From the WorkLife podcast episode- How to stop languishing and start finding flow
Someone asks, ‘How are you?’ we are implicitly obligated to say, “I’m doing great, thanks!” What if we told them how we were actually feeling? There is this implicit pressure to be optimistic and upbeat at all times, even when we feel rather aimless and joyless on the inside. According to organizational psychologist and author Dr. Adam Grant, this psychic malaise is termed ‘languishing’. In his Ted talk, he describes this as a state of feeling stagnant and empty, like looking at life through a foggy windshield. We muddle through our days, not being present, not being aware of what is important to us, and not participating actively in the tasks we engage in.
The never-ending pandemic gave rise to fear and isolation, which then settled into a chronic sense of languish for most of us, as it felt like the whole world was stagnating. Dr. Grant calls languish the neglected middle child of mental health, and explains how it can disrupt focus, dampen motivation be a risk factor for depression as it lurks beneath the surface and is hard to talk about.
He then explains the antidote to languish being ‘flow’, which is the best predictor of well-being. Flow is a mental state of ‘being in the zone’ and being completely immersed in an activity with energized focus. How do we achieve this state of flow? There are 3 conditions for this, according to Dr. Grant:
- Mastery- this does not have to be based on huge achievements, but can be small wins like the man on tiktok who persevered and spent hours trying to stack M&Ms. Flow involves momentum, which in turn requires consistency.
- Mindfulness- we often take meaningful moments in our lives and shred them into increasingly tiny, useless pieces- “time confetti”, which is the biggest enemy of energy and excellence. To find flow, we need better boundaries. Let’s start treating uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard.
- Mattering- turns flow into a peak experience. Knowing that we make a difference to other people helps us gain perspective about our work mattering.
Languishing does not always have to be ‘cured’ with something highly productive. Our peak moments of flow involve having fun with the people we love. It is time to rethink our understanding of mental health. Not being depressed does not imply that you’re not struggling. When you’re asked how you’re doing, it’s okay to say you’re just ‘meh’ and when you’re ready, start taking steps in finding your flow.
Where do you find mastery and mindfulness with the people who matter to you?
Monica Jacob (MPhil Clin Psych, MSc Clin Psych, BSc Psych) is a psychologist who values trust, empathy, respect, warmth, and creativity in the therapy room and seeks to collaboratively help her clients lead more meaningful, enriched lives. Monica is passionate about understanding each individual’s unique journey and walking alongside them. She previously worked in hospital settings as part of a multidisciplinary team and provided psychotherapy to clients with various mental health needs in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Her clinical experience includes working with individuals experiencing mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and adjustment difficulties. Monica is dedicated to improving her expertise and knowledge by receiving regular supervision and reviewing research to provide the best possible support to her clients.