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Behavioral Activation: 4 Steps to Getting Unstuck

Dec 07, 2022

Do you have days where you don’t feel like doing something, even though you really "should”? If so, you are a normal human being. This is an experience we all have at some point. Some people experience this more than others, and some of us experience this more during certain periods of our lives than others.


Feeling like you don’t want to do something could be related to challenges with emotional or mental health, or it could be that you are feeling overwhelmed and tired. It could also be because there is something more appealing that you want to do. Regardless of the specific reason, it is because in some way the things you are needing or wanting to do feels challenging. Our human brain is wired to keep us comfortable and to have us use the least amount of energy possible throughout the day. If it is not managed, your brain will want you to play small, stay as comfortable as possible, avoid risks, and do the things that bring the most pleasure, while using the least amount of energy. 


This happens even when logically you know that taking certain actions will help you feel better. For example, you may know that you will feel better after working out, however, you still don’t do it. Another example may be that you know you will feel better after cleaning and organizing your home, however, you continue to put it off. Finally, you know you will feel better if you get your work project done ahead of time, but instead you keep putting it off which continues to create additional stress. If, in addition to your brain trying to keep you comfortable and safe, you are experiencing emotional or mental health concerns, getting into action can be even more challenging. 


If you can relate to the experience of knowing you need to do something, or “should'' do something, and you are having a hard time getting into action, you may want to try a strategy called behavioral activation. When using behavioral activation, the key is to stop overthinking things and to take one small action that will put you in motion, even if it feels like it is the opposite of what you actually want to do. Getting into motion will change your emotions, which will result in you being more motivated and/or energized to stay in action. Too often we overthink things and talk ourselves out of doing things, or we wait to feel more motivated or inspired to take action. The reality is that motivation rarely appears in these situations, however, when you take one small action and change your emotional state, motivation, inspiration, and momentum often follow. The key in doing this is to start with something small and very "doable".


If you are interested in trying a form of behavioral activation, try these 4 steps:

  • Notice the emotions you are experiencing when you are in a situation of not wanting to do something that you need to do or you think you should do. Identify as many as you can. 


  • Identify where you are still wanting or needing to take action, even though you don’t want to. What are the benefits of taking action? What is the cost of not taking action?


  • Decide to take one small step. Remember, keep it small and simple. For example, if you are struggling with working out, set a five minute timer and go for a leisurely walk. If you are struggling with cleaning your house, set a timer for 5 minutes and clean up one small area until the timer goes off. If you are struggling with not wanting to start your work project, set a timer for fifteen minutes and work until the timer goes off. 


  • Once the timer goes off, decide if you want to continue for another five, ten, fifteen, or more minutes. What often happens is that the motivation and energy comes when you get into action because you change your emotional state and start to see or feel the positive benefits of taking action. 


The reason this is effective is because when you make a larger task easier and “doable”, even if you don’t have a lot of energy or motivation, it becomes hard for your brain to talk you out of it in the way it will talk you out of an hour long workout, clearing your whole house, and starting and finishing your work project. When you start to take action, you create a more positive emotional state, which creates more energy, motivation, and/or inspiration to do something. If there is something you have been wanting to take action on, try going through the four steps listed above to help you get into motion. 


Note: Although this is a strategy used in therapy, this is not a replacement for professional therapy. If you are experiencing any emotional distress or depression, seek the help of a professional therapist who can help you with your specific situation.

Live your best boss lady life! 

~ Karen 

Karen Vincent Solutions 

If you are interested in information about additional ways of managing your brain by learning to manage unhelpful thinking patterns, you can grab my free 5 Common Thought Distortions Guide HERE. 

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