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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Noble

Optimize Your Life

Updated: Jan 3



Everyone has the capacity to experience depression. If the conditions are right (or wrong), even the most positive, upbeat, and cheerful person can feel down. Take away social interaction, sunlight, physical activity, a balanced diet, autonomy, and any rewarding activities and you have a recipe for depression. There’s a reason why many state legislators have pushed to ban solitary confinement in prisons due to its detrimental (and sometimes irreversible) effects on the mental health of inmates. A life of stagnation is corrosive to the mind.


There’s a strong connection between our behaviors and mood. That’s actually good news. Just as poor conditions can worsen our mood, the opposite is true as well- when our behaviors match our values, we can experience a boost in our mood. That means we have the ability to improve our mental health by the actions we take. The formal name for this is Behavioral Activation, and it is considered an evidence-based treatment for depression- meaning there’s science to back it. Whether you are one of over 17 million Americans who experience depression or just someone who wants to get the most out of their life, Behavioral Activation is a deliberate and effective way to improve your overall wellbeing.


How to do it


Behavioral Activation is a simple concept: identify the activities you find rewarding, plug them into your schedule, and force yourself to do them. Here's how it works:


Step 1: Establish Your Baseline


Track your activities for a few days. Next to each activity, rate how important/fulfilling you found it on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = least important, 10 = most important). Do the same for how enjoyable you found each activity. Sum the totals for each category. The totals will give you a baseline as well as a sense of the balance between how much of your day is spent doing important tasks versus enjoyable ones (see the example below).



Step 2: Identify Your Values


Your values are what you hold as central to your character. They generally drive your motivations and behaviors. You will first need to identify what you value most in order to generate activities that will make the most impact to your sense of well-being. Using the five life areas below, identify your top values in each area.




Step 3: Identify Behaviors that Align with each Value


For each value you list, generate 3-5 activities that align with that value. For example, if someone values being physically fit (from the Mind/Body/Spirit category), that person may generate activities that revolve around weight-lifting, running, and other forms of health promotion. Similarly, if someone values having a clean living space (from the Responsibilities category), they may identify sweeping, mopping, and dusting as corresponding activities.


As you create activities, it will be important to follow the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal framework to maximize your probability of success. The more specific and measured you are, the more likely you are to achieve your goals. For example, if you value being physically fit and have identified running as one of the activities that aligns with that value, a SMART version of that activity would be running for at least 30 minutes, 3 days per week.





Step 4: Plug those Behaviors into your Schedule


Pick a few activities from your list to plug into your schedule. Be sure to start slow and adhere to the SMART principles listed above. Also, continue to track your daily activities using the tracker from Step 1 in order to monitor your important/enjoyable numbers and measure your progress. Your goal should be to increase the overall numbers as much as possible while also striking a relative balance between the two. Too many important activities but not enough enjoyable ones could lead to burnout, while an imbalance of too many enjoyable activities could lead you to feeling unaccomplished. The ideal balance will vary from person to person with the goal of achieving a steady state of contentment by making small adjustments.



 

It doesn’t matter who you are, if your schedule is full of unfulfilling and unenjoyable tasks, you are going to feel empty. Fortunately, to be human is to have the ability of choice- to choose how we spend our days even if those choices are limited. By taking a zoomed-out view of your daily schedule, identifying what you value most, and deliberately adding or subtracting activities to increase the quality of your experiences, you can actively and mathematically improve your quality of life.




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