Modern living is not for the faint of heart. Think about the challenges we face each day. For instance, how do we gather safely with friends and relatives, or adjust to constantly changing work environments? These are unprecedented times and might be for the foreseeable future.

This long-term state of uncertainty has left many of us out of sorts, to say the least. I certainly feel that way sometimes. It’s not that I feel burnt out. I don’t feel hopeless or depressed. Yet I feel cabin fever in this Midwest winter season, setting in earlier than usual, as I re-watch Netflix series while mindlessly playing Blockudoku on my iPhone.

It wasn’t until I stumbled on an article written by Adam Grant, bestselling author and top-rated Wharton business school professor, that I realized what I was feeling had a name: languishing. In his article, he described this feeling as the dominant emotion of 2021. It seems that many of us are also languishing into 2022.

Even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as languishing, you might know someone who is. The practice below will help you understand languishing better and practice a way to remedy this challenging state of being.

Give it a try or share it with a friend. Life is too short to languish!

The Inspiration

What is Languishing?

In his article on languishing, Dr. Adam Grant describes languishing as feeling:

  • joyless and aimless,
  • a sense of stagnation and emptiness,
  • like you’re muddling through your days and looking through a foggy windshield,
  • like you’re not functioning at full capacity but not suffering from depression.

He says that languishing affects motivation and focus, and it triples the odds you’ll cut back on your work. The worst part, it seems, is that without noticing it and naming it you might suffer for not addressing it. Languishing today can slip into depression in the future.

Remedy Languishing by Finding Flow.

Flow was first studied and developed by the late, globally renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (cheek-sent-mi-hi). It’s about finding balance between activities that stretch and engage you to the right degree. Too much challenge, and you risk feeling frustrated. Too little, and you risk feeling bored.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a founding father of positive psychology, says that flow is about engagement and a loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity. In his 2012 book Flourish, he says:

There are no shortcuts to flow.
On the contrary, you need to deploy your
highest strengths and talents to meet the world in flow.

The practice below is about using your signature strengths as pathways to flow. These are your top strengths that enliven you and naturally boost engagement. If you’re unsure of your signature strengths, please refer to step 5 of the practice.

An Example of Finding Flow

One way to find flow is to simply ask yourself: when have I been in flow in the past? What was I doing? Who was I with?

I know from experience that I’m usually in flow when writing blog posts like this one. Writing stretches my creativity, humor, and perspective, my top three signature strengths. I feel challenged to put interesting content together in original ways, infuse humor where appropriate, and reflect on whether the piece is relatable and understandable.

I knew I was in flow as I wrote this blog post when I looked at the time and realized I hadn’t saved my work in well over an hour. The time passed quickly and I accomplished what I wanted during that time. Afterwards, when reflecting, I felt satisfied with and grateful for the flow state I created.

There are many more facets of flow, which you can read about in Csikszentmihalyi’s book Finding Flow. In the meantime, try engaging your signature strengths as pathways to flow.

The Practice

  1. To begin, set up your environment so it’s conducive to flow. Turn off all electronics. Shut your door to ward off interruptions. Get yourself something to drink so you don’t have to get up. Try to eliminate the opportunity for distractions and the need to attend to something else.
  2. Think of something that matters to you – something worthwhile or interesting. Start small. It could be a project, a goal, a conversation, or any activity.
  3. If completing #1 seems challenging, ask yourself: when was I in flow in the past? What was I doing? Who was I with?
  4. Make sure what you chose isn’t too challenging or too simple. You want to stretch yourself enough to become fully absorbed.
  5. Identify 3 of your signature strengths, and identify at least one way each strength might help you complete the activity from above. If you don’t know your signature strengths, you can join 15 million people globally and take the free character strengths assessment.
  6. Start your activity and put your strengths into action.

This process isn’t always intuitive, so please feel free to reach out if you’re struggling.

The Reflection

The state of flow I created left me feeling _______________________.

In hindsight, did you feel accomplished? Productive? At ease? Will you attempt to find flow more regularly in the future?

Now that you know how to counter languishing by using your signature strengths as pathways to flow, I hope you’ll keep practicing. It becomes more natural over time.

Wishing you less languishing and more flow,