By planning action -- and taking it -- you really can improve your sour mood

Apr 23, 2020 Chuck Rodgers

How do we know if someone is depressed?

Primary symptoms of depression are: withdrawal, worry, and lack of pleasure which clinically is called "anhedonia."

What is helpful is to realize that these symptoms of depression are also behavioral causes of depression.

It is a two-way street. We can directly control certain behaviors and thereby indirectly control our emotional state.

Today I am going to focus on the role played by pleasant activities.

When we are depressed we do not experience pleasure, and we do not even feel like doing anything that might give us some pleasure.

In fact, we might not feel like doing anything.

If we could only motivate ourselves to action, however, we would find that in many ways, pleasure "cures" depression.

By definition, the experience of pleasure is the opposite of anhedonia.

Here is a way to "bootstrap" your actions to be able to experience pleasure.

1. Make a list

Aim for 25 things you could do which have the potential of being enjoyable.

To generate so many items, you have to think seriously about what you might find pleasurable. T

he first few items will be easy, could relate to anyone, and probably do not motivate you too much.

Later items will be harder to come up with and more specific to you even though others may not find them pleasurable. You might love barbershop music but few others would enjoy listening to it.

Do not neglect simple items such as drinking coffee, showering, reading the paper, watching sunsets, whistling, walking, or sitting in the sun.

2. Schedule

Get a calendar and schedule exactly when you are actually going to do some of these activities in the next seven days. The more the better.

Exactly when will you call your friend? When will you walk?

By itself, the schedule does nothing. Action is now required.

3. Action-first


Now do what you have scheduled.

Do not wait until you feel like doing those things before you act. Hell will freeze over first.

That is because engaging in pleasant activities is incongruent with depression.

Lead with the action first. Be persistent, and that will drag the mood along with it.

Action is the pump-handle that you may have to pump many times to start water flowing.

Take action, and stick with it. You can change your mood.


Editor's note: Clinical psychologist Charles W. Rodgers, Ph.D. (retired) opened Fremont Counseling Service in 1973 and today is a member of the Fremont Counseling Service board.

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