Activate Your Behavior for Increased Happiness

By, Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW

So it's your first appointment with your new therapist and you're feeling depressed. Some of the most common symptoms of depression are a lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, little or no motivation and feeling overly tired.

After my clients tell me about how much this lack of motivation affects their lives, they ask how they get their mojo back and how I will help them to do that. Well, as a therapist, I can't make you do anything. The secret? Action comes before motivation. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you may be waiting around forever.

The concept of action to build motivation is called behavioral activation and it's one of the most effective ways to get people up and out of bed and back to their regular routine. So getting out of your slump is entirely up to you. Yes, this will mean doing things that may not seem enjoyable at the moment, but trust me, it will help in the long run.

Here are some tips to behaviorally activate yourself:

1. Make a list of things you used to enjoy, or things you may feel you could enjoy.  

2. Figure out the high and low points of your day. Track your activities and the associated mood for 72 hours.

3. You don't have to write a novel but make sure you are specific enough that you can really figure out what is making you happy and sad. For example, writing “sitting at home” won't give you enough data. Instead, you could write “sitting at home alone on the couch watching tv”.

4. Once you've finished your daily diary pick out activities that made you feel better and those that made you feel depressed. For example, taking a walk outside may make you feel better and watching tv alone might make you feel worse.

5. You'll begin to notice trends. Trends can include the time of day, environment, who is with you, the season etc.

6. Once you've identified your low points substitute some of those pleasurable activities you wrote down instead.

7. Even if you don't feel enjoyment instantly keep at it! Even a small improvement in mood is a great step.

8. Enlist a friend to help keep you on track. For example, having a buddy to go work out with will help keep you on track.

The take away is that it's not easy to get your motivation back, but if you can get moving and active your inspiration will follow.

Elizabeth Cobb is founder and lead therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. To learn more about behavioral activation and how it can help with depression contact Cobb Psychotherapy.