I think we are all feeling the strangeness of 2021. I accidentally wrote an email out to everyone at Tribe saying we should say good bye to 2020. Many of us are saying last year doesn’t count, but it does. And most likely in ways we don’t yet understand.
We have somewhat transitioned out of the high alert state and into life with normalised constant threat and high potential of change. Life with both feelings of normalised loss and at the same time, new levels of appreciation of things that used to be taken for granted. The constant stress of playing out the worst case scenarios is exhausting. With burnout hovering over or perhaps already landed for you, this year has been full and dull.
According to Adam Grant,
“We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing. 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. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them. Last spring, during the acute anguish of the pandemic, the most viral post in the history of Harvard Business Reviewwas an article describing our collective discomfort as grief. Along with the loss of loved ones, we were mourning the loss of normalcy.”
Simultaneously, I have had countless conversations with people expressing how they have found new levels of awareness and a better pace for life since Covid. Usually that is quickly followed up with how bad they feel about saying that when they know many people have suffered so greatly. I have caught myself saying that too. I liken this to hitting rock bottom and the perspective that gives you- the only way is up.
I purpose going against the cultural norm of numbing and leaning into meaningful acts. Adam describes this as flow- that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. Grant goes on to site a study of flow;
“During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.”
Finding flow is becoming increasingly more challenging. We have a million things pulling at our attention all of the time. It takes a huge amount of discipline to stay focused. But a distracted mind is the enemy of flow.
I have noticed that when I am feeling a bit low, I check my emails more often and I scroll through my social channels in a mindless way. Now when I catch myself in this state, I take a moment to try and think about what is really bothering me. Sometimes it is easy to figure out, sometimes, all I can do is change my habits. I notice that behaviour now and stop. I find something more focused to do- even if that thing is to sit and do 4 mindful breaths. I disrupts the bad habit, one tiny task at a time.
This can come in many forms and probably why I crave playing cards or board games from time to time. They create a contained task that my mind can concentrate on. No need to think about the ever growing to do list or what I forgot to do or what I need to think about putting on my to do list. Although finding an effortless state and flow are different, it is a good place to start.
Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
Flow state is losing yourself in the moment; when you find your abilities are well matched to an activity, the world around you quietens and you may find yourself achieving things you only dreamt to be possible.
To me that sounds worth the effort and at least one way of approaching 2022; an antidote to some of 2021’s languishing.