How to Build Motivation While Beating Depression

Medical Reviewer

As you become more depressed, your motivation to do things decreases. You may force yourself to work and put on a brave face, but by the time you get home you are completely spent. There’s no energy left to see people, go places, or to do the things you used to enjoy.

Yet the less you do, the less you want to do, and so a vicious cycle of inactivity embeds itself.** Breaking the CycleI think it’s fair to say that for a time it can actually be beneficial to allow yourself some down time in your days and evenings. Slowing down is often beneficial and restorative and it feels good. Perhaps because of this, the temptation to do even less comes to dominate. But there comes a point where doing too little can make your mood start to slump further and a pattern of inactivity takes over** which is difficult to escape from.

Using Advance Planning

Once structure is removed from your life it can be surprisingly hard to replace, especially if it was previously complex and active. Re-engaging with some of the things you previously enjoyed can be a great first step and one that will really help to lift your mood.

It may be better to go about this in a way that provides a little structure and allows you to pace yourself. It’s a false belief that jumping in the deep end of anything, even the enjoyable stuff, will somehow snap you out of your depression. It’s more likely to backfire and the result may be that you’ll feel worse than you did before.

My advice is to use a daily diary that breaks the day down by the hour. Begin filling in all the activities you have to complete. For example: 10 – 10:45 dental appointment, 10:45 – 12:00 food shopping, and so on. This will reveal all the free time you have left. Now you can start planning the things that you’d like to do. Don’t fill up all the free-time slots. Keep some time for yourself to relax and recover.

Energy Builders

Some activities are energy draining while others are energy builders. Your free time is when you can plan activities that build motivation and resilience. Pace yourself and you’ll soon find that the more you do, the better you’ll feel, and the more you’ll want to do. Think of this as a virtuous cycle. It’s the polar opposite of the vicious cycle that has been dragging you down. You’ll almost certainly have your own ideas on what builds energy but some typical examples include:

  • Exercise. Some gentle regular exercise is good for physical and mental health. Your mood will tell you it’s not what you want to do. But if you schedule a walk or some other activity into your diary regard it as a “must do” activity. You’ll thank yourself afterward.
  • Hobbies. Either reconnect with a favorite pastime or use the excuse to try something new.

  • Time out. Schedule time for yourself but use some of this to undertake a relaxation activity or to practice mindfulness.

  • Contacts. It may feel like an effort to meet up with friends and family but social contact is one of the things we’re built to do. Even if you consider yourself an introvert, it doesn’t mean you should become a hermit. Social contacts lift us and provide energy.

Once you’ve planned out a day, the next step is to plan a week. Don’t feel that every diary space has to be filled and don’t worry if things don’t quite go to plan. It’s good to be flexible and this may mean cancelling or rescheduling.

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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of