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  Heuristics for Depression
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Heuristics for Depression

Paul DeJoe

Part 1 : A Purpose, Story and a Manifesto


Most of the time purpose is conflated with identity. Oftentimes we allow it to be conflated with our jobs or what we think others should think our purpose should be. Purpose is not your identity. They can significantly overlap but they are not the same. Purpose is a vector or a direction and your identity is what makes you uniquely you. Identity presents itself in the way you react to what feels like insurmountable challenges. Your identity reveals itself the most when you feel like you are being authentic. If you’re unhappy with your identity the good news is you can work on it now and will always be able to work on it. It’s important to make sure that we separate purpose form identity.

One of the reasons that startups are difficult is because it’s hard to separate your identity from your purpose when the purpose of the company is to be successful. So when things go badly, which they have a tendency of doing, you feel like you’re inadequate as a person because your identity has now been tied to failing. But your purpose is not your identity. How you handle adversity speaks more to your identity. If your purpose is to one day have a family but you are not afforded this, your identity is not compromised. It is reinforced in whatever way that you handle this. It is how you react. And each reaction is an opportunity to forge your identity. 

At one point during my entrepreneurial career things were going horribly. I needed something else or a new calling or something to balance out the stress. So I trained extensively for a special forces career in the military. At the time, I thought it gave me authentic “purpose”. It gave me an incredible goal that felt worthwhile, justified me working out four times per day which was just an excuse to not have to deal with my own issues. I gained some sense of purpose when I thought about saving people which is definitely noble and definitely can be a purpose for some but for me, it was a way to outsource my identity. It meant I didn’t have to build my own identity. It meant that I would be able to not worry about what I wore, how I talked, what I did, where I hung out, or how much money I made because that was all now determined and explained by being in a group that came with a halo effect. A template was created for me to adopt. I didn’t have to look inwardly and work on what I needed to work on. I was lucky that this didn’t work out for me even though at the time I wanted nothing more. I wanted this to work so badly because it meant I didn’t have to figure out who I was anymore. This is why it’s dangerous if you believe that you’ve found your identity or purpose but it’s tied to a group or a mired in groupthink. This is the same reason why identity politics are so dangerous. It’s difficult to challenge or debate a topic that someone has entangled their identity with without having someone feel like their very existence is being challenged. I'm neither a democrat nor a republican nor anything that can define me in one word. Neither are you. You are endlessly interesting and infinitely dynamic. Your identity should be as unique as your DNA.

So what this has to do with depression is how difficult it was for me to overcome losing an identity, purpose and feeling completely lost at the same time. Depression dug its heels in for me. It took an incredible amount of time to find any momentum and most would describe me as an annoyingly optimistic person. Paradoxical as it seems, depression has many superficial faces. If this sounds familiar or you know someone that might be struggling with this, please share this article. I’ve been through cycles of anxiety meds, ketamine infusions, diet restrictions, flying around the world for dopamine rushes, self help books, therapists, and my therapist’s therapists. The motivation for writing this is that I feel like courage, authenticity, kindness and patience are in short supply today. We are desperate. But depression also happens to be highly correlated with intelligence and empathy. The makings of a great soldier for good. If you’re struggling with depression and purpose, know that we could desperately use you right now to make the World a better place. And though there are no silver bullets, these things have helped me.

My purpose is to make the world a better place by taking responsibility and helping others with mental health one exchange and interaction at a time.

What is yours?

Your Story

Sometimes it helps us to start writing instead of thinking.  Sometimes we can write in the present as if the imagined future is already happening. 

Imagine your ideal self and situation five years from now and what is surrounding you. Imagine with as much detail as you can. Where do you live?  Who is around you? What is happening? What is making you smile?  What is making you laugh from your belly? Are you healthier physically and mentally? Are you in amazing relationships at work, with family and at home? Are you a friend, sibling, parent or kid that your friends, siblings, parents or kids love to have? What is your morning like and where do you wake up, what do you do when you get up and what do you do throughout the day? What is your schedule like and why are you content?

Write your story by answering these questions in a story format but don’t be limited to just these questions. Add more questions that you’re wrestling with but answer them in a way as if they are already resolved when you look around you. For example, if you’re in a toxic relationship now that you’re not sure how you’re going to get out of, it’s ok, just write down how you feel five years from now when you only have great relationships. Take a trip to a peaceful location by yourself and write this story of you. Your story is important to visualize first. I wrote my answer last year as did my co-founder, Shane, and we buried it by a tree in Mammoth then set up a reminder 5 years from that date.

