“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.” – Adam Grant.
Do too many of your days seem to lack meaning or purpose, characterized by feelings of dissatisfaction, apathy, and a lack of desire to make progress? There’s a word for that “meh” feeling, it’s called languishing. Some synonyms that resonate with me are “stagnating”, “dormant”, even “drooping”. I know that many people have experienced more of these feelings during the COVID19 pandemic, and I am no exception. The long Canadian winter doesn’t help either; it is snowing again as I write this in early May! I am not depressed per se but nor am I flourishing…I’m definitely “meh”.
Things I used to do, like volunteering, going to the gym, visiting friends and family, travelling, going to the mall, concerts…disappeared in 2020, or were severely curtailed. I think that those of us who like to “get things done”, “go places” and “plan ahead” have perhaps had more difficulty in adjusting to the “smaller life” of the pandemic. Those with more sanguine or stoic personalities seemed to adjust more easily. Even now that many restrictions have lifted, there is a nervousness around taking up some of these activities again.
In his TED talk, (https://www.adamgrant.net/speaking/), Adam Grant addresses languishing. He reminds us that the most important factor in daily motivation and joy is a sense of progress or mastery. Progress doesn’t have to mean achieving a big goal. It can involve small wins, like learning to bake something new, calling a friend, taking a brisk walk, or, in my case, writing a blog after a year of silence! However, to master something, we need to dedicate uninterrupted time (mindfulness) to focus on something that matters to us– an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation or helping others.
I was better at making progress during the first winter of the pandemic. I participated in online painting classes and made strides with my newly acquired interest in acrylic painting. When I finally was able to go back into the art studio, my teacher remarked on how much my confidence had grown. I even managed to complete some painting commissions which really boosted my confidence. However, this winter my teacher stopped offering her online classes and though I looked for other options, I didn’t find another good fit. Left to my own devices, I started several paintings some of which still sit unfinished. (Update: I think writing this spurred me on and I finally finished 3).
I try to counteract languishing feelings by setting myself some regular absorbing tasks. I post to Instagram three days a week and to accomplish that, I have to get out and take photos (I enjoy landscape and floral photography); find an inspirational quote that resonates with me and find some interesting information to share about the subject. I have found that doing this lifts my mood and hopefully provides some enjoyment for my followers. I also did some short-term online volunteering, mentoring and research, which also provided some worthwhile temporary focus.
“We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.” – E.B. White.
Recently I started babysitting my young grandchild once a week which has brought more joy to my life. I see this as a special privilege as two of my older grandchildren lived too far away to help in this way. I know that I need to keep busy to feel like my life has purpose. However, I find myself in a conundrum, languishing but often unwilling to engage more fully due to energy limitations.
At times like this, I need to remind myself to “eat the elephant a bite at a time”. I don’t have to complete a painting or a blog in one sitting…I can set a timer for half an hour and see how much I can accomplish in that time. I can also play a favourite podcast or music while I paint. I seem to need that background “noise” to feel like I am connected to others. As a child I was sent to my room to study alone, which my parents thought would be the best for my concentration. It was only in university that I discovered that I studied best in the company of others in the library.
I also find that social support gives me strength to move toward my goals. Doing an activity with someone else is usually much more enjoyable, not to mention the shared memories that are created for later enjoyment. Making a commitment to a family member or a friend can provide accountability that moves me forward when I stagnate. For example, I recently paid for a stall at a Christmas market and asked two of my daughters if they would help there. Having that end of November deadline will spur me to action!
“Rest is not idle, is not wasteful. Sometimes rest is the most productive thing you can do for body and soul.” – Erica Layne.
As I bring this blog to a close, I reflect that there are times when we will just not have the energy or enough motivation to pursue our goals or even the activities we love. Sometimes we just need to take a break or rest for a while. We can take a lesson from nature…most plants, and some animals lie dormant or hibernate all winter. This doesn’t diminish their potential; they are resting and waiting for spring. It is also important to remember that we are all different. What works for me, may not for you. If languishing sets in, we just need to employ some of the approaches that have worked for us in the past and soon we will start to flourish again.
“Nothing in nature blooms all year round; be patient with yourself; deep in the roots all flowers store the light’. – Anonymous.