How to Find Motivation in the Grips of Depression
Why is it that some people willingly get up at 05:30 every morning, while others snooze their alarm four times on a good day?
The motivation to get out of bed
Have you ever met someone with an almost infinite amount of motivation and drive? No matter what happens they just keep striving toward their goals and dreams.
It’s extremely surreal to me because I more often than not fluctuate between good days, bad weeks, and even worse months.
So how is it that these people are blessed with an endless source of desire to work, create, change, and live?
While others have a hard time getting out of bed because of an overwhelming lack of purpose and reason.
Maybe the answer is that we are just wired differently, and hoping to tap into some of that motivation is a pipe dream for us with depression.
I for one don’t think so…
We can treat motivation to treat depression
Does it seem like an unfair comparison to you? The one between person A, cursed with depression, and person B, blessed with motivation?
After all, if depression causes a lack of motivation, what possible use could it be to try to treat the lack of motivation first?
Here’s the thing though, I don’t think depression causes a lack of motivation.
It can’t be denied that they very often go hand in hand, but the truth is that they only do so because they have the same underlying cause.
I mentioned this underlying cause briefly in my article on self-compassion.
Ultimately depression is the result of numerous deep-rooted, and largely subconscious, cognitive distortions and self-defeating thoughts and beliefs.
Why some brains are more prone toward accepting and cultivating these unreasonable and largely self-critical thought patterns is a great question. One that I don’t have a good answer for.
But the important thing to know is that even the most stubborn of beliefs or thought patterns can be changed if we actively challenge them.
Our irrational beliefs keep us trapped
When we challenge our destructive thoughts and beliefs they begin to break down, until they no longer have the power to keep us chained in depression.
Let’s take a look at some specific thoughts from my own thought diary, and why they are irrational and destructive:
“My work doesn’t help anyone, so it’s pointless to write.”
No wonder I don’t feel like writing when I assume whatever I create has no potential to help anyone.
But I certainly can’t tell the future, and neither can anyone else. The truth is that I have no way of knowing if my work is helpful before it’s done and posted.
It also contradicts the fact that plenty of people seem to find my past articles helpful and entertaining.
“I don’t care about anything, so I might as well just stay in bed.”
Actually, whenever I’m not feeling down, I care about many things.
It’s irrational to assume whatever I am feeling now will be the same tomorrow, or even later. Especially when I know from prior experiences that this lack of care is just a symptom of a depressive episode.
David D. Burns writes at length about examining and challenging our destructive thoughts in his book:
“Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”.
It has really opened my eyes to how irrational and destructive my thought patterns can be, and helped me out of more than a few depressive episodes by now.
Motivation follows action
One more thing that I learned from Burns is how motivation follows action. It is pointless to lie around waiting for motivation to strike you, because it won’t.
And this is exactly why treating a lack of motivation can actually help treat depression.
All of the irrational and destructive thoughts that keep us chained up in procrastination and absolute lack of motivation. They are so often proven wrong when we get out of bed, write that article, go to that party, ask for that date, etc.
This does by no means make it easy to take that first step, but that first step is the hardest one to make.
Choosing to get out of bed in the morning can be excruciating, but once we are finally out, we usually find a reason to stay out relatively quickly.
The same is true for everything else, when we feel unmotivated, the treatment is to force ourselves to take that first step. Because the motivation will come whenever we jump in and find Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s much sought after feeling of flow.
Cultivating this habit of not overthinking, but instead engaging immediately with whatever we know we need to do, is something I wrote about in
4 Habits that Make Your Anxiety Worse
and it is equally true for lack of motivation and depression, if not even more.
This change won’t happen overnight, but it will become increasingly easy over time. Every day is a new opportunity to test our limits, by not snoozing our alarms, starting that project, reading a couple of pages in that book, etc.
What thoughts/beliefs are holding you back? Feel free to share them in the comments below and we can analyse them together!