Living heroically and defeating depression

 Mental health problems an impact on individuals, jobs, organisations, and the people around us. They have a disastrous effect on our lives. Unfortunately, they are all too common, with depression being at the forefront.  

However, positive psychology’s biggest therapeutic achievement is in combating depression.

People who suffer from depression try and find a way to keep going, and that takes enormous courage and fortitude. Readers who have been there can appreciate how much grit that demands and how admirable it is. Seligman calls it ‘living heroically’.     

So here’s a powerful reframe for you:  I’m not depressed, I’m a hero

This need not be a career negative thing. The good news is that studies have shown positive psychology based interventions cure depression in 94% of cases. Here are my ten top tips, all evidence based:

  1. What Went Well. End every day by writing three things in a journal that went well that day, however small or apparently insignificant 
    1. Say why it went well
    2. Record how that makes you feel
    3. Visualise these things as you go to sleep

This works because it counters learned helplessness, a major cause of depression.

  1. Exercise more than usual habit it will increase your motivation
  2. Word Choice: be vigilant in your self-talk
  3. Write: make a self-talk script that addresses the issues you’re finding most challenging and review it when you need a boost. Make sure it talks about the solution and the way you want to feel and act.
  4. Past:
    1. memory detox those unhappy memories that keep haunting you
    2. actively recall times that make you feel good
  5. Present:
    1. make sure the balance of your conditioning is even more positive than usual
    2. use mindfulness exercises and savour the positive experiences in your life and take time to enjoy them. Also centre yourself in the present because staying in the now counteracts the temptation to think about what went wrong in your past or fear what happen in the future
    3. practise mindfulness as a way as learning to detach and accept. You are not your emotions
  6. Future: your optimism will need a boost so find positives about your future. Also, setting achievable goals will help enormously. Indeed, its probably better to set goals about doing things towards achieving your goals. This is because if you miss these goals, you can always start again.
  7. Disputation: to overturn negative habitual patterns of thought, write down the automatic thought and dispute its basis using logic. The idea is to pick away at the irrational negatives, then write down how you are going to think about the point in the future and how it makes you feel.
  8. Focus on others:
    1. force yourself to spend time with people and think about their needs and challenges. If you can find a way to help someone even better. There’s good evidence that helping others helps us come out of depression
    2. use mindfulness exercises to boost your awareness of others, particularly the Loving Kindness Meditation
  9. Stay Dry: It’s very tempting to reach for a chemical crutch that dulls the pain but alcohol really is a depressant, the last thing you need right now.

When you recover, congratulate yourself and celebrate. But be ready with a resilient response if it comes back after a while. If it comes back, it alright, you can beat it again. You are the master here. You are the hero.


Inspirational business psychologist Graham Keen is CEO of New Impetus International Ltd, an independent company with bases in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Copenhagen.  He founded the company in 2000 to create and deliver services solidly based on hard evidence. The firm now works with 140 clients worldwide, including many household names, mostly in the UK, Continental Europe, and a bit in the USA and Middle East.

An Oxford University Engineering Science graduate, Graham trained in positive psychology with Prof Martin Seligman in 2003, which taken together with his earlier experience as plc CFO and corporate finance practitioner, brings a unique view of business.

Graham is an energising tutor and speaker. He is warm but direct, passionate, and occasionally hilarious. He has the knack of telling surprising and uncomfortable truths in a way that inspires acceptance and ignites action.

He has a 20 year track record of winning even reluctant people’s buy-in to change, and consistently improving patterns of organisational behaviour.

www.grahamkeen.com