From the story above, find images that most represent yourself in those moments.  If you picture your life with a family, find an image that represents this. If you want to live in a nice home, find an image that represents this.  Collect 10 of these images and set them as your phone and your computer’s screen saver.

Write your Manifesto

If your story is the destination, your manifesto is your car.  Your manifesto is your blueprint for how you achieve that ideal outcome.  It is meant to be read daily and it should cover what the ideal version of yourself does and feels like each day.  It’s how you’re going to approach the day, each challenge, your interactions with other people, your enemies, your friends and the less fortunate. It should cover how you carry yourself, deal with challenges, and why you have the confidence that you have.  If you’re struggling with confidence, which is likely if you’re dealing with depression, the manifesto is where you explain to yourself the things you exude each day that give you confidence.

We all have days where we slip. A manifesto is also a place to remind yourself that you’ll be patient and kind to yourself like you are with someone you love when they make a mistake. A manifesto is the answer to why you are great.  A manifesto is why and how you make the world a better place. It’s where you answer what happens when you treat each morning with preparation for death rather than life.  

Do this on a Saturday or Sunday morning before you set check your phone.  It’s difficult to explain to you what your manifesto should be but mine started to form in my mind when I visualized the best version of myself 5-10 years out. What did my life look like? Who was around me? What was happening?  What was I smiling for and what was I grateful for? What were the things that happened or what was removed that allowed me to be happy? These questions unearthed obstacles that needed to be overcome and new routines and goals that I needed to get to work on achieving. The small steps to achieving these new goals appeared in the form of daily rituals to practice and they made their way to my manifesto. My main motivations were to prepare myself to be the best husband, dad, friend and brother I could be and help make the World a better place through improving mental health care.  It is not necessary that you share your manifesto but it is important to read it daily and adjust when appropriate.

Part 2: Drop your reputation and focus on your integrity

"The virtuous worry about their integrity, lesser humans about their reputation."  - Taleb

Be Virtuous

Becoming virtuous and integral can be both an identity and a purpose because being virtuous is both the means and the ends that can satiate. If your purpose and identity is integrity then you have created a noble and lifelong challenge that is constantly engaging and ever opportunistic. You have an opportunity to be virtuous and integral in every moment. When this is your motivation, you do what you say and you say what you mean. Most importantly however, it starts from the next thing you tell yourself that you’re going to do. If you don’t talk to another human for three months but don’t break one promise with yourself and are authentic with yourself, you can recalibrate your identity and a purpose will become more clear. In the same vein, this is why when becoming a millionaire is a goal, upon achieving it, happiness is still elusive. Any time the ends are the path to happiness, you will be disappointed. The further the means are from the ends the more unhappy you are. The closer the means are to the ends the happier you will be. When you are able to focus on your integrity and make it a purpose, you have the means, the ends and a purpose at any given moment. You need very little else for contentment. The other items that deliver the same type of payoff and reward are also internal, immaterial and are a state of mind. Not an outside objective.

Don’t Signal 

Virtue signaling has become a contemporary topic for those that boast about what they did that was virtuous. This is not virtue. The motivation for signaling comes from feeling inadequate. By signaling we’re perpetuating this inadequacy when we needn’t. It is not an easy task to overcome but just being mindful of it and catching yourself before you do it a few times will have a meaningful impact on your confidence and integrity. If you remember to impress only yourself and not others, you’re on the right path. Try this with just one thing that you do. Do it for the right reason and let it be only you that knows about it.  

Part 3: Create a morning ritual

The best morning rituals start at night. Start Tonight.  

The best morning rituals also start with an investment in yourself.  Turn your phone off at 7pm tonight. Go for a walk, exercise, yoga, read, play guitar, paint, dance, meditate or write.  Keep your phone in another room and far away from your bed because the morning ritual you’re going to try is about regaining control of the best version of yourself. The best version of yourself does not present itself well when your first thoughts and pace of YOUR day is influenced by tasks and the expectations of others. If this sounds like a familiar challenge then you need to know this is life or death. This is not just how you spend one day, it’s how you spend all of your days. Turn the phone off.  Don’t worry, it will be there for you when you’re ready to use it as a weapon in your arsenal and not because you’re addicted to it.

Write & Be Mindful

Before going to bed write no more than 5 things down that you need to get accomplished tomorrow organized by the hardest thing first to the easiest thing last. Make one of these tasks something that scares you but that you know you want to do because it’s something you want to get better at or an obstacle you need to overcome to be the best version of yourself.  You don’t want more than a handful. If you did this everyday you’d accomplish or improve 1,825 things in your life in one year.  

If you wanna be sad, break a promise with yourself. If you want to be happy, don’t make a lot of promises. Be selective. Especially with yourself to start.  Make them small and prepare to execute on them in the morning. If you’re the kind of person I am, you make 10 really difficult promises to yourself each day because they’re good for you and you think that if you can just accomplish all of these then at the end of the day you’ll be happy. When you can’t keep your own word, your word to others is a form of compensating instead of doing the hard task of holding yourself accountable. Keep the number of them to 5 or less.

You don’t need more to do than this each day so long as these are really important items. When you’re finished with them, your mind will shift into a creative space where you’re thinking is less inhibited by tasks. This is a fun place to be. These difficult tasks or obstacles are the best way to increase confidence and we want this boost early in the morning. The alternative is having them pop up constantly throughout the day and robbing us of that creative canvas.

Do not set an alarm

You’re going to get up when your body feels like it has had enough sleep. If your first reaction is that this is not possible with your job then it is because your manager does not care about your mental health and you being the best version of yourself or it is in your mind that you can’t do this.  If its the ladder, this is definitely contributing to your unhappiness. You are not in control of your life and either way something needs to change. If it’s the former, try this email out, “Hey, I feel like I need to make a better effort for my mental health and my happiness. I think it starts with waking up feeling rested and unhurried so I can work more creatively. Can we try this out for a few weeks and monitor my progress?" If this idea is not celebrated, your manager will be obsolete within a year or two anyway and you’re not going to be happy at your job. It’s time to find a new one. 

Meditation first thing in the morning

I was able to finally create a habit of meditating in the morning when I read a quote from Naval Ravikant about his meditation practices. He told himself that he was giving himself a much needed break from himself. Damn. That sounded like something I could use. I definitely needed a break from myself. Sitting right up when I wake up and starting my meditation has worked best for me. Naval meditates for an hour each day. But 8 minutes is said to be the minimum amount of time it takes to shift your thought pattern to a different part of your brain. Start there. Set a timer if you’d like. Oh and don’t forget to make your bed every morning. It’s an investment in your future self and this small task shows that you're worth having a made bed to look forward to.  

Own your ritual

Create your ritual. And celebrate it.  Whatever this is, making your morning drink, your workout, your book, your walk, playing music, this MUST be protected and celebrated each and every day.  This will be incredibly difficult if you have a clock in the back of your mind that you have to get into work.  This recommendation is definitely set for advanced player mode. When you show up to work unhurried, after investing in yourself, and ready to tackle the first difficult item without worrying about whether or not you’re making enough time for yourself, you will be in a different headspace than you ever have been before.  

Accomplish your tasks

You wrote this down the night before. This is also a confidence builder as it is an integrity builder. You’ll find that a common theme through this post is finding opportunities to build integrity and you’ll notice that these opportunities never include making it known to someone else that you’re exercising an opportunity to build integrity. Some call the need to tell someone you’re of integrity, “signaling” and it will ruin your confidence and momentum. The closer you get to only trying to impress yourself, the closer you get to contentment. Having integrity is a means and the end.  When you have it and you don’t feel the need to announce it then you really feel the rewards from it. Don’t rob yourself of this work. 

You wrote that difficult task down for a reason. It was a promise to yourself as well. Do it before you check email or Instagram/Facebook etc. Now complete the other tasks. 

If it’s 10 or 11 o’clock in your mind after you’ve taken time for yourself and you're just getting to a screen for the first, then you are doing this right. We are re-wiring our instant gratification center which is a good thing and the harder this feels the more you know you’re onto something.

Try a cold shower

A cold shower has been associated with reducing depression. I can speak to this personally. I would guess it has to do with how petrified I am of a cold shower early in the morning, how terrible it is and the payoff of confidence when I get through it. The feeling is similar right when I finish a workout.  I don’t really enjoy it but the feeling after is the best. It feels like the intention I set for the day is already accomplished because of how mentally difficult it is.  Try it for 30 seconds, one time at the end of your regular hot shower and see if it doesn’t help. A way to help with this is to schedule a time with a friend where you both try it on speakerphone the next morning.  Also, a good way to get a belly laugh in early in the morning. 

Part 4: Take care of the inputs


It’s not lost on me that whatever you resist will become your own prison. Except with alcohol. You can replace the payoff of alcohol with the opportunities and the incredible feeling and reward of a great morning ritual where you get to take back control of your life. I recommend reading the naked mind if this feels daunting for you as well as Atomic Habits. Whenever something feels daunting, don’t think about it in the frame of how difficult, how long it will take or something being forever.  Just say you’ll do it for 10 minutes, try it for 48 hours or one week.  It’s always gonna be there for you to tempt you, it’s not going away so you don’t have to worry about coming back to it if you really need it.  With alcohol, think about where your lost time, money and creativity could be used. Unless you find something that you love more, you can’t expect to drop alcohol. Interesting enough, this is why people that kick addiction are some of the most fascinating humans in the World. They’ve defeated a chemical dependence with Love. Truly inspiring. Take a bow if this is you. You’ve earned it. 

Try Breathwork 

Search for a breathwork class in your area or online if you cannot find one.  An in person one is very much recommended and I’d even recommend a road trip, flight or even using your vacation days for doing this at a proper class for your first few times before you do this online by yourself.  Sanctum is an incredible facility in Venice for example. I have been through drug addiction, ketamine infusions, medication, and addictions to dopamine to working out all to try to create happiness or just to get rid of unhappiness. Breathwork has been by far the biggest payoff for the time and money. Unless you experience it, it’s hard to explain the reparations, emotions and feel good endorphins that you can unlock in just one session.  

Fast.  Try 12 -16 hours then eat an incredible meal. When you start freaking out about how hungry you are is when you gain the most confidence. It feels impossible but the reward of feeling like you’ve earned your food and overcame your hunger will make that next meal feel like it should. Not like it does when you eat just because you can.  

Cut Sugar and Seed Oils immediately. I don’t have time to debate diets or who’s is best but they all agree on these two things as being the worst things you can do to yourself. Cut them out immediately they will send you to an early grave.  

Reduce inflammation. Research foods and drinks that are high in inflammation.  Supplement your diet with anti-inflammation ingredients.  Most diseases stem from inflammatory responses.  

Get your heart rate up at least once a day.  Make sure you’re exercising but find something that you really like doing.  Don’t do a class or something you feel like you have to do. Get Class Pass and try 100 different classes until you find something you love. I strongly recommend some components of strength training for your longevity, the caloric burn, dopamine rush and for your posture. 

Get your bloodwork done. I just found out I need much more b12 and folate.  Deficiencies in these areas are linked to anxiety and depression.

Get your cortisol levels tested. I just found out that I produce too much cortisol at the least optimal times of the day which makes it difficult to sleep sometimes. L Theanine is a good ingredient to counter this. Your cortisol levels could be impacting your day in a way of which you’re not aware.

Part 5: Take care of the external

Find your book

The goal of reading a book is to find something you can't put down, not to read every book. Switch your mental model of reading to be, “try to get rid of this book as soon as possible”. If you can’t get rid of the book then it’s a good sign you should go home with it. Go to a book store and read 20 pages of 20 books. Having a good book as your companion as opposed to the phone is night and day. 

Develop a trade 

Learning something new that you’ve always wanted to try creates new neural pathways that feel synonymous to dopamine and positive endorphins.  Learning Spanish and salsa at the same time was a really fun challenge and made me feel like my mind was expanding at the same time.  

Remove toxic relationships from your life

But do this In a healthy way. This step is not your ticket to virtue signal and walk up to someone in your life and say you have to write them off because they are toxic. Impress yourself here. Do the right thing and say the truth. You can use language like, “this isn’t working for me” or “I’m not the happiest when I’m engaged in this relationship”. This might be the hardest item on your list. If it is, it might be what’s contributing the most to your unhappiness. You’ve forsaken your happiness or the chance at happiness for what is familiar for the false sense of comfort.

Dating. If you’re single and on dating apps struggling

Focus more on the excitement of trailblazing your most optimal life. You will become the most attractive version of yourself and meet people along your path that require less screening and time wasting as your motivations, ambitions, and purpose are more aligned when you meet along these paths. The bond and trust already has a foundation to build upon rather than realizing they lied about no less than 4 things on their profile.

