Two habits to build when you are feeling depressed

The first habit you should form if you have a ratio of positive/negative emotions equal to or lower than 1:1 — that is you feel at least as many negative emotions during the day as positive ones — is exercise. As Tim Ferris noted in one of his interviews with Tony Robbins, at a point in his life he wasn’t able to cope mentally with his negative mental state:

“first I decided well if mind over body isn’t working maybe I can use body over mind and so I made it a real point to focus on athletic training.”

The other activity which is proven by science to work even when depression prevents you from feeling good about something a non-depressed person usually would feel good about comes from the book SuperBetter. The activity is called Social Reflection and it strengthens your vagal tone.

Vagal tone refers to the health of your vagus nerve, which stretches all the way from your brain to your intestines. The vagus nerve touches your heart, lungs, voicebox, ears, and stomach, helping to regulate virtually every important function in your mind and body, from your emotions to your heart rate to your breathing rate to your muscle movement to your digestion.1
Because the vagus nerve is so essential to so many biological and psychological functions, its health is an excellent measure of your mind-and-body resilience. Nearly twenty-five years of research, in fact, has consistently shown that the tone, or strength, of the vagus nerve is the single best measure of how effectively a person’s heart, lungs, and brain respond to stress.


The social reflection power up

Power up is the gameful term described to any activity that gives you a positive physical, emotional, social, or mental boost, just like power-ups give you more strength and power in video games. Here is how you apply the social reflection power up. Excerpt from the book SuperBetter:

Social reflection is the king of power-ups. It’s the one that can boost your resilience no matter how troubled, hopeless, or uninspired you feel.

What to do: Shortly before you go to sleep, think about the three social interactions in which you spent the most time today. They could be at home, at work, at school, at church, or in any public or social setting. They might be in person, on the phone, on video chat, or even just an extended conversation by email or text message. They could be interactions with individuals or with a larger group—such as participating in a sports practice, a discussion group, a work team, a fitness class, or a club meeting, or even just sitting in a café, theater, or hall full of other people.

If you spent most of your time alone today, you might think of more fleeting interactions, such as with a cashier at the store or a stranger you made small talk with. Depending on how you spent your day, they might even be three different interactions with the same person. (This often happens to me when I’m working from home, and the only person I speak to or see all day is my husband!) Okay, have you got your three social interactions in mind? Now think of them all together and ask yourself how much you agree with the following statements:

  • During these three social interactions, I felt close to the other person or people.
  • During these social interactions, I felt “in tune” with the other person or people.

Rate your agreement on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 representing “I completely disagree with this statement” and 10 representing “I agree completely.” You should have two numbers after completing this power-up, a number between 0 and 10 for each of the two statements.

Why it works: Dr. Kok and her colleagues theorize that reflecting on your social interactions helps in several ways. It gives you an opportunity to savor any positive interactions you had, which increases positive emotions. It helps you identify potential allies for the future, increasing your social resources. And if your social interactions were fewer or less satisfying than you’d like, it gives you the chance to notice that, so you can plan to be more social tomorrow. How to use it: The power of this simple technique comes from repetition. You’ll need to activate this power-up each night for at least three days before the benefits start to kick in. According to Dr. Kok’s research, the biggest impact will occur if you keep up the habit for a month or longer. That’s a lot to ask—but for now make a commitment to try it for three days in a row. To make sure you don’t forget, right now set an end-of-night calendar appointment on your phone or email, or put a Post-it note reminder on your toothbrush or your bedside so you’ll be sure to see it each night. After all, there’s no point in collecting a power-up if you forget to activate it!