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The Power of Initiation: Boosting Your Mental Health Through Proactive Living

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What Does “Being An Initiator” Mean?

As a therapist and coach, I’ve witnessed countless individuals transform their lives by embracing the role of an “initiator.” Being an initiator means taking charge of your life, actively seeking positive experiences, and creating opportunities for growth and connection. This proactive approach can significantly improve your mental health and overall well-being.


I understand that many of my clients and others might have a tendency to turn inward and lose motivation when they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, so I have included some information on how to manage motivation later in this article. However, research shows that individuals who take initiative in various aspects of their lives tend to experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. They also report higher levels of life satisfaction and a greater sense of purpose.


How To Be An Initiator

Here are some steps you can take to become an initiator and how can it benefit your mental health:

Connect With Others: Feeling lonely? It’s time to reach out to someone. You’d be amazed at how much a simple “hello” can brighten your day. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that even quick chats can give your brain a boost and make you feel like you belong. Is there a friend, former classmate, work colleague, or family member you have lost contact with? Why not surprise them with a call? Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take that pickleball class, or join that local sports league or book club you’ve been eyeing.  Remember, every social interaction is like a mini workout for your mood and a chance to meet others.


Declutter Your Living Space:

The power of initiation extends beyond social interactions and into our personal spaces. Taking charge of your environment by maintaining a clean and organized living space can significantly boost your mental health. Research from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that women who described their homes as cluttered or full of unfinished projects had higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, throughout the day. Conversely, a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that people with tidy homes or apartments were more likely to be physically healthy, less fatigued, and more active. Experts in organizing recommend starting small. Spend just 10 minutes a day decluttering. Focus on one area at a time, and create simple organizational systems that are easy to maintain. The act of initiating and completing these tasks not only improves your living space but also provides a sense of accomplishment and control. This proactive approach to home care can create a positive feedback loop, where a tidy environment fosters clearer thinking, reduced anxiety, and increased motivation to tackle other aspects of life.


Change Your Conditioned Thinking:

As a CBT therapist, I’ve seen how initiating changes in thought patterns can profoundly impact mental health. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is based on the principle that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. By taking the initiative to identify and challenge negative thought patterns, we can create positive shifts in our emotions and actions. This process, known as cognitive restructuring, involves actively recognizing automatic negative thoughts, examining the evidence for and against them, and developing more balanced, realistic alternatives. For instance, if you habitually think, “I’m not good enough,” you can initiate a change by questioning this belief, looking for evidence that contradicts it, and formulating a more nuanced view like, “I have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else.” This proactive approach to managing your internal dialogue can lead to improved self-esteem, reduced anxiety, and a more positive outlook on life. A therapist can help with this process, and changing conditioned thinking takes practice and persistence, but every small step you initiate in this direction is a powerful move toward better mental health.


Engage In Physical Activity: Regular exercise is a well-established mood booster. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that just 15 minutes of running or an hour of walking can reduce the risk of major depression. Take the initiative to incorporate movement into your daily routine – whether it’s a morning yoga or spinning session, an evening walk, or dancing to your favorite music.


Accept What Is Real:

Too often, we deny that things are the way they are. This works for us until it doesn’t. We often avoid certain situations and how we feel because it is too hard to sit with our emotions. We sometimes cope by numbing ourselves with substances and engaging in behaviors we are sorry for later. Experiencing pain and suffering is how we learn, grow, and evolve as a person. Making a decision to deal with these issues in a more healthy way takes a lot of courage. But what a big weight will be lifted from our shoulders when we do take action, seek help and make some changes.


Learn New Skills:

Engaging in learning can enhance self-esteem, provide a sense of accomplishment, and can be a real mood-booster. When you learn something new, your brain releases dopamine – that’s the feel-good chemical that gives you a natural high. Mastering a new skill, even a small one, is a reminder that you’re capable of growth and change. It is also a distraction from worries. Focusing on learning gives your mind a break from dwelling on problems. And learning gives you goals to work towards, which can add structure and meaning to your days. Consider initiating a new hobby, playing a new game, taking an online course, or learning a language.


Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: Initiating a regular mindfulness practice can reduce stress and help you regulate your emotions. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that mindfulness meditation can help ease anxiety and depression. Start with just five minutes a day of guided meditation or mindful breathing. For some great mindfulness practices, read my article on Mastering Panic Attacks.


Do Acts of Kindness: Initiating acts of kindness not only benefits others but also improves your own mental health. A study in the Journal of Social Psychology found that people who performed kind acts for seven days saw a significant increase in happiness. Look for opportunities to help others, volunteer in your community, or simply offer a genuine compliment to someone.


Connect With Nature: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that even brief nature experiences can significantly lower stress hormones. Take the initiative to spend time outdoors, whether it’s a hike in the woods, gardening, or simply sitting in a park.


Practice Gratitude: Initiating a daily gratitude practice can shift your focus to the positive aspects of life. Research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness. Schedule a time each day, even for 5 minutes, where you write down or reflect on three things you’re grateful for each day.


By becoming an initiator in these areas, you’re not just passively waiting for life to happen to you – you’re actively shaping your experiences and, by extension, your mental health. Remember, small, consistent actions can lead to significant improvements over time.


Managing Motivation

Initiating positive changes can feel particularly challenging when you’re struggling with low motivation, low energy, or depression. It’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are valid and common. The key is to start small and build momentum gradually.


The Five-Minute Rule

One effective approach is the “Five-Minute Rule.” Commit to just five minutes of activity – whether it’s a short walk, a brief meditation, or writing in a gratitude journal. Often, you’ll find that once you start, it’s easier to continue. It’s a powerful tool for initiating positive behaviors without feeling overwhelmed, making it an excellent starting point for those struggling with motivation or low energy levels. This small act of initiation can break the inertia caused by depression and give you a sense of accomplishment, which can be a mood booster.


Another strategy is to create a supportive environment. Set up visual reminders or cues in your living space that prompt you to initiate healthy behaviors. For example, place your running shoes by the door, keep a yoga mat or meditation cushion visible, or stick post-it notes with positive affirmations on your desktop or a mirror. These environmental cues can serve as gentle nudges to take action.


It’s also helpful to rethink your perspective on initiation. Instead of viewing these activities as burdensome tasks, try to see them as an act of self-care or self-compassion. Remind yourself that you’re actively supporting your well-being and recovery by initiating these activities.


Importantly, reaching out for support can be a powerful form of initiation and can improve motivation. Sharing your struggles with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist can provide emotional relief and potentially lead to collaborative goal-setting or accountability partnerships.


Also, express compassion toward yourself and be patient and kind to yourself in this process. Initiating is a practice; there will be times when you feel you are doing this well and when you might not have the time or energy. This process is not about perfection but about making some small progress. Celebrate the small wins and learn from the challenges. You are worth the effort, and by taking the initiative, you invest in a happier, healthier you.

If you would like a partner in your quest to become an initiator, contact us for more details on either our coaching or therapy programs.

Remember, the act of initiation itself, no matter how small, is a victory when you’re dealing with low levels of energy, motivation and depression. Each time you take that first step, you reinforce neural pathways associated with positive action and slowly rebuild your capacity for engagement and joy. Over time, you will notice that these small acts of initiation can accumulate, significantly improving mood, energy levels, and overall mental health.