Trying for some focus: Are you languishing?
There was recently an article in the New York Times that made me have an ah-ha moment: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s called languishing,” by Adam Grant. If you have access to The Times (they allow you one or two articles a month for free, other than that you are faced with a paywall), I highly recommend reading this. There’s a follow-up article, “The Other Side of Languishing is Flourishing” – also a good article, but it was the first one that really made me sit up.
I wrote last week about how I’ve been having some serious problems writing a silly Christmas novella. Well, the problem isn’t necessarily with my story or my plotting. The problem is with me.
What is languishing? Well, according to Grant, it’s when you feel joyless, aimless, or empty. It’s brain fog. The inability to focus. It’s what so many people are dealing with after a year of managing the stress of living in a pandemic.
Even if all you’ve had to deal with during this past year is the low-level stress of living through these times, you can still be languishing. The thing is, we’ve all had to deal with the pandemic in one way or another.
For some of us, there has been the active grief if we’ve lost someone to this horrid disease. For others, we’ve had to deal with being sick ourselves. These are terrible, disturbing, and difficult things to deal with. But even if all we’ve had to deal with is reading the news we are still affected by it. Many of us are either dealing with having more people around us than normal (children and spouses suddenly home when normally they would have gone out to school and work) or, conversely, no one around us because we’ve all been confined to our homes. Whatever it is you’ve had to live through this past year it still could affect you.
The biggest problem with languishing is not just the brain fog, it’s not just the lack of motivation for something that you would normally have enjoyed, it that you don’t even see it coming. It sneaks up on you until suddenly one day you wake up and it’s there hanging over your mind like a weighted blanket.
So what do you do? How do you get past this languishing?
First of all, acknowledge it. Psychologists have said that the very first thing we must do in order to move toward good mental health is to name what we are feeling. Are you feeling grief? Then say so. Are you languishing? Tell someone. As Grant suggests in his article, the next time someone asks you how you are, don’t automatically say “fine.” Tell them the truth. Say “I’m blah.” Or “Meh.” Or you could actually put it into the correct terminology and say “I’m languishing.” At which point, hopefully, the other person would say “Wow, me too!” or “How can I help?” or “Tell me about it.”
Another thing that might help when you’re languishing is to know that you’re not alone. Yes, misery loves company. Talk to someone about this and then listen with an open heart, without judgment, when they tell you about how they are feeling exactly the same way.
And finally, according to Grant, the best anti-dote to languishing is something writers know very well – flow.
Flow is that state that we fall into when we allow ourselves to be taken away by a story. It could be a movie you’re watching, it could be a book you’re reading, or it could be a book you’re writing. Getting lost in the story will help.
So how do you achieve flow when you’re having trouble concentrating?
- Write by hand.
- Turn off the internet.
- Lock yourself into a room where you won’t be disturbed (and tell those who might disturb you what you’re doing so they don’t pound on the door in worry).
- Put on headphones and listen to a focus-assisting app like Brain.fm or Focus@Will. Having instrumental music playing in your ears or the white noise of a café will help you concentrate.
- Track your progress. Note down how many words you wrote (50 is great, 200 is fantastic… you get it). Write down how long you wrote for.
If you managed to stay focused for ten minutes or twenty, you’ve done an amazing job. Give yourself a pat on the back or an extra scoop of ice cream after dinner, you deserve it!