Please excuse the Star-Trek reference for those who don't like the show!
I've been using a number tools to overcome depression, stemming from knowledge and understanding of how the human mind works and, essentially, "hacking" my brain into doing what I want. To begin with, there are some basic principles I'd like to highlight upon which my methods are based:
1. Self-Fulfilling Profecies
I first came to see this as a tool for hacking my brain when researching motivation. Self-fulfilling prophecies are very useful in terms of increased motivation and performance and can be used to help overcome fears and more.
2. Turn it arround
This concept is often used to help adjust negative thought patterns but this method has some specific ways in which you can apply the concept of turning it around.
3. Data, data, data.
I don't have a reference for this, it's just something that I find that I need to do in order to actually make a difference to myself. I record everything I can think of.
4. Using project management tools on your own mental health to set goals. See:
SMART criteria and SWOT analysis
I was first exposed to these tools in my job and I realised that I can apply them to anything and everything. The benefit of using these tools begins with the simple fact that they make you think more deeply about your goals; that mere fact means you're more likely to succeed! (Also see point 1, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies)
5. Reward yourself
Reward system and Anhedonia
This one is important; when you're depressed things are more difficult to do but you still see them as trivial, like taking a shower for example, so you tell yourself that it's not a big deal it was just taking a shower and then you make yourself feel worse by thinking that it was so hard for you to do such a trivial thing. Rewarding yourself means recognising that the task was difficult for you in your current situation and yet you did it anway, and this is an achievement worthy of celebration and reward. Choose your reward carefully so as to not become dependent on something (don't reward yourself with food, alcohol, cigarettes or anything else that has a negative health impact.)
1. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, an example:
I pretty common self-fulfilling prophecy that I encounter is "I can't do it". Say I set out to go for a run first thing in the morning, that's my goal. In my depressed state I'm going to tell myself, "I can't do it". The problem here is that "I can't do it" comes with reasons why I can't do it. I'm hopeless. I'm a failure. I can't do anything. And thus, when I do fail to go for a run in the morning, I confirm my prophecy that I can't do it and, by proxy, all of the negative "facts" associated with it. I am hopeless; I couldn't go for a run this morning as was my goal, this is proof.
2. Instead, we need to "Turn it around":
Start by asking yourself the questions; "Is it true?", If yes, "Can you know absolutely that it's true?", "How do you react and what happens when you believe that thought?" and "Who would you be without the thought?", then proceed to turn it around. "I can do it." Elaborate on why you CAN do it.
3.Data, data, data.
Write it all down. Write down all the thoughts and questions and answers associated with it. The act of writing it will help make it more real, additionally it will help to guide you as a reference. For example, I like to keep a table (I work in IT so I do most of my data on a computer) in Excel with all of the things that make me feel good about myself. I like to keep a list of all of my achievements. Write down my negative thoughts and my turn-arounds; but I don't just list them, I write down my thoughts. How does it make me feel? Why does it make me feel like that? I explore as deeply as I can all aspects of how I'm feeling and I find that I discover things about myself and my feelings that, often times, surprise the heck out of me.
4. For bigger goals, I've started using project management tools to elaborate on my goals and help give me direction. For example, I want to start running in the mornings. I want to eventually run for 5km every morning. Combining the SMARTER and the SWOT helped me to identify my strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, what I actually want from it, my motivation and how I will actually know when I've succeeded. Most importantly, this knowledge then helps you get off the ground. Clearly it's an arduous task to suddenly one morning get up and run for 30 minutes every day. So how will I start? I'll just run around the block, it's 5 minute run, if that. Motivation? I'll involve my partner. If I don't get up to go for the run, she'll poke me and say hey, let's go -- just that little bit of extra help to get moving. I can come up with these things because I put thought into my goal and how I was going to achieve it. Again, writing all this down helps make it more real; 6 months down the track I can say that for certain I've reached my goal because I wrote it down. It's solid, it's concrete, it's rewarding to tick things off that list.
5. Reward yourself.
Finally, stop comparing yourself to everyone else. You wouldn't beat yourself up because you couldn't run as fast a Usain Bolt, especially if all you've ever done was jog on a treadmill for 20 minutes 3 times a week. It's an entirely different field; wait until you're on the track next to Usain Bold before you start comparing yourself to him. Realise that what's difficult for you is just that, difficult for you. If running for 20 minutes on a treadmill is difficult for you, it's an achievement when you do it, and even more so when you exceed it. So reward yourself for the small victories, give yourself a pat on the back, congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on to the next goal. Write it down as a victory!
Extra: Be positive about things when you're writing them down even if you don't believe it at the time. Associate positive feelings with things. It can be another one of your goals to associate a positive feeling with everything that's good even if you don't necessarily feel it!
Disclaimer: Applying these things to yourself is obviously an individual thing and these things are all based on my own experience. Additionally, depending on where you're at with depression it can be a near impossible task to think of things logically like this; I still struggle to do it on my really bad days.