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Personal Growth

Overcoming Depression – Part 2: Habit Change

By July 12, 2013No Comments

This is part two in my three part series on how I woke up out of my depression and began my personal development journey. Read part one and three.

Some Positive Talk

My last two posts have been about depression and setting the stage for what’s to come. Let’s get to something more positive, shall we? In January I bought Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, a book by Pema Chodron. Looking back it shows that I was seeking help and looking at spiritual advice. I was attracted to the sense of simplicity and clarity. I tried reading daily but eventually fell out of the habit. Typical me. In February I felt like I hit rock bottom. It was nothing disastrous. And rock bottom for me is a joke to most people because I feel like it had nothing to do with drugs or going bankrupt or losing all that I have.

Side note: Stop comparing yourself to others. There’s no award for the lowest low or the rockiest rock bottom. It’s a turning point where you realize you are in a bad place and you turn things around. That’s it. Just because you aren’t homeless and still have a job doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be depressed. I’ve heard many people disqualify people’s depression because they haven’t sunk as low as them. This has to stop.

I felt so low that I started tracking my moods on a daily basis to try to get some sense in just what was happening with me. Why was I feeling down almost every day despite having so much good stuff happening around me that I was a part of?  I have so much, who am I to complain? (There I go judging myself again. This is a bad habit.)

Small Wins

As winter wore off I started feeling an urge to turn things around again. It wasn’t a mindful decision, but rather a moment of inspiration that I took action on. In April, I downloaded an app called Lift. It’s a simple habit tracking app that I believe set in motion the series of small wins that led me to a path of self discovery, productivity, and inner peace.

I started tracking simple habits like push-ups, no soda, etc. I tried on all sorts of habits because it made it fun. Some worked some didn’t. I also bought a FitBit to track my activity and I announced my Breakdance 52 project, a weekly breakdance video blog where I would commit to doing one practice video every week. This caused me to become interested in how habits work.

I saw a friend of mine was regularly taking cold showers on Lift. I asked him about it and he linked me to articles about how it improves mood and relieved depression. My first cold shower was on May 17 and wow, what a rush. I took another the next day and kept going. It felt awesome to be able to have something rather easy to check off every day. Did it make my depression go away? I don’t know, but it made me feel good afterward. I also added habits like “practice piano” and “breakdance” and even “eat a vegetarian diet.” Not saying I stuck with them, but I did try new things.

Productivity Manifesto

At some point I got hip to Feedly. I was excited about following blogs and starting fresh with a new RSS reader. On April 24th I asked what blogs people subscribe to. Someone told me One look and I subscribed instantly. The best design links every day? Yes please.

On May 4th the Productivity Manifesto was posted linking me to Nathan Barry. I subscribed to his blog and also read To Be Known You Must Teach. This guy was onto something I thought.   This turned me onto his book Authority and to his brilliant app Convert Kit. This inspired me on the way back from Montreal Meets to redo my the landing page to my book Thread’s Not Dead and create an email course to drive a ton more sales (this has yet to happen by the way). At this point I was obsessed with whatever Nathan was doing. I listened to an interview he did on Pocket Changed and through these channels I learned about the amazing Think Traffic and blogger James Clear.

Subconscious Change With Habits

On Quora I started tracking topics related to productivity and habits. I was feeling the energy. On June 2, I read a few awesome posts from a guy named James Clear. Coincidence? One of the posts was about how to kill procrastination. It was through his articles that I found out about identity-based habits and keystone habits.

We tend to build strong habits out of things we attach to our identity. Going to the gym is hard at first because we don’t consider ourselves people who go to the gym. I remember saying those words exactly. I already had many different identities that I tried on that helped me commit to habits (like being a designer or a b-boy). But with this depression I was questioning who I was and my self esteem was very low. I had to change my mindset; my identity.

Keystone habits are habits you build that lead to other habits; like waking up early for instance. Or if you build up an exercise habit, you are likely to start eating healthy. I also read about how it’s more important to start than to succeed. This gave me confidence in just doing the smallest possible thing to get going and forgetting about being the best. Just do something. Pick up the goddamn dumbbell! You don’t have to lift it 20 times, just pick it up.

Pick up the goddamn dumbbell! (This time in blockquote form!)

An object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest stays at rest. If you pick up the dummbell, you’re likely going to lift it once. Then twice. If you are tired, stop. Check it off your habits list and feel good about yourself. Do not set the bar high in the beginning, trust me. I’ve gone all-in on new habits I’m excited about. After a week or two, the excitement wears off and I feel like I can’t do it anymore or I don’t care. I’m onto the next thing. Just lower your expectations.

You are building a habit, that’s your only goal. Stop thinking about getting fit or the end result. Your goal is to make the habit subconscious so you don’t have to rely on will power every time.

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Jeff Finley
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