Optimize your life for belly laughs. Hugs and where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated

Where, with who, what and how do these become more frequent in your life?  Sprint to this situation. When is the last time you belly laughed? Plan your vacation days and discretionary money around the answers to these questions. Even move if you have to.  

Do a favor for a friend and volunteer

We are constantly in our heads and focused on ourselves.  Volunteering or doing a favor gives us a temporary break from this focus while making the world a better place and giving us a sense of purpose and duty. It also feels good to do good. It’s ok to be selfish here too. I found my groove volunteering with speaking to entrepreneurs that are struggling emotionally and mentally. It doesn’t feel like work to me, I look forward to it. There is an intersection out there where you really feel alive when you’re helping. Try a few options. It’s ok if it feels like fun. That’s when everyone benefits. The trick is not to feel more guilty because you are not volunteering at the most unimaginable helpless situations. You want to be the best version of yourself where you get flow or where you look forward to it. Then everyone benefits exponentially. 

Get a pet

People with animals live longer. Isn’t that a fascinating thing to think about in the lens of evolution. We domesticated animals for what felt like a natural evolution for humans. And now we know they provide enough happiness and the hint of responsibility that give us purpose when we’re taking care of another living being. This can give us a sense of duty and joy at the same time. Responsibility is not a bad word. It gives us purpose. 

Talk therapy

When I talk to my friends that are in the stone ages when it comes to talking about therapy, I tell them that they don’t know what it feels like to talk to someone who is not waiting for their turn to talk.  When you get comfortable with a therapist you easily observe how much you posture and speak in  anticipation of the response from whomever you’re talking to.  Building this dynamic into a monthly routine is not only something that has helped me find my true authentic voice but something that I really look forward to each week for how much it immediately helps.  


Look good, feel good. And put on a fake ass smile

This is your license to spend money on your hygiene, your haircuts, a great outfit, clean shoes and something you feel great in wearing. You are worth it and the world needs you to show us what you got. There’s a self perpetuating cycle that we need to break when we’re dressing in clothes that don’t fit, are ripped, old or when we’re neglecting hygiene. We’re telling ourselves that a low bar is acceptable and we don’t value ourselves so we don’t deserve to look and feel good. It’s easy to say ‘take some pride’ but when depression has it’s grips, that advice is usually falling on deaf ears. I’ve been there. For a week in college, I didn’t shower and I was sneaking gin into a cup in all of my classes. I was getting close to perfect grades because I could make sure I was checking the box I thought I needed to check while completely unravelling inside. I neglected everything but propped up what I thought I had to be according to others. I wish someone at that time would have just told me I was worth taking care of myself. Sometimes you need a friend to give you a boost.  I hope I can suffice for now. But I’m also calling on you to make the world a better place because we need you to. A good deed, even seemingly small, has the potential for such an incredible ripple effect. You are worth it. Take care of yourself and look good.

Clean your car, clean our desk, clear your place

This is cut from the same cloth as the above comment. Setting yourself up for a clean work environment and living environment in the future is your present self’s way of telling you that you’re of value and worth the effort. It’s a powerful habit that starts with something as menial as 30 seconds to tidy up.

Schedule your excitement

A sample schedule that puts you back on the offense with your life allows you to be “violently creative”. This is a term from Arthur Schopenhour or the grandfather of entrepreneurship where we recognized the time in your day where you can be uniquely yourself and let your mind be wildly creative for exploration and creation.  Not only is it important for you to block hours for protecting this but also for other items like sunshine and fresh air.

Go on the offense with your schedule

Make it something you love. Schedule things that you look forward to and not just what you have to do. People hate their schedules because it is always shit you have to do. How often do you see something on your schedule that is something you want to do? This also allows for a more efficient workday and life. If you know you only have a couple hours to get your work done because you’ve scheduled a lunch in the park with your book or a meditation. Scheduling for things you need for your own enjoyment puts control back into your life. 

Take two steps

This post is most certainly not meant to make light of how difficult it is with something as serious as living with clinical depression.  It is simply wishful thinking that it might help at least one person who might resonate with one of these heuristics. I know it can be hard to even move. When I’ve been there, I’ve remembered how important momentum can be and how real momentum is. As much as I hated hearing, “it starts with the first step”, I’ve found solace in stringing two steps together to create momentum. Many days where it felt impossible to move ended up being incredible days of my life where I told myself I was just going to get up, meditate, do a pushup or brush my teeth then I was going to go back to bad. Take two steps.

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