The worst of human miseries are often self-inflicted. You lose a lover and believe you won’t survive. The more you try to get your mind off the loss, the worse you feel. You dwell on a mistake that you made a long time ago. The more you think about the mistake, the worse you feel. You feel dull and listless. You worry that you’ll never feel good again. The more you think about living a life of misery, the worse you feel. This is a prescription for self-inflicted misery.
Depressive exaggerations are without limit. For example, you believe you made an unforgivable mistake. You tell yourself, “everybody hates me." You are with friends, who don't notice your mistake. One compliments you on your appearance. You brush it off because it doesn't fit with your "everyone hates me belief." You are now carrying extra baggage filled with negative ideas that weigh down your life. (By accepting negative exaggerations as a symptom of depression, you may feel less burdened by them. You'll do better yet if you don't take these transitory thoughts personally or seriously.)
When you feel depressed, and don't know why, you may try to find a cause, such as "life sucks," which is an overly generalized form of thought. Negative, overly generalized thinking, classically co-occurs with depression.
If you are in this cycle of self-inflicted misery, is it possible for you to act as if you could motivate yourself to take positive corrective actions? Consider the following before you answer.
Kick the Blame Habit
Blame, like the air, is everywhere. Thus, you can always find reason to blame someone or something for your depression. You may sometimes have a justifiable reason. However, I find no limits to useless blame.
- You can blame your biology and claim it is unfair that you have a genetic vulnerability toward depression. Where does that get you?
- You can blame your ancestors who passed on a tendency toward depression. Where does that get you?
- You can blame rotten early childhood experiences, or the awkwardness of adolescence. Where does that get you?
- You can blame unfortunate losses, difficulties, and setbacks. Where does that get you?
- You can blame yourself and say depression is your entire fault. Where does that get you?
The sad truth is that when you regularly feel depressed, blame does not buy relief. Here’s another angle.
You are not responsible for your tendencies toward depression. However, if you want to do and get better, it is your responsibility to try promising ways to break a depressive cycle and to lower your risk for future depressions.
Practice the Impossibility Intervention
Taking action may seem impossible when you feel depressed. If so, an impossibility intervention might help. You take something that is possible for you to do and intentionally exaggerate the opposite. Here are two examples of this paradoxical. Tell yourself it is impossible to read when depressed. If that's impossible, what are you doing now? Tell yourself that it is impossible to drink water when you feel depressed. When you drink water, what does that say about your ability to take this form of action?
When depressed, daily doing physical exercises is among the very best things you can do to recover from depression. However, what do you do when your mood says no? Evoke the impossibility intervention. Tell yourself that it is impossible for you to run in place. Then test the proposition by standing up and running in place. That's not impossible to do!
Apply Procrastination Technology to Depression
Most self-inflicted miseries involve procrastination. You feel overwhelmed by too many things that you’ve left undone (the primary procrastination factor). You then procrastinate because you believe that you are too depressed to act (the secondary procrastination factor). You can reduce depression by reducing primary and secondary procrastination.
Procrastination technology is the application of methods and techniques to improve your performances by staying on track with doing what is relevant and timely. This technology brings a new dimension to combating depression. Here is one basic step. Commit to any meaningful antidepression action for five minutes.
Committing to make a change is not the same as doing. People make these commitments all the time and don’t follow through. Sometimes this is due to a depressive inertia, or tendency to continue on a path of gloom where you act as if you believed you can do nothing different. Nevertheless, making an intellectual commitment to try a different way, is a start. What can you do next?
Follow up with language of change where you chart a direction. Briefly, you give yourself a concrete step-by-step prescription for a constructive action. Here's an example: “I will set a goal first." "I will devise a simple action plan." "I will take the first action step exactly five minutes from now." "I will continue with that action step for five minutes." "I will then decide whether I’ll do five minutes more." Now, turn language of change into actions of change. Take the first step toward breaking free from your inertial path of gloom.
Use the Radical Shift Technique
If you were a depressed dog, you’d feel and act logy. You might sleep more than usual. You might eat less. You might show disinterest in playing chase the ball, going for walks, or going for rides with your persons. The odds are that you would not interpret how you felt, or think you are a bad dog for feeling depressed, or blame your persons for not giving you more treats, and, thus, causing your depression.
The self-inflicted misery phase of depression comes about when you draw into yourself and dwell on your worries, troubles, and woes, including how rotten you feel. In this self-absorbed state of mind, you magnify, you overgeneralize, and you feel like you are swirling round and round in what may seem like an inescapable situation. In this process, you come to know more and more about what bothers you the most and less and less about what you can do to break your depressive cycle.
The radical shift technique is where you push yourself to act as if you were not depressed. You start by acting in a self-observant way. This shift from self-absorbing stresses to self-observant actions can help you overcome self-inflicted miseries.
- With a self-observant approach, you take extra steps to examine depression as though you were watching yourself from a distance.
- You monitor thoughts, feelings, and actions so as not to be fooled by exaggerations and self-absorbing fictions in order to develop a realistic perspective on what you can and will do to self-improve.
- You use writing to help develop perspective. Writing things out for purposes of broadening your perspective correlates with self-improvement.
- You practice suspending judgment in situations where there are unknowns. (Avoid jumping to conclusions.)
Let’s return to the question of whether you can motivate yourself to take any of the above steps. Maybe you don't have to feel motivated. By taking antidepression steps that you don't feel motivated to take, you may develop motivation to do more.
For more about overcoming depression, click The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression (Second Edition). Special to this book, and as a bonus to readers, 25 different depression experts contributed their best brief tips to this text. Use whatever ideas and techniques you believe can help you to untangle yourself from self-inflicted miseries.
Thumbnail photo image of field of yellow flowers by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art and Design, Fayetteville NC
Dr. Bill Knaus
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