Most of us take action because we believe it will bring about a concrete benefit or result in future happiness. These prospects are what motivate us. Clinical depression, however, can change your brain in a way that makes it difficult to experience a sense of pleasure or reward. When depression makes you unbearably sad, numb, or exhausted, you might not feel like there is a reason to do anything. If nothing has satisfied you lately, you might think, “What’s the point?”
Fortunately there are mental techniques and strategies you can employ to gradually regain the motivation needed to live a full life. You can try them on your own or by working with a therapist. The latter, however, will most likely yield better, faster results.
Below are some strategies recommended by therapists who have worked with clients to restore their motivation during severe depression. Most of these solutions focus on incremental steps, so change is more manageable and easier to commit to.
Setting Up Small Goals and Rewards
When depression drains your motivation, you have to work to create new incentive to replace what existed naturally before your mental health deteriorated. This starts with setting small goals.
For example, Talkspace therapist Melissa Moreno recommended setting the simple goal of going grocery shopping. If you succeed in that, reward yourself by cooking your favorite meal or watching an episode of the latest TV show. This process of small accomplishments and rewards will help restore your motivation.
As you begin to feel better, steadily increase the difficulty of the goals. Try going on a long run, for example, and rewarding yourself with a small dessert. Eventually the goal can be something as challenging as learning a new skill or traveling somewhere exciting that you haven’t been. Try different options and see what works.
Remember Your Life Before Depression
Before the depression set in, what did you enjoy doing? Write these items down as they come to mind. Then rank them in terms of what you are able to accomplish, from most to least difficult. Until you have more energy and motivation, it’s best to start with those you can easily complete. Then think about what steps you can take to get back into a routine that includes these tasks or activities.
Therapist Erika Martinez implemented this strategy successfully by helping one of her clients get back into volunteering. During therapy he discussed how he used to enjoy volunteering at a homeless shelter. His next step was calling the homeless shelter, then setting a start date for the volunteering, then showing up. The momentum — and motivation — built from there.
In a similar vein, think about what motivated you before the depression. What inspired you? It could be anything from childhood to the present. Try to revisit those sources of motivation and get in touch with parts of yourself that might feel distant.
Examine Any Negative Self-Talk
Depression is often a subconscious voice that relentlessly tells you there is no point to anything. Therapist Tina B. Tessina, author of “It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction,” suggested examining and combating negative, irrational thoughts. Once they rise to your consciousness, you will have more control of them. You can then gradually replace these thoughts with positive, rational beliefs. Tell yourself over and over again that there is a point, even if you don’t believe it immediately.
Look at External Factors
Sometimes external factors kill motivation and contribute to clinical depression. Let’s say you are stuck in a dead end job. The only motivation you have to do good work is to keep your job and put food on the table. This is obviously not as stimulating as an environment where you can eventually move up and have increased responsibilities if you work hard.
Here are a few more common situations that might be killing your motivation:
- Having romantic partners, friends, or family members who abuse you, put you down, or don’t treat you with respect
- Abuse or bullying in the workplace or school
- A debilitating health issue or chronic illness
- Being a victim of discrimination or sexism
Think about whether one or more of these factors are present in your life. Then examine their effect on your ability to feel motivated.
Fighting Depression One Step at a Time
Rekindling motivation is one of the most crucial steps in fighting depression. You can supplement the effort by working with a therapist and living a healthy lifestyle. For in-depth advice on coping with every aspect of depression, read this piece about how to treat and deal with the condition.