Sometimes with depression, you wake up and it’s just bad. Just awful. There might not be a reason you can see for it. You just woke up and everything was terrible and, somehow, you’ve got to find a way to motivate yourself through the day.
I have days like this every week. So here are my five tips for how to try and motivate yourself when it feels like everything is stupid and wrong. Remember that they might not work for you, and they might be too much (or too little) on any given day. But if you’re trying, you’re making progress.
1. If you can, work from bed.
Why am I writing this particular article today? Well, because I’m currently having one of those days. It feels like there is a rock on my chest, and every other thought I have is something self-derogatory. All of the aches and pains I already had seem worse, and the idea of getting out of bed seems too much.
So I compromised. I got up, got my laptop, came back to bed and now I’ve managed to do simple tasks and start writing this article. Do I feel better? No. Not really. But I am managing to do things, and when I’ve finished that likely will make me feel better, because I will have achieved something.
This option obviously only works if you have the sort of job where you can work from home. If you’re not able to, the next point might help.
2. Break everything down into the smallest steps.
Let’s say you’ve got to go to work, and there’s no getting around that. You might normally think of the steps to doing so as ‘get ready; leave the house’. Think smaller. Much, much smaller.
You’ve got to get out of bed. Hell, you’ve got to sit up. Does it seem ridiculous to break it down this far? Okay, it kind of is. Sometimes it feels like depression is ridiculous. But it also really isn’t – because when you focus on the immediate, and make that immediate small, things can be a lot more manageable. You don’t need to motivate yourself as much to do it.
It’s like if you’re running, and you tell yourself you’re just going to make the next tree. Then the next tree. Then the next. Do that for yourself, but with getting ready. You’re just going to get out of bed. Then you’re going to walk to the bathroom. Then you’re going to clean your teeth.
Just one more tree.
3. Train yourself like a Pavlovian dog.
Let’s say you can’t even make yourself get out of bed. That’s okay. Find a song that has a really good beat drop partway through. One that starts gently, and at some point becomes a lot bigger. Bonus points if it’s inspiring or uplifting. Make it a song you love, but don’t listen to all the time.
Now put it on, and when that beat drops, get up.
You’ll need to do this multiple times, but eventually, rather than you having to push really hard to get up, you’ll just get up. I’ve been using (but not overusing) this for years and honestly, it weirds me out just how well it works to motivate me. The song changes, and I stand up. No matter how terrible I feel.
And sure, very occasionally I falter and fall again, but the vast majority of the time I’m up and it’s changed things.
My song, if you’re curious, is Coming Back to Life by Pink Floyd.
4. Start your day with an easy task to immediately feel successful.
When you feel this awful, getting some wins in early on can really make a difference.
I’ve almost always got a list of tasks I want to achieve each day done in my bullet journal, so I sit and look at that and I work out what the simplest, easiest thing is. Then I make my next goal just to do that.
After that, I work myself up. Keep going until I’ve gotten myself to being able to do a longer task, and I feel like those achievements I’ve made are enough to motivate me on.
Sometimes this means making up a simple task even if I wasn’t planning to do it. It’s worth it, because it means I show myself that actually I can still do things even though I feel like absolute trash.
5. Work out what you can cut from your day, and don’t do that thing.
For me, sometimes the only way through is by enduring. Sometimes I can’t just push through the depression, and what I need to do instead is give it the space to do its thing. That way, the next days aren’t worse because I pushed myself too hard, and it gets whatever the feelings are out of my system.
Sometimes I get lucky and this happens on days where I’ve already got wiggle room. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I need to work out what to cut out. This is where it can be really hard, because that might mean cutting out going to a social event, or some work I was meant to be doing.
It’s also hard because it can easily make me feel worse; I can feel like I’ve given up. But it’s not giving up at all. It’s just postponing things until you’re able to do them. It’s hard even still, and it often makes me feel like I’m just very lazy.
But ultimately it’s one of the most powerful tools for coping – for me, at least.