I have a friend who suffers from depression. He says it comes and goes. And when it comes, he describes it as a great dark weight, like a heavy winter blanket suffocating his mind, robbing him of energy, depleting his will. He says his only choice is to fight back.
Fight? I was confused. Fight how? I asked him how does he overcome it? What does he do? Does he say certain things to himself, or do something specific, like maybe go to a particular place with a meaningful view, or a place in his mind?
He says his way out of depression is to seek awe, the kind of awe you feel when you hear an exquisite piece of music, watch a powerful bit of filmmaking, witness someone doing something beyond comprehension, immerse in a painting so arresting it feels otherworldly. He seeks beauty, he seeks the sublime, the transcendent excellence that gives him hope and joy, and inspires him to swim to the surface of the inky haze that’s trying to drown his mind.
According to psychologists Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot, the cycle from inspiration to action often starts with openness to experience. In order to be inspired, you have to be willing to place yourself in a novel environment – at the edge of a cliff watching a sunset, before a magnificent painting, in the presence of a master musician – before any inspiration occurs. You have to start by being willing to go to a place of deep experience.
In this place of openness, and experiential adventure, you have the opportunity to recognize beauty or excellence. The next step is action. You have to do something. You have to act on that inspiration.
According to Thrash and Elliot, inspired people possess a heightened belief in their own abilities, elevated self-esteem, and greater optimism for the future. And because inspired people have greater confidence in their capabilities, they persist in their tasks, gain deeper absorption and creativity in their work, and – as a result – are viewed by others as having greater mastery of their work.
If you recognize someone in your life who is wandering, lost, alone, or depressed, you should certainly encourage them to seek help and counseling. But one of the very first things you can do is to take action yourself and facilitate their own inspiration. Take them to a place of beauty, bring them to a museum, take them on a beautiful walk, immerse them in a meaningful conversation. We can all start by creating the circumstances to build inspiration in others.
Are you stuck? Trying to figure out what you want? Or paralyzed by too many choices? Here is a sample lesson from our new series Making It Happen: How to Figure Out What You Want
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In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.