Improving Depression: Motivation Techniques

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated January 02, 2019

Reviewer Laura Angers

When you have depression, motivation can be very hard to find. You may know what you need to do, but somehow, knowing isn't enough to get you going. There are ways to overcome this problem. Start by learning all you can about motivation and depression. With that information in mind, the next step is to learn and practice motivation techniques to get yourself back on track again.

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What's It Like To Be Depressed?

If you are depressed, you already know what depression is like for you. Do you realize that the experience has many of the same features for most people who are depressed? Depression may bring any or all the following changes related to motivation.

Easy Tasks Seem Impossible

When you're depressed, things that were once so easy for you that you barely thought about them suddenly seem much more difficult, if not impossible. Say, for example, that writing up invoices is a part of your daily work. You've always just done that work quickly, not even considering it much of a chore.

When you become depressed, though, this small task might suddenly seem so difficult that you just can't find it in yourself to face it. Before long, you get so far behind that the task is completely overwhelming. This is a common occurrence for people with depression.

Perceptions Change

The way you see things when you're depressed may change dramatically. Not just your way of thinking, but the information you get from your senses may be drastically changed. One common perceptual difference is that everything you see looks gray and colorless. People who write about their depression very often use these same words to describe their experiences.

Meanings Change

The meanings of things in your environment take on new meanings when you're depressed. Your car, for example, might mean freedom, ability to earn a living, and even power to you most of the time. When you become depressed, you may see the car as a reminder of work you need to do and places you need to go that you don't feel up to attempting.

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The Way You Experience Your Body Changes

When you aren't depressed, you move through your days thinking very little about your body. You want to get a paper off a desk across the room; you don't think about the movements you'll have to do to get it. You simply get up and grab it.

When you're depressed, though, you're more aware of the effort of moving your body. Your body feels heavier and more awkward. Your chest might feel tight or heavy, too. Every small discomfort feels more painful or disturbing. To become motivated, then, you need to address these body-awareness changes.

Why Motivation Suffers When You're Depressed

When it comes to depression, lack of motivation can be a major problem. You may feel guilty because you aren't doing what you know you need to do. Why does that happen? The problem appears to come from a combination of psychological and bodily sources.

What Is Alienation From Agency?

To function well, you need a strong sense of agency. Your sense of agency is your awareness that it is you who starts, executes, and controls your thoughts and bodily movements. When you become depressed, though, you may become alienated from your sense of agency.

You don't feel that strong connection between your will and your behaviors that you once did. Without that awareness, it becomes very hard to find motivation, even for doing the smallest tasks.

How Lack Of Desire May Stifle Agency

When you have a strong desire for something, you tend to feel more motivated to do whatever it takes to have it. When you're depressed, your desires become dulled. You lose interest in learning, achieving, and acquiring what you want. You're less interested in meeting people and might spend much less time socializing with your friends or even your partner. Without that desire, motivation suffers.

What Part Do Beliefs Play?

Ordinarily, your beliefs tell you how to get or achieve what you want. Depression doesn't take away the beliefs you've always had. Without the desire, it's hard to get interested in goals, even if you believe in them very strongly. So, you end up doing little or nothing, even when you believe strongly that you should. This prompts most people to feel guilty for not following their beliefs. Guilty feelings increase depression.

The Impact Of Interfering Thoughts

Depressive thoughts can dampen your motivation further. When you think life is hopeless, there seems no real reason to try. When you're overly critical of yourself, trying to break out of your lethargy can seem scary. Such thoughts interfere with your ability to find the motivation to do what you need to do.

Depression Motivation Techniques

Despite your lack of motivation, depression doesn't have to take over your life. Use these motivation techniques to rev up your motivation with helpful thoughts and actions.

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Practice Thought Management

Depressive thoughts tend to seem like incontrovertible facts. You feel those thoughts define your reality. It can seem that you have no control over the thoughts that keep you from trying to accomplish something. To increase your motivation, start by managing your thoughts better.

How does thought management work? When a thought comes to mind, think of whether it is a useful thought or not. Focus on its usefulness right now rather than whether it's true or not. If that thought doesn't help you, let it pass from your consciousness without dwelling on it or even examining it any further.

Get Out Of Bed Each Morning

Starting a new day can seem overwhelming when you're depressed. Staying in bed can seem very appealing when you don't feel able to do everything you need to do each day. One depression motivation trick is to get out of bed each morning.

You don't have to think about the day ahead. You can even remind yourself that you can go back to bed later if you need to get away. The simple acts of getting up, showering, getting dressed, and having a light breakfast boost your energy by getting your metabolism in gear. With greater energy typically comes greater motivation and decreased depression.

Don't give up on this technique. If you go back to bed one day, just keep getting up and dressed day after day. You may find that your motivation increases gradually until you feel more positive about going about the rest of each day.

Add Physical Activity

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Research has consistently shown that physical activity decreases depression and increases motivation. You don't have to do anything too difficult, like training for a marathon or going to the gym for a one-hour workout. Instead, think small. Add movement throughout your day in small, manageable doses. Here are a few examples:

  • Carve 2 minutes out of every hour you're sitting or lying down to get up and walk.
  • If you're watching TV, stretch and flex your muscles during commercial breaks or lulls in the action.
  • Get out of your chair or off your couch when you're listening to music and dance. Do whatever dance you can manage, even if it's shuffling your feet back and forth. Eventually, it will be easier and more enjoyable.
  • Set up exercise stations. Then, every hour, go to one of the stations and do that exercise for 2 minutes. Exercise stations might include:
    • A pair of dumbbells for arm curls
    • A jump rope for cardio exercises
    • An exercise ball for balance work
    • A towel for assisted straight leg raises
    • A mat for pushups

Do Goal Journaling

Goal journaling is a specific way of using a journal to focus on the future. Usually, journals are mostly about dealing with past problems and current feelings. For your goal journal, though, write down things you could do. Don't think about whether you want to do them or not. Consider whether you could do them if you could get motivated.

Sum up a possible goal in one sentence. Every day, write down at least one goal, even if it feels impossible right now. Don't put any pressure on yourself at all about following through with the goals. You don't need to read your journal until after you're feeling better, either. For right now, the act of writing down a goal every day will put you in a more positive frame of mind soon, even if you never pursue any of the goals of the journal.

Talk To A Therapist

A therapist can help you improve your mental health even when you're very depressed. If you're having suicidal thoughts or making plans to hurt yourself or someone else, seek emergency treatment in your local area. Otherwise, you can get help from a counselor very quickly on BetterHelp.com. Online therapy is easy, secure, and confidential. It also costs about the same as an insurance copay. Your therapist can help you build motivation and overcome depression!


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