Have you seen the comedy movie What About Bob? It stars Bill Murray as a petrified but lovable and hilarious co-dependent, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety patient who follows his therapist on vacation and charms everyone in that therapist’s life.
Whether or not you’ve seen it, check out the baby steps scene.
Well, Bob and Dr Marvin are right. The movie may be silly and the book may be non-existent, but the baby steps idea is good for all of us dealing with depression.
When I manage to complete one small thing, I think of Bob and acknowledge that I took a baby step. Even when I’m alone in a depressive episode and I flatly refuse to do anything, the reminder of Bob is there – and truly it’s the thought that counts. Or when I’m on the way up from a depressive episode and feeling weighed down and hopeless with guilt, shame and worthlessness, one small step is something. Just one. Anything.
Don’t let yourself belittle that one tiny baby step.
When you’re held down
I get it. Depression takes away all energy and motivation to do anything. I’ve lived with it for 36 years and can’t imagine counting up the days when I’ve accomplished bugger all. On those days, getting anything done was like trying to lift a skyscraper. I still get ‘em.
The ideal solution would be not to have depression any more, right? But tackling this entire condition feels utterly overwhelming and impossible. So don’t think of dealing with the entire thing. I’ll blog about this another time, but it’s not about the faraway destination. It’s about the journey. It’s about a process, not a “cure”.
Focus on one thing right now. Focus on right now only. Let results take care of themselves. Thinking ahead will push us down.
Sometimes you feel so low and weighed down that your tasks for the day feel impossible. Hell, just getting out of bed can feel impossible. I hear you. Been there. I still go there.
- Do one small thing. Just one. You can do one. When all seems impossible and you want to stay anchored to the couch, do one tiny thing. It doesn’t matter how insignificant it seems. Make a deal with yourself, challenge yourself, cajole yourself, whatever it takes.
- Thank yourself. Acknowledge what you did. Congratulate yourself, not with alcohol or food or drugs, etc. With thanks. Gratitude is HUGE. Be thankful. I don’t care if you don’t mean it. Just say it aloud. Every time.
Don’t listen to the negative thoughts
Right at this kind of moment, your depression will tell you that what you just did was meaningless, pathetic, weak, and nothing to crow about. It will say you should have done much more and will make you think of all the things you didn’t achieve.
You did it. When you thought you couldn’t do anything, you did something. You broke depression’s hold over you for a few seconds or a few minutes.
That is massively important.
Why? Because that’s the process for how we make improvement with our depression: one small step at a time.
Take each step on its own
Some days you’ll take more steps, some days fewer. It doesn’t matter. Do your best and forget the rest. As you might know from working out, some days your best is beating what you’ve done before and other days it falls short of that. Whatever your best is on that day, that’s what counts.
Make a note of the steps you completed. Write them down. You’re creating a list of small accomplishments that add up. After a few days or weeks, compare those with what might have been if you hadn’t taken them.
And be grateful!
Some baby step ideas
There’s no such thing as unimportant baby steps. As we well know, depression makes the simplest things seem impossible. Try some of these. Or just one.
- Get dressed.
- Close YouTube.
- Leave your phone or tablet for 15 minutes.
- Make breakfast instead of going to the drive through.
- Eat an extra vegetable or piece of fruit.
- Drink a glass of water.
- Make your bed.
- Go to work.
- Put one load of washing in the machine.
- Play or sing some music.
- Walk around the block.
- Make an appointment with your doctor or therapist or counsellor.
- Meditate for 10 minutes.
- Spend 10 minutes in the sunshine.
- Pay one bill.
- Call one friend. Don’t text. Talk.
- Activate your “up” trigger.
JUST DO ONE THING. THEN THANK YOURSELF.
It’s not a cure. It’s not a solution. It’s a baby step to be celebrated. It’s part of a process.
Focus on right now. Do something right now. Concentrate on the process right now. Show yourself that you CAN do something right now. And show yourself some love for doing that something, no matter what your depression tells you.
I’m going to thank myself for getting this blog done.
Baby steps. They help.
Thank you for this really great post, John. I can relate to this. For me, actually ticking something off my to do list is very encouraging. Ive started going to yoga again, which is really positive and energising.
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Yes yes yes! I especially love your comments about celebrating the small victories! Things like: “I brushed my teeth! YES!” or “I took a shower and did the dishes AND took out the trash!! THAT’S THREE THINGS!! I’M AMAZING!!!!” That kind of stuff brought me through many a bad day. Who cares if the victories are “small” victories?? It’s a victory and should be celebrated. I agree with you 100%! Well said!
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