• Dinah Vincent

Move from languishing to flourishing

Sometimes things jump off the page (or the screen) at me.

That happened this week with an article in The New York Times by Adam Grant.

'There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing' made immediate sense.

Feeling adrift? Image: Matua Hatala via Unsplash

Grant describes the joyless and aimless state that is neither burnout nor depression, and labels it languishing.

It seems such a trivial thing to notice, yet alone focus on. Isn't it enough to be 'getting by' as the world is gripped by a pandemic? Shouldn't I be pleased to walking the middle line between more extreme responses?

But as Grant points out, getting by is not really enough. It takes the edge off motivation, focus, and productivity.

Take steps to flourish

Adam Grant has three suggestions to overcome this state. Given I've confessed to languishing, I feel honour bound to engage with his suggestions and actively create the circumstances for flourishing.

First: get immersed in something that gives you a sense of flow

We talk about flow in Gallup CliftonStrengths workshops. Being in the flow is a clue to where your strengths lie.

What gives you that feeling? For me, it comes from being able to put things together, whether it is a development programme, a meal, or a garment. I get great satisfaction from bringing together the disparate parts of something to create a unified whole.

There's a connection with the Resilience Institute's analysis of the factors that increase resilience too. The Resilience Institute describes flow as optimal performance - where challenge meets skill.

I have to make these sorts of tasks and activities priorities at work and at home.

Second: give yourself uninterrupted time for activities

In coaching and workshops, the thing people lament most is lack of time. Conflicting demands, tight deadlines, and poor resourcing combine to leave us feeling we never have time for the things that are most important to us.

We use an animated video of Dan Pink's talk about engagement in some of our leadership workshops.

Pink talks about Atlassian's innovation days - time dedicated to innovation.

Despite using this to inspire others, I'm not great at applying this principle in my own life. And it really doesn't need to be complicated: it means blocking out time for my own research and development, and using it well.

Third: Focus on a small goal

This is a technique I've used at various times of my life when the going has been tough.

It was effective as a new mother when the goals were related to manging the demands of a mysteriously needy infant. It got me through my Doctoral thesis, ticking off the elements of research and writing. It got me through training for a half-marathon, balancing gains in speed, recovery, and distance.

Maybe it is one I need to brush up on now.

The trick for me is to make the goals discrete and achievable. While it's tempting to see this as overlapping with the ideas of flow and dedicated time - the small goals can stand apart.

For this to help, I have to set the goals, achieve it, and notice that I've done it. And yes, that might mean things as small as cleaning my desk, arranging a meeting, writing a blog!


A note on the images: No, I'm not planning taking up sailing or surfing anytime soon - but for me these contrasting images of the ocean capture the mental states of languishing and flourishing.

Crashing ocean wave
Enjoy the energy! Image: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash