Behavioral activation: Doing something meaningful

Behavioral activation is an effective treatment for depression. Simply put, it describes a CBT way of doing more of what you find meaningful, and reducing the things which sap our mental strength. Behavioral activation is an important part of treatment for depression: when we get depressed it is common to do less, but this means that there are fewer opportunities for good things happen to you, and then we get more depressed - a vicious cycle. Behavoral activation can help us to break this cycle.

How to do behavioral activation

Behavioural activation isn't just about doing any activity, it is important to pick things which are meaningful to you - activities that you enjoy.

Step 1: Identifying what is important to you

Are you the kind of person that values being with people? Or do you prefer doing things alone? Do you need to create to feel satisfied, or are you happier to consume? What do you think makes for a fulfilled and satisfied life? The first step to any activity plan is always to identify our key values. Once we have identified these, activities follow more easily.

Step 2: Picking activities that you need to do, and activities you want to do

Life is a balance of wants and needs. Pick a selection of activities that you need to do, and a selection that you want to do.

Step 3: Planning where, when & how to do them

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. We have good intentions, but then fail to follow through with them. One thing that psychologists have learned is that people are much more likely to go through with a plan if they have identified the specifics of where, when, and how they are going to do them, and who they are going to do it with.

Step 4: Recording our success and how it made us feel

CBT is about doing what works. In order to figure out what is best for us we need to record what we did and how it made us feel. Use a form like the Task Planning and Achievement Record to keep a track of your success.

Behavioural activation worksheets

Values identification


Use this to identify areas of life which you find important

Activity selection


Use this to pick some activities that you might like to try

Activity planning


Use this to plan when and how to do your chosen activities

Task Planning and Achievement


Use this to keep a track of your activity and successes

Reference and further reading

For detailed information about the science of behavioural activation read Dr David Veale's article in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment