Freedom to focus

Recently I shared some of what I’ve been learning about languishing. I was interested when I read an interview with Adam Grant, who just published an article in The New York Times. There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021. He is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, the author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife. I’ve been reading “Think again.” (but having second thoughts about that 🙂 )


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.Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

When you add languishing to your lexicon, you start to notice it all around you. It shows up when you feel let down by your short afternoon walk. It’s in your kids’ voices when you ask how online school went. It’s in “The Simpsons” every time a character says, “Meh.”

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,
The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021
 by Adam Grant, The New York Times, April 28, 2021

Matthew Iasiello, MA, an Australia-based researcher, is investigating techniques to promote flourishing and reduce languishing. Earlier this year, he and his colleagues published a review of current psychological interventions that are being used to improve mental well-being.

Further research is needed, but the initial data point to mindfulness, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy-based interventions as places to start.7

Mindfulness involves intense focus and awareness of what you’re sensing and feeling, moment by moment, without judgment. It has been shown to help people relax and reduce stress.8

“The one intervention type that worked incredibly across the board [was] mindfulness,” Iasiello says, adding that “the cool thing about mindfulness is that there’s lots of different ways to practice it.”

What Is Languishing, and What Can We Do About It? by Sarah Simon, VeryWellHealth, April 29, 2021

An antidote to languishing

So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. 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.

While finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences and meaningful work are all possible remedies to languishing, it’s hard to find flow when you can’t focus.

Fragmented attention is an enemy of engagement and excellence.

The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,
The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021
 by Adam Grant, The New York Times, April 28, 2021

Wow! I don’t know how to express how reading this has affected me. I’ve recognized these patterns in many aspects of my life, all my life.

One example is this blog. I started writing on January 1, 2015. Since then I’ve written 1,918 blog posts that have been viewed 114,058 times. I write almost every day. I realized long ago that if I didn’t write first thing in the morning, it wouldn’t be possible to write that day. The “flow” wouldn’t happen. I wouldn’t be able to find my “focus”. I learned these uninterrupted blocks of time were treasures to guard and gave me the freedom to focus. People who know me know to leave me alone until I’d finished writing that day.

I think this is especially important when I’m trying to write about spiritual things. The Biblical phrase “still small voice” refers to how we might hear the voice of God. Quakers speak of the Inner Light as the direct awareness of God that allows a person to know God’s will. Quaker meetings for worship are a communal gathering in silence for about an hour. A time when each person present is listening for what the Inner Light might be telling them. If a person has received a message from that still small voice, they speak that into the silence. Doing this as a group often seems to enhance the ability to heard God’s message. Friends often talk of what someone speaks relates to what they have been experiencing, also. “That Friends speaks my mind.”

There are many more examples of flow and focus I plan to write about soon.


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