I get questions about depression all the time, and what most people ask is how to feel motivated when they aren’t motivated. Well, one of the hallmark symptoms of depression is lack of motivation, and it can turn into this twisted cycle. We lack motivation, so we don’t do anything, and then we feel like shit for not doing anything, and that makes us more depressed. We feed our own depression and feel absolutely hopeless. How are we supposed to do something when we don’t feel motivated to do something?
The answer is simple: We do it anyway
As I write this, I’m not feeling motivated, and it’s something that’s been coming and going for months now. I get this anhedonia where I feel absolutely numb and just don’t want to do anything, and it freaks me out because I’m a workaholic and always staying busy. When I don’t feel like doing the things I committed to, I have no clue what’s going on or how to solve it. Well, I do know how to solve it, but sometimes I need a swift kick in the ass.
A few weeks ago, the anhedonia was sinking in, and I didn’t want to do anything about it. Well, I read a ton of books and was in the market for a new book, so I went to Audible and typed in “depression” and this book Hardcore Self-Help: F*ck Depression by Robert Duff, Ph.D. showed up. This book has popped up in my recommended reading a ton of times, but if you read my blog about Why You Need to Ration the F*cks You Give , you know that I’m hesitant to get books with cuss words in the title (and yes, I’m now realizing how ridiculous that is of me because I cuss in my writing too).
When Duff’s book showed up this time, and I was in that anhedonic state, I told myself, “Chris, get humble. This book has some great ratings. This author has a Ph.D., and there’s a pretty good chance he’s doing a lot better than you are right now, so read the damn book.”
It was a short read, and I’m grateful that I picked it up because this dude dropped some major knowledge in his book.
At one point in the book, he discussed the Nike slogan of “Just Do It”. He talked about how this is the best advice he can give when you’re not feeling motivated to do something. You just do it. And like I said, I knew this, but I needed someone to slap it back into my thick skull, and hopefully, I can do that for you.
Start an Upward Spiral
If you’re a neuroscience nerd who wants to overcome depression, aside from Duff’s book, I highly suggest books by Dr. Alex Korb. This was one of the first books I read on depression, and it just clicked for me because Dr. Korb was speaking my language.
One of the reasons I preach open-mindedness so much is because I can be one thick-headed stubborn mofo. The other day, my girlfriend was making fun of me because I didn’t start drinking the suggested amount of water each day until I learned the science behind why you need to do it. I’m the same way with my mental health too. If you don’t got the science to back it up, I’m extremely skeptical. Luckily, Dr. Alex Korb gave me a million reasons to get off my ass and make things happen.
The reason he titled his book Upward Spiral is that we’re all familiar with the downward spiral of depression, but by understanding a little bit about our brains, we can kick start an upward spiral. I think of it like jump-starting a car, but you’re doing it for neurotransmitters like serotonin, endorphins, dopamine and more. Once you jump start these neurotransmitters, your brain starts doing the work on its own like an alternator does with a car.
Did you know that accomplishing a specific goal can get your neurotransmitters flowing and make you feel better?
Not only did Dr. Alex Korb talk about it in his book, but I’ve read about the studies in a ton of other books including the amazing book I just finished SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal. In order to get these benefits, you need to have a quantifiable goal.
Example of a bad goal: I’m going to get some stuff done today.
Example of a good goal: I’m going to write a blog post today.
See, the brain is totally down to reward you for getting shit done, but your brain needs a way to know that you actually did the task. Having these super vague goals like, “I want to be healthier” isn’t going to do jack squat. But, in the morning you say, “Today, I’m going to make sure each of my meals has a serving of vegetables”, your brain can be like, “Dope. They did that, so here are some neurotransmitters.”
To be honest, I was going to write on a completely different topic today, but I got home from work and didn’t want to write, so I decided to write on this topic. Not only am I helping you out (hopefully), but I’m getting out of my own funk by getting this done as well.
Challenge the Voice in Your Head
Another great book I’ve been reading is from the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In by Steven Hayes, he discusses part of the process being defusion, which is when you distance yourself from your thoughts to get a better perspective. This is a strategy I learned a long time before going to therapy too. I learned it in 12-step programs.
In 12-step programs, they kept referring to our addiction like it was a person. They’d talk like this person was talking to us and telling us things. For a while, I thought they must be schizophrenic or something when they’d say, “My addiction was loud today and telling me to call my dealer, but I didn’t do it.” After a while, I just realized it was a coping skill, and this has been a lifesaver for me, and I guarantee it will help you too.
Whether your issue is addiction, depression or anxiety, this strategy can help.
First, we need to be mindful of this voice in our head and what it’s saying. For me, when I’m experiencing anhedonia and don’t want to do anything, that voice can give me every excuse in the book. Before sitting down to write this, that voice was saying, “You worked hard today, Chris. You don’t need to write that,” and “Nobody reads your stuff anyways, Chris, so why even bother? Just chill tonight.”
My depression is like that loser stoner friend from high school who just holds you back. It sits there and just wants to bring you down with them even though you got shit to do and dreams to chase after.
The second step is to have a conversation with this voice as if it were a friend (and don’t act like it’s crazy to talk to yourself. You talk to yourself all day every day, so you might as well do something productive with it). Kindly tell that friend, “Yo, appreciate the input, but I really want to start feeling better, and I know that getting off my ass will help me.”
Or, just ignore it, but I choose to use this opportunity to practice some compassionate loving-kindness.
This is a great tool for anxiety as well. Rather than it being your stoner friend, think of it as your worried friend. When your anxiety and nerves are holding you back, tell that voice, “Hey. I appreciate your concern for me, but it’s going to be okay.”
Sometimes Discipline is More Important than Motivation
This has been a rough year for me because of everything that happened with my YouTube channel, and it really took a lot of wind out of my sails. When I was still doing YouTube full-time, I was making daily content, but one day, I texted my mentor and said, “I’m feeling pretty depressed today, so I don’t think I’m going to make a video.”
On a daily basis, I ask myself why this person mentors me because they have so many better uses of their time. Although they haven’t flat out told me this is why they continue to offer me advice, they regularly compliment my work ethic and how I never give up. They tell me this when I forget that I have this quality, and it means a lot to me.
So, when I told them that I wasn’t going to make a video because I was feeling depressed, they didn’t tell me I had to make a video. They simply said, “Sometimes discipline is more important than motivation.”
And once again, it was the kick in the ass I needed.
See, one of the other main symptoms of depression is we beat ourselves up and think pretty low of ourselves. This is the exact reason why we need to have discipline. When we have discipline in some aspect of our life, we can always say, “At least I did _____ today.” What happens when we aren’t disciplined? Our depression uses that as the perfect opportunity to talk more shit to us.
So, in many cases, we have to “just do it”. If life was just about only doing things when we wanted to, we’d all be laying in bed all day with soiled sheets. Part of being human is doing things that we don’t want to do, and it’s no different when we’re depressed.
I learned a long time ago that maintaining my mental health isn’t about doing what I want to do. It’s about doing what I to do. I promise you, that if you can start getting into this mindset, things will start to improve. Discipline yourself to do something each day and refuse to be hopeless by adapting a challenge mindset.
The best advice I can give you is to do one thing a day for your mental health. Not only will you start getting the good neurotransmitters from accomplishing a goal, but you’ll also be developing some self-discipline, which will lead to self-esteem.
Go for a walk. Meditate. Talk to a friend. Hell, read one of my mental health blogs. Just do something each and every day, and things will start to get better.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 12, 2019.