Breaking the lethargy cycle

When you feel depressed, it is useful to set intermediate goals as well as final targets

Breaking the lethargy cycle

"If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else." Yogi Berra

When you look at your goals, such as getting back to work, having a relationship; they may seem a long way off. You are like a mountaineer seeing his destination as a hazy peak in the distance. To help reach the peak, the mountaineer sets intermediate targets and each step edges him closer.

When you feel depressed, it is useful to set intermediate goals as well as final targets. Setting goals on a weekly basis helps you to keep on track, and also gives you the opportunity to reflect regularly on how you are progressing toward your end goal.

The chart shows how Peter put goal-setting to good use:

Peter had a job interview lined up for three weeks’ time, but was feeling unmotivated and discouraged. He claimed that the task of getting to the interview was overwhelming and he felt helpless. He was encouraged to set weekly goals to help plan for the interview.

By keeping to these goals, Peter felt more prepared for the interview. He was also increasing his chances of getting the job. Over the three weeks he started to feel more confident.



•           Confirm attendance at interview

•           Check interview clothes

•           Buy a new shirt


•           Visit the workplace

•           Talk to other people who work in a similar area

•           Do some background reading


•           Jot down a list of possible interview questions

•           Discuss these with a friend or the family

•           Rehearse the interview with someone

•           Have a dress rehearsal the night before.


Rewards and treats
It is useful to programme into your activity plan various rewards. Having something to look forward to makes completing the activity much more worthwhile. Rewards are motivators, and may include pleasant activities such as soaking in the bath, going to the beach, or materialistic things such as new clothes.

Write a list of rewards that work for you, taking cost and availability into consideration. Reward yourself as soon as you can after you have accomplished your goal. For instance, after doing the vacuuming you may treat yourself to a cup of coffee or a walk in the garden. Peter treated himself to a swim after rehearsing possible interview questions. A night out at the movies was his reward for getting the job interview.

Setting goals and priorities
Throughout life your goals need to be reassessed. What is an appropriate and useful goal at one stage in your life, such as pursuing a career, may not be relevant during retirement. Letting go of previous goals can be difficult and sometimes distressing. This is why it is a good idea to develop alternatives which are appropriate to your current needs. When people get depressed at various stages of their life, this is often because they have not reassessed and reviewed their goals. This is especially so when the depression occurs in mid-life. At this time many people evaluate what they have and have not achieved. Some people feel that their time is running out and that their previous goals have lost meaning. Goals often reflect our emotional needs, eg needs for stability, self-expression or intimacy. A lack of goals inevitably leads to depression.

Goals should be interesting and challenging but not overwhelming. They may include spending more time with your children, learning to relax, learning to play golf, losing weight, getting a job, getting fit and so on. Achieving such goals also helps to give your self-confidence a boost.

The table below will help you to balance your lifestyle and to set goals across all aspects of your life. Make sure the goals that you set are interesting, relevant and appropriate for you. Think about some short-term, intermediate and long-term goals.

The best way to make these changes is to set priorities. Decide on one goal that you would like to work on first. It is useful to tackle the easiest initially and then move on to a more difficult one.









Next week

Next month

Next year








What is your reward for finishing this chapter?

What is your reward for completing the final exercise?

This extract has been reproduced with permission from Beating the blues by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball, which can be purchased from

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    27th Apr 2015
    What's a real reward for me at the end of the day is going to the the Northern Beaches and just rewarding myself after getting some of my work done. A day at Dee why can realy perk my spirits up. There's just something about being near the beach that makes me happy.

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