A number of people have been telling me they've been feeling flat and having trouble getting going. It’s a common experience. The professional term is languishing. I call it 'the pandemic within the pandemic'. Here are four common symptoms:
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Languishing is not a mental disorder, it’s more of a passing syndrome. The word was first coined by sociologist Corey Keyes in 2002 to describe the opposite of having a strong sense of well-being, and it has recently been used by psychologists to explain how we are all being affected, to a greater or lesser extent, by the pandemic.
The reason is, in addition to the extra work, financial and family pressures that many people are under, the pandemic has undermined five basic psychological needs.
Connection. Being restricted in our ability to connect and have fun with friends, extended family and work colleagues has frequently been a cause of distress.
Control. The removal of 'taken for granted' daily freedoms, and restrictions on what we can and can’t do, has left many people feeling helpless, deprived and angry.
Certainty. Just when we thought things were getting back to normal, along came the Delta variant, and a host of other unexpected twists and turns to upend our sense of certainty about the future.
Fairness. The experience of unfairness, such as seeing rules and guidelines being applied inconsistently between regions and groups, actually triggers the disgust response in our brains.
Purpose. The disruptions to the previous routine 'busyness' of daily life, and concerns over personal health, and global issues such as climate change, has many people re-evaluating their priorities and questioning their career choices.
Most business leaders have been operating under high levels of prolonged pressure to keep their organisations safe, sustainable, and functioning effectively. Leaders face a double barrel challenge, because while they want to keep their people engaged and productive, they may be struggling themselves with the mental and emotional overload of dealing with relentless and complex change.
As we know, culture starts at the top, so my first piece of advice for business leaders is to take steps to keep yourself in a good place. Talk with a trusted supporter – a partner, friend, colleague, coach or adviser - about your personal and leadership challenges. Peer support can also be particularly powerful, not just for ideas or advice, but more importantly for the reassurance that comes from knowing you are not alone.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help others and ourselves to get our MoJo back, based on good evidence and experience.
#1. Attend professional development programs as these are a great way to rebuild your sense of competence, connect with others, and regain a fresh perspective.
#2. Show gratitude for what is going well in your life or how others have helped you. Consciously remind yourself of what you still have, rather than what you've lost.
#3. Revisit the positive difference your work or your business makes to others. For instance why you took on your job or started your business. And get back to practising important values such as kindness and consideration.
#4. Manage negative feelings and make wiser decisions by first consciously pausing, acknowledging your thoughts or emotions, and then accepting them without judgement.
#5. Regularly spend time on activities you are good at, that stretch you a little, and which bring you satisfaction, energy and joy. (For me, it's playing my guitar and with my dog).
#6. Write a journal each evening before bed of what's on your mind. Get it out. Journaling has been a useful therapeutic tool ever since humans started writing.
#7. Be careful what you watch on Netflix, YouTube or other streaming services. Remember that, like food, what you feed into your mind becomes part of you. So be discerning in what, and how much, you consume.
It’s been a tough year and there is no shame in feeling like you are a bit over it. I hope these thoughts have helped you to put the languishing experience into perspective. I'll leave you with this old Yiddish proverb "Der mentsh trakht un got lakh," which translates into something like, "Man plans and God laughs". Sometimes the best we can do is to just shrug and smile.
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