How to stop feeling miserable

O.K.M. Series - Motivation 3

1) Admitting being sick

Monday morning, 7 am, in my weekly train from Paris to London. Tired from my 4.30 am wake up and dreading the week of work ahead, I rehash depressive thoughts in my mind and cannot find any positive one to grab on to. I eventually hear my inner voice state, sadly:

“I feel miserable right now.”

2) Formulating the diagnosis

A bit surprised, I asked myself: “Wait a second… Why do I feel miserable? After all, my morale is usually not easy to take down.”

Interestingly, answering that question was not that simple. I had in fact many and diverse issues which, accumulated, used to irritate me at every hour of each day.

Unable to pinpoint a single root to my current dissatisfaction, I reached for a pencil and a piece of paper and started a new mind map*, on the theme “Everything that makes me unhappy”.

(*Mind mapping is a single-user brainstorming method, aimed at generating ideas by association, in a structured fashion that replicates the way the brain works. I will dedicate an article to this method very soon as I find it incredibly useful).

I went on listing every personal issues I had that I could think of, capturing every of my concerns on paper - regardless of their levels of importance. After 30 minutes of work, I felt that I had transcribed it all:

My mind map on the theme “Everything that makes me unhappy” from that day. Written content has been blurred as it turns out to be very personal (this document would not have been exploitable if I had censored myself while making it). Six clusters are being identified (ensembles of items circled in red).

Looking at it, I was stroke by the actual number of problems I had. It had become very clear then why I was unable to express the cause of my discomfort: it was overwhelmingly multiple and diverse, much more than I would have estimated.

The amount of data present on my paper being very large, I needed a method to make it exploitable, by factorizing it into more general clusters.

Hence, I took a red pen and circled together issues that could be grouped. Then, I gave a name to each formed cluster (for instance, in my case at that time: “Damaged self-esteem”, “Creative inactivity”, “Social distance”, etc.)

At this stage of the process, I already felt a bit relieved. By identifying and naming those clusters, I had in fact very precisely formulated the main causes of my unhappiness, which immediately felt reassuring.


3) Prescribing and planning the treatment

For each identified root of my unhappiness, I plotted a course of action that would ease it, and eventually eliminate it.

Obviously, all those actions could not be done in one day. Some were very long-term and needed consistent work. Also, the required efforts were too important to be performed altogether at the same time. In a way, that was to be expected: one does not eat the whole medicine box at once to instantly cure from a disease.

Hence, I crafted a long-term action plan based on three principles:

  • Each action plan should be constituted of a series of tasks that I would list. Those tasks can be performed sequentially or in parallel, and I must know at any time which ones are immediately available for me to perform.
  • At the end of each day, I should feel satisfied when going to bed if I have acted against at least one of my main roots of unhappiness. It would even be fine to dedicate large periods of time to working on one single root if needed. This helped in evading any sentiment of guilt or helplessness over the long-term.
  • Some actions being easier to perform in a certain context than others, I should reserve their execution to the times when such context exists, for efficiency maximization.

For instance, in “Damaged self-esteem”, one of my main problems was that I had become overweight. Indeed, I had lately neglected sport activities and compensated for my problems by eating way too much.

I decided to make an intensive program of diet and running. I planned for and executed it during a one-month business trip, for which I was hosted in a hotel with a 24/7 fitness center, and where I could ensure to eat healthy by carefully selecting my meals from the hotel’s restaurant menu.


4) Treating the disease

My train was arriving in London. I had finished planning my strategy against unhappiness, and all that was left to do was to execute. No more question needed to be asked, and fully knowing what I would do boosted my motivation.

From that day on, around 6 months ago, I have thoroughly kept track of my long-term plan, and felt a consistent improvement in my mood and happiness as I was every day progressively working against the roots of my discomfort.

I feel that the method I have described really helped in two ways:

  1. It changed my state of mind from day 1, giving me the energy and determination to act consistently,
  2. The execution of my action plan eventually brought tangible results in completely eliminating some sources of my unhappiness.

I hope that you will find this approach interesting and useful. Please feel free to comment or suggest improvements. I wish you best of luck in acting against anything that makes you unhappy in the future!


This article belongs to the O.K.M. Series (Organization - Knowledge - Motivation). To learn more, please follow this link to the series index:

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