Clinical depression can change your brain in a way that makes it difficult to experience a sense of pleasure or reward. When you feel depressed, sad, numb, or simply exhausted, you might feel that there is no purpose to anything. You might think “What’s the point? It’s not going to change how I feel.”
A common misconception is that we need to feel motivated in order to do something, so you wait for the day you will wake up feeling more motivated, to start engaging in life, and to start feeling more like yourself again. Motivation doesn’t magically arise out of nowhere, it has to be cultivated. We have to do something to spark motivation.
Ways to Increase Motivation
Here are some strategies that are proven to be effective in improving depression and increasing motivation:
Identify Pleasurable Behaviors
A good place to start is by making a list of things you enjoyed doing in the past or things you would like to start doing. Ask yourself: “What do I feel like I can do at this moment?” “What has inspired me in the past?” “What is something I’ve always wanted to do?” There is no right or wrong place to start. The first step of identifying pleasurable or meaningful activities, to get moving and do something different than what you have been doing, is the most important.
Set Realistic Goals
The second step is to set realistic goals and expectations. Think about what you can do in that moment and scale it back. For example, if you think you can take a 20-minute walk, start with 15 minutes. You do not want to push yourself and overdo it. If your goal is too large and you’re unable to do it, you will get disappointed in yourself, experience negative thoughts, and feel like you don’t want to try again. So rather than setting yourself up for failure, focus on setting small, achievable goals — reaching these will promote positive thoughts and feelings about yourself and thereby increase your motivation to do more.
Once you’ve managed to be successful in reaching your goals and begin to feel better, steadily increase the difficulty of the goal (I.e. duration, intensity, frequency). For example, if you’ve been able to go for a run 2x/week for 20 minutes, try 3x/week for 30 minutes. Then think about how you can integrate these activities into your daily life.
Don’t forget to reward yourself for your accomplishments!
Become Aware of Negative Self-Talk
Self-talk is an inner monologue that we all have which helps us process our feelings and reactions to different situations. When we’re feeling depressed, that self-talk can become harsh and self-critical and that voice may tell you there is no point in doing anything. Negative self-talk is often irrational and unsupported by facts, and yet we believe these thoughts about ourselves, which greatly limits us. The first step is awareness of these negative thoughts. Once you’ve identified your negative self-talk you can start to gradually challenge and reframe these thoughts with positive, rational facts and beliefs. How we talk to ourselves is important in creating a positive relationship with ourselves!
Look at External Factors
Sometimes there are external factors that affect our level of motivation. Maybe you suffer from a chronic health issue or feel you are stuck in a dead-end job or have a stressful work environment. Or perhaps your significant other or family members put you down. All of these things can affect motivation. But thinking about what’s within your control and what changes you can make, may help you to feel more in charge of your life.
You can try these strategies on your own or with the support of your therapist. Keep in mind that it takes time to make lasting changes and be patient with yourself in the process.
Written By: Rajwinder Khurana, PsyD