• Liz Millican

It doesn't seem real

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

When you're depressed getting better doesn't seem real. The idea that taking action could help you feel better seems laughable. Happiness can seem like a fairy tale.


If you feel that way it's important to pay attention to observable truth. First, there are people who have suffered from these issues and have successfully found help.


Second, if you don't take action to change something you don't like what do you expect to happen? How you feel is extremely unlikely to change without some sort of change in your thinking and behavior.


For thought change: Challenge negativity.


We can often have thoughts that are so negative they immobilize us. I remember feeling like no one cared about me and I looked for reasons to confirm my belief. If someone didn't say hi to me then I assumed they didn't care. I didn't give other people the benefit of the doubt. I just assumed the worst case scenario.


Assuming the worst made me afraid to talk to people and reach out. My thinking affected my willingness to take action in a negative way. When I learned to challenge my negative thoughts it was easier to set goals and take steps to improve my life. Assuming the best about others motivates you to work through problems.

How?


Avoid talking in absolutes. If you catch yourself using phrases like always, never, no one, everyone, etc then you’re using absolutes. Using these phrases convinces you that things can’t change. If you think something can’t change then you’re giving yourself an excuse not to try. If what you’re doing doesn’t work then learn about what does work.


Change the channel on who you listen to. It is easiest to challenge negative thoughts by sharing them with someone who can encourage you. While there are people who speak negativity instead of giving kind encouragement, the only way to find encouraging people is to give people a chance. Spend less time with people who speak constant negativity and surround yourself with people who can help you focus on the positive in your life and motivate you to pursue your goals.


In high school I spent time with friends who didn't have goals and just focused on having fun in the moment. While I have some great memories from that I also made some bad decisions which resulted in low confidence. Spending more time with people who encouraged me to do better in my life helped me pursue change. That also meant spending less time with people who weren't helpful or encouraging. Eventually my unhealthy friendships died as I moved in a different direction.


For behavior change: Set goals. Creating good goals helps motivate and drive change. Consider these sub-points:


Time bound and measurable. Putting a time limit on accomplishing measurable goals helps you assess your progress. Making it halfway towards a goal is better than not moving towards your goal. You can also make daily, weekly, monthly and longer term goals.


Realistic. Start with small steps. If you have a large goal you want to accomplish then set a goal for a small step that moves you towards a larger goal. Most big goals can be broken up into small steps that move you towards your goal.


If you have a goal to clean your home then you may divide that goal into smaller parts by cleaning/reorganizing one room per week, and one section of a room per day. This approach can help you recognize the accomplishments that you've been making no matter how small.


Specific. If you want to become a better writer then stating that as your goal is vague and it's hard to know what action to take towards accomplishing your goal. Your ambition is to get better, so you have to consider which approach you should use to establish your goal. Taking a writing course and completing all your assignments is something specific, measurable and within your control that you could choose to do that would help move you towards becoming a better writer.


Within your control. Let's say you're lonely and your objective is to have more meaningful relationships. You have no control over how other people respond to you. It's better to focus on something that's within your control. You control how you treat others and whether you reach out to them. You can set a goal to reach out to one new person this week and contact one old friend you'd like to reconnect with. Focusing on what you can do instead of how others respond will help you stay focused and motivated.


If you define success as taking steps and adjusting to learn what works then you can easily find success, whereas defining your success based on results can be frustrating. The important thing is that you took a step, the result helps you know how you need to adjust so your next step is even better.


For example, if you’re hoping to build more meaningful relationships then it’s common to come across a lot of people who are too busy or disinterested. It can be discouraging when you reach out to ten people and only get a response from one or none. Don’t focus on the result. Focus on the step you took. If you can learn and improve then take steps to improve, but every step you take is important and worth acknowledging.


Some questions you can ask yourself to help you set good goals:


If you're phrasing it in the negative, what do you want instead? Instead of arguing less, what would you like to happen instead?


What do I have control of that will help me reach my goal? How can I start taking action today that will help me accomplish my goal?


What small step can I take today that will make achieving my larger goal easier?


Is my goal clear enough that other people understand how these steps will help me reach my goal?


To friends. Challenging negatives directly probably won't work. Focus on speaking positively and use specific examples. A specific example is more meaningful and helps build confidence. Helping someone recognize their good qualities can build their confidence to try new things. You can even be old fashioned and write it in a note so that your friend can look back on it on hard days.


You can help your friends think through their goals by sharing this article with them and talking them through their goals. If they're struggling you can write out their objective and then discuss how they can accomplish that objective in a specific, measurable, and time limited way that is within their control and realistic. If they aren't ready to set goals yet then let them know you're available to support them when they are ready. Don't push them to be ready on your time line.

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