When I was a teenager, I used to imagine what it would be like to have a switch in the back of my head that could shut off my emotions, never having to feel sadness, anger, and anxiety until I wanted to. Despite the fact that I am extremely analytical, striving always to find a logical explanation for everything, I am a veteran emotional roller-coaster rider. Want to feel the uncomfortable thrill of going from anger to sadness to full-blown anxiety in 3.2 seconds? Spend some time in my head.
Over the many years we have been conducted research on human behavior, we’ve found some interesting links between depression and other factors, like procrastination. People often mistakenly believe that procrastinators and simple lazy, but putting things off, or being unmotivated to do anything, is also a facet of depression. When I was sifting through the data from our Emotional Intelligence Test and compared depressed vs. non-depressed people on the different factors, the contrast was eye-opening. Here’s where they differed the most in terms of EQ traits/competencies:
Score for depressed group: 46
Score for non-depressed group: 68
Admittedly, this isn’t a surprising result. People who are depressed are less satisfied with their life, period. While happy people will likely admit that there’s very little they’d change about their life, depressed people often wish they could do a complete overhaul. When I’m depressed, I like to psychologically torture myself by going over the different decisions I’ve made in my life to try to pinpoint where everything went wrong. The result is usually “Should have dumped him. Should have dated him. Should have chosen this school. Should have burned these bridges. Should have saved more money. Shouldn’t have eaten those fries for breakfast this morning.” And while I’m riding on the “Should Train” (first-class all the way), I usually add, “I should be taller, thinner, prettier, wealthier, smarter,” with “happier” bringing up the rear.
Score for depressed group: 52
Score for non-depressed group: 69
There’s no denying it: It’s hard not to fall into the trap of depression when you’re constantly plagued with negative thoughts. Pessimists may argue that expecting the worst and not getting your hopes up will protect you from disappointment (I should know, I’m president and treasurer of the Pessimist Club in my head), but the truth is, if you’re mind is intently focused on the negative, that’s all you’ll ever see. Richard Wiseman conducted a fascinating study on the differences between people who believe they are lucky to those who think they’re unlucky. Here’s how he summed it up: (You can read the full blog here)
[Unlucky] people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than what they are looking for.” (Wiseman, 2003)
You may also want to take note that the non-depressed group didn’t score exceptionally high on optimism. This is because the ideal balance seems to be a hopeful optimistic attitude with a dose of common sense. Essentially, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.
Score for depressed group: 58
Score for non-depressed group: 75
How long does it take for you to bounce from disappointment, failure, rejection, or hardship? Well it depends a great deal on your level of resilience. I had a friend who dated a girl over a decade ago. Their relationship lasted four months. He easily moved on a few months later; she, on the other hand, still hasn’t gotten over him. She’s a highly successful, beautiful woman who refuses to date anyone else and is still pining for a man who hasn’t thought about her in 12 years. Not surprisingly, she’s been struggling with depression for a few years now. My heart goes out to her. Sometimes, burning bridges and cutting ties with certain people, no matter how much you care about them, is the healthiest thing you can do.
Score for depressed group: 44
Score for non-depressed group: 60
The difficulty that many of us have with managing our emotions (notice that I didn’t say “controlling”; suppression is just as bad as letting your emotions out heedlessly) is that we believe that other people or events are responsible for our emotions. You blame that driver who cut you off for making you mad, your mother for making you feel bad about yourself, or that doctor appointment for making you anxious. The truth is that no one and nothing has the power to make you angry, sad, or anxious – you choose how to respond. When you give the power of your emotions over to someone else, you lose the ability to regulate and decide what you want to feel.
Score for depressed group: 51
Score for non-depressed group: 67
Much like the link between procrastination and depression, depressed people struggle to find the incentive to take on challenges, set goals, or pick themselves up. The danger of a lack of inner incentive is an unhealthy reliance on external factors to motivate you – praise from your boss, compliments from your partner, money, etc. While these motivators can keep you going in the short-term, it won’t be enough. Like an addiction, you’ll need more and more of it to stay motivated. When you can find motivation and strength from within, it will keep that inner flame burning and push you to keep trying.
Stay tuned for part 2!