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  • Writer's pictureNidhi Trivedi

Psychology of new experiences: Behavioral Activation

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 B.C. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” as no tomorrow will ever be the same as a yesterday. Each day presents us with an opportunity to try something new or to go about your daily routine in a slightly different way. It could be trying a new blend at Starbucks, getting off the train at an earlier stop to discover your neighborhood, or play a different genre of music one morning.

Time keeps passing us by, yet the circumstances of our lives might not allow us to “stop and smell the roses,” and we may fail to acknowledge, the eccentricities and the new adventures that each day presents for us. We all fall in the monotony of a jobs, relationships, and daily routine. While the predictable routine is comfortable; for some individuals, it can result in depression or “stuckness” for others. Some people fear change and refuse to let new experiences or people in. Some people feel as though things will never change for them no matter how hard they tried. Some people may resent their circumstances as the burden of their obligations may not allow them to venture out. Some people may feel bombarded with the overwhelming options available to them.

This article may speak to you if you have ever experienced “stuckness” or “depression.” Clinically severe depression may warrant medical attention. If you are having thoughts of suicide and feel hopeless about your life circumstances, antidepressants along with outpatient/inpatient/intensive outpatient treatment is the best evidence-based approach. However, if you experience high-functioning/moderate to mild levels of depression, it might be worth it to consider this article and the benefits of new experiences.

New experiences a.k.a Behavioral activation

Behavioral activation is a Cognitive-Behavioral Technique that is designed to explore and incorporate activities in your daily life that are positively rewarding. These are the steps to take:

1. Identifying activities/experiences that are unique to you and your values

When you are feeling depressed, you may not feel motivated to take action towards desired change. The first step is to get a piece of paper and a pen and make a list of your short-term goals, long-term goals, dreams, aspirations, hobbies you think you might be interested in, and life-goals. Make a bucket list, make a list of ethnic restaurants or cafes you would like to visit in the area, or just write the list of “unfinished business” that you have been hard on yourself for not accomplishing.

It is important that these activities are important to YOU and not to OTHERS. These experiences should be the ones you WANT to engage in and not the ones that you ARE SUPPOSED to. It is important that you feel motivated to do these activities, and motivation is hard to foster when you are living under the burden of others’ expectations of you. When you’re picking your activities for behavioral activation, try to think of what’s uniquely important to you. What matters to you? What kind of life do you want to build for yourself? Come up with specific activities that really matter to you and that are about your values and desires.

2. Take a week (or a month) and keep revisiting and editing the list.

Come up with activities that are specific and measurable. If you are unable to determine whether you have accomplished a task, the activity is too vague. Rather than “I need to go out more often,” you can say “ In the next week, I would like to go have coffee at this new café that opened two blocks away.” Rather than “I need to socialize more,” you could decide to “Call Ryan” who you have not spoken to in a while. It is important that the activities are specific and progress is measurable.

Once you ensure that the activities are specific, it is important to rearrange the list of activities and experiences from easiest to hardest. When you are feeling “Stuck” and “Depressed,” it can be very difficult to feel motivated to bring about a significant life-change on day 1. Start slow and start with some easy tasks. Behavioral activation and new experiences are supposed to be pleasurable and not an additional source of stress in your life.

3. Take Action

After weeks or months of coming up with a reasonable list, start tackling these tasks one by one. Take it slow, and try one activity/experience once a week.

Call an old friend, listen to a new song, put that laundry in the washer, go and stand outside your door for 5 minutes every evening, watch a new commercial on TV, drink lemon tea at home – these activities will take you less than 5 minutes to accomplish, and perhaps little effort compared to the other things on your list. Start small and praise yourself for bringing about a new change in your daily routine.

4. Know that this list is dynamic and not ABSOLUTE.

Check off the items you have taken care of. Add more activities to the list. Feel free to discard the activities you did not end up enjoying. Come up with activities for all areas of your life- for work, relationships, home, personal care.

5. Reward yourself.

Finally, remember to reward yourself for the progress that you make. Recognize your accomplishments. Doing so can increase your motivation to keep moving forward, especially during those times when your mood is down.

With one step at a time, you can use behavioral activation to build a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Life can be difficult. With each stage in life, we are expected to grow and push hard; however, the newness of life experiences can be overwhelming to fathom. By incorporating new and engaging experiences in our life, we can support ourselves and reward ourselves as we continue to grow and reach our desired goals.

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