cautious of excuses which may seem more dramatic than they are (your depression will try to convince you otherwise). Do the activity anyway. Don’t ignore your feelings but work through them in a mindful manner.

* Keep a journal of your efforts and outcomes. Make note of time of day, day of week, extenuating circumstances, how long you spent on the activity, perceptions before you start and after you’ve completed the task.

* Enforce a ten minute rule. If you’re having one of those days where you want to do something, but are having trouble finding something or deciding what to do, allow yourself ten minutes to contemplate the options and when that ten minutes is up, if you haven’t made a choice yet, pick any activity and just do it without any more consideration.

* Add more desired activities, or devote more time to a favourite, to your daily schedule as you gain more energy and start to feel better.

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