One of the subtler symptoms of depression can be a lack of motivation. This can range from just putting things off to not being able to get oneself out of bed in the morning. Making the traditional “to do” list may not be as effective in revving up some intrinsic motivation as the “Things I Actually Did” list.
This method reminds me of those emergency radios that you can power up by turning a crank to generate energy. It’s not a quick process, and the hardest part is deciding to do it. Deciding to write down even small accomplishments is the cranking part.
Getting out of bed, brushing teeth, making a cup of tea or coffee, checking for messages on the phone—they qualify for the list. Having a notebook out and writing down any accomplishment can be encouraging and even fun as the list grows. For those on automatic pilot in the morning and who can’t miss a beat of the routine it takes just to get to work on time, the list may start later in giving oneself credit for every task that gets done.
This may seem like a lot of trouble to go through to get started. Research tells us that while sticks (punishment) and carrots (rewards) may be powerful incentives, the most powerful motivators are in the approach we take toward ourselves. Blaming and engaging in negative self talk toward ourselves in periods of amotivation don’t work. What does work is patiently working with ourselves to document progress, even small progress, working for mastery, and looking for purpose in our lives. As in many things, the smallest steps going in the right direction count.