Depression and Goal-Setting

Depression and Goal-Setting

For most of us, it is harder to make decisions when we are struggling with depression. Part of the reason for this has to do with how depression affects the flow of energy between different parts of the brain. When we are depressed, our limbic system (a particularly emotional part of the brain) begins to overwhelm the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for decision making and goal setting).

However, if we can begin to make even small decisions, we can start to think and act our way out of our depression. Here are a few tips to help with the decision-making process:

Recognize the decisions you have already made today. Did you decide to eat breakfast? What did you choose to eat? Why? Did you decide to stay in bed instead of getting up for work? What influenced your decision? With just a little bit of reflection, we can begin to see that we have already made several small decisions without even recognizing it. By recognizing the momentum of small decisions we have already made, it becomes easier to make additional decisions moving forward. (Bonus: We are always deciding. Choosing not to make a decision is still a decision.)

Aim for making a good decision, not a perfect decision. Oftentimes, the perfect decision is impossible to make. We never have enough information. If we try to make the perfect decision, we end up paralyzing ourselves. Instead, try to AVOID the perfect decision. Aim for “good enough” instead.

Focus on just the next step. Complex projects can become overwhelming if we try to tackle the whole thing at once. Instead, try to figure out, “What is one thing I can do today to move this project forward?” Maybe break it down even further. “What is one thing I can do in the next 15 minutes to move this project forward?” By breaking projects down into smaller chunks, we make them more manageable. “I am going to do one load of laundry” is much more manageable than “I am going to do the laundry, vacuum the floors and finish the grocery shopping.”

Start with the easiest. When we are feeling depressed, the hardest part is getting started. However, once we get started, it becomes easier to keep going. Make a list of the things you’d like to do today. Now, order the list from easiest to hardest. Start with the easiest things first, even if they are not the most important. Once you have a bit of momentum, it often becomes easier to tackle the harder challenges.


Eric McClerren, APC

Originally posted on 

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