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A couple of weeks ago, I read a fantastic article from Adam Grant in the New York Times explaining the sensations I experienced for a big part of 2020 and that I still feel today.

Adam Grant writes languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.

It was such a relief. I finally had a name for it, languishing. I felt part of something bigger since millions of people are suffering from it. I confirmed that it was a real thing and not something only in my head.

I think I may have confused my state of languishing, bordering on depression, with burnout. Or maybe I had all three. When I think about it objectively, I am not sure where I found the inner motivation, drive, and strength to connect to work every day, stay healthy (did not gain weight or got sick during the pandemic), and provide some sort of emotional and moral support to the people around me (mostly to my team at work). No wonder I was exhausted, confused, and depleted of ideas and goals at the end of 2020.

Having routines in place implemented when they were not needed (i.e., pre-2020) was extremely helpful. I was able to go into automatic pilot with exercise, meditation, cooking, connecting to work, etc. and somehow, they paid out and kept me with some sense of sanity.

When I read this paragraph in the article, it really struck a nerve: part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

I was definitely indifferent to my indifference. I was going through the motions of my routines. I felt guilty for feeling so low because my problems were not ‘real problems’: I had my job, financial stability, my health, some sort of social interaction, I had and could get everything I needed. So why on earth was I feeling so low? I finally sought help in the last quarter of 2020 (best decision I made) when I could not be indifferent anymore and it was clear that I was moving amazingly fast towards hopelessness.

Here are some suggestions to manage and overcome languishing both from the article and my experience.

1) Name the feeling

When I read the article and could see myself described there (I literally looked for my name or wondered if the NSA had actually put its data to good use), I felt so much lighter, as if I had instantly lost a few pounds. It was such a relief!

It is like finally having a name for the weird growth on your skin, or the unwanted pain on your hand. To me it was like ‘okay, we have a name, now we can do a better search on the Internet for next steps’.

Naming the feeling also helps with enhancing our empathy skill: we can identify the emotion in ourselves and in the other person and communicate our understanding of what they are feeling.

2) Get into flow

In a prior post, I wrote about the state of flow. This is when we are deeply connected to an activity to the point that we lose track of time. This concept of being in flow has been studied many times. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyitotal focus is a sense of oneness with what you are doing.

After reading Adam Grant’sarticle, I allowed myself to open the lens of what activities put me into flow. I always thought they had to be projects directly connected to my purpose, like writing.

Fortunately, we can use ‘lesser’ tasks to get into flow to overcome languishing. Last year, it was crocheting – this was a new activity for me so the process of learning and experimenting definitely put me in a state of flow.

3) Give yourself uninterrupted time

Of course, to be in flow, we need to carve out the time to do so. I had previously wrote about our attitude towards time: some people see abundance in time (I have time to do everything that is important to me), and others see scarcity (I do not have enough hours during the day).

The beauty of time is that no matter who you are, where you live, or how old you are, we all have exactly 24 hours in the day, 60 minutes in one hour, and 60 seconds in one minute. No more, no less. 

Start treating uninterrupted time as if it were a doctor’s appointment or better yet, a health treatment appointment. If you had to go to physical therapy and their only opening is Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 am, it is highly likely that you will make those times work. Well, uninterrupted time is health therapy for languishing, and it is worth a try.

I am a big advocate of starting small, so we do not get overwhelmed. Start with 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and gradually increase. Small consistent steps win the race.

4) Focus on a small goal

Nothing feels better like a win, of any kind and size. Every time we strike something off our list, we can feel the hit of dopamine being released.

In 2021, I am experimenting with having quarterly goals instead of bigger ones for the entire year. Because of the transition and transformation I am currently experiencing, I thought this would be a more manageable approach. This way, I can get the feeling of accomplishment more frequently with a steady amount of effort.

Another routine I started earlier this year, was jotting down my daily wins. It sounds simple because it is. I do it in a Google Document; you can use any tool including good old pen and paper.

Each day jot down what you consider your wins. I usually do it towards the end of the ‘workday’ right before I turn off my computer. These wins can be of any size; they do not have to be life changing. Some of mine include

  • requested the NYC ID
  • read the severance package information
  • completed assigned training
  • submitted my first post to Thrive Global

5) Help others

If I could travel in time back to 2020 (yes, I said it!), the one thing I would do differently is volunteer.

When we help others, regardless of if they are less fortunate than us or not, we immediately get out of our heads. We are forced to focus on someone else giving us a much-needed reprieve from our own thoughts.

In 2021, I resumed volunteer work. And even though the opportunities I have found are not the most exciting, contributing in any shape or form has made a big difference in my overall well-being. The search continues.

6) Take time out

I recently heard that a manager told their employees that they could call in sick or call in sad. How beautiful is that!

When we have a cold, or Covid, and we are not feeling physically well, most of us are okay calling in sick. Our emotional and mental health should be treated with the same respect. There is no need to go into details. The word indisposed is a wonderful one; it immediately tells the listener (or reader) that today we are not feeling 100% and we need to rest and recover.

“Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” – Teddy Roosevelt

I hope that being able to name what many of us have been feeling will give you the same relief I experienced when I became aware of this information. Experiment with the tips and see how they feel. Start with those that resonate the most or that pique your curiosity.

How have you experienced languishing? What do you do to overcome it and thrive? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French.

My mission is to help women transform their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential achieving what they want most for themselves, their families, communities, organizations, and teams.

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