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.Adam Grant, in The New York Times
If left untreated, languishing can be a predictor for depression. It’s a helpful term that can help us diagnose that in-between feeling, where you’re not depressed, but not happy either.
The remedy to languishing? Enter a state of flow. Become so focused on the task at hand that other things become secondary. The unpleasant things about life disappear, because it no longer matters. You are challenged, but in control. You could be working against a tight deadline, embarking on a passion project, or simply watching Parasite.
I personally experience passive states of flow whenever I’m immersed into a soul-sucking novel. My mind is completely immersed, my body limp on the couch. For those hours, nothing in the world matters. I gorge down a fast meal when I remember to do so, my lips are dry from lack of hydration, and the sky turns dark before I can look at the clock.
It’s easy to enter a state of flow when doing something a hobby that you know you enjoy. I try to steer away from potentially harmful activities like video games, as I never feel good about the hours spent in front of the screen. I also try not to start any binge-worthy shows (though I don’t always succeed), as they can prevent me from focusing on any task other than finishing all the episodes of all the seasons.
I find active states of flow much harder to accomplish, as it requires the removal of any distractions. Namely, the other tabs on my screen, my phone, and my stomach. I often think about how much easier it must have been 10 or 20 years ago, when screens were still a luxury and jobs weren’t dominated by the tech industry. But it’s futile to compare. Innovation rarely comes with its downsides.
To induce a regular state of flow, I set aside my mornings to completely free myself of any external demands. I block all sites but the ones that I write on. The anxiety about having emails and Slack messages to check at the start of my work day never leaves the back of my mind—but until then, the world can consider me asleep. I revert back to analog activities: eat breakfast, journal, stare at the clouds, and do what I need to do to sit down and write each morning. I pretend my laptop is typewriter.
Ultimately, I think flow is about pushing your mind to do its best work. Active flow states leave us more energized than passive ones, and for good reason. We feel best when we are challenged, focused, and creative. You don’t need to do important work; you just need to do what is meaningful to you. What matters to you? What makes you want to jump out of bed, even with few hours of sleep? What keeps you going when all sense of hope is gone?