From languishing to flourishing

Recently there was an article published in The New York Times about a collective state of being that many of us are experiencing presently, and it’s called languishing. According to the article, 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’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at your full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation and disrupts your ability to focus. When you are languishing, you are not depressed, but you aren’t thriving either.

So how then do we move from a state of languishing to flourishing? According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, to flourish, we need to find our flow, a term he coined in the 1990s. He says we reach this blissful state when we find the right balance between skill and challenge. If our challenge is too great, we’ll be stressed. If the challenge is not enough, boredom kicks in. But when it’s just right, we experience “flow”. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a significant challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.

The first thing you need to do to achieve this state is to step out of your comfort zone. Do something that’s slightly beyond your comfort zone. It needs to be challenging but not overwhelming. Something that you enjoy and requires skill. When you take on a challenge that’s manageable to you – you increase your chances of experiencing “flow”.

Another way to find your flow is to get better at something, develop an existing skill, try a new one, or take up an old one. “Flow” is very individual, so you need to find what works for you – and there are no limits. Walking, gardening, reading an academic book, yoga, or an enjoyable work project might be your thing, and all of them can promote the feeling of “flow”. Whatever appeals to you, draws you in and challenges you can help you find your “flow”.

Try and forget yourself. You may think that’s easier said than done, but it’s crucial if you want to experience “flow”. As a source of mental energy, “flow” both invigorates and motivates us so we can forget ourselves. As you immerse yourself in your activity, you’ll shut off any critical “self-talk”, niggling worries and distractions. “Flow” is about losing yourself in something that offers no tangible reward beyond the activity itself.

Finally, remember to be kind to yourself. No one has been left unscathed by the last year, and its impact on our general well-being. Focus on the small wins.

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