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Languishing? Here’s How to Turn it Around

You may not be at the point of burnout... but might you be languishing? Many are experiencing a feeling of "meh" right now. And today Modern Mentor shares the three keys to overcoming the languishing and landing instead in a state of flourishing and flow.

By
Rachel Cooke
4-minute read
Episode #681
The Quick And Dirty

Overcoming the gray feeling of languishing and reclaiming an experience of flourishing comes down to three key levers that are all your to pull:

  • Mastery: invest in achieving something—big or small—that will leave you feeling accomplished
  • Mindfulness: create the time and space to focus fully on this experience of achievement
  • Mattering: get clear on the purpose of your achievement which must matter truly to you
In the past couple of years, burnout has commanded a lot of our collective attention, because so many have suffered from its symptoms: overwhelm, exhaustion, cynicism, and a kind of helplessness.
 
Burnout is real. But it’s not universal. While many aren’t quite at the point of burnout, they’re clearly not thriving. They’re feeling more of a sense of “meh.” 
 
This gray, bland middle place that’s starting to feel familiar to many of us is what organizational psychologist Adam Grant calls “languishing.” It’s not depression or burnout, and it’s definitely not thriving or flourishing… it’s the place in between. This USA Today piece describes it as “feeling a lack of focus and a general purgatory between mental wellness and illness.” 
 
Does this sound familiar? If so, the good news is that Grant offers a clear and simple antidote to this feeling in a recent TED talk. So let’s break down his three-part framework and talk about how you might apply this at work to get a boost.
 
Overcoming languishing is about finding flow. And we do this by pulling three levers: mastery, mindfulness, and mattering. Let’s touch on each and consider what it might look like in practice.

Mastery

Mastery is the idea of achieving something that feels meaningful to you. It’s not crossing something off your to-do list or delivering something your boss or client needs. Those are important—but they’re not mastery.
 
Mastery leaves you feeling good at something; accomplished. Even if that thing you’ve mastered is tiny. 
 
A couple of things I’ve been striving to master in recent months include:
• Reading non-fiction that challenges me to explore new ideas about the workplace
• Doing outreach to people I haven’t met personally (yikes!)
• Experimenting with new ways to facilitate workshops and programs virtually 
 
These are all things I want to feel more skilled in doing, not because I should but because I’m hungry for the growth.
 
So, where’s your personal opportunity for mastery at work? 

Learn a skill or program

What have you always dreamed of doing and doing well? Public speaking? Building marketing campaigns? Head down a rabbit hole. Can you spend 30 minutes a day (or 10 if that’s all you can spare) watching videos or taking LinkedIn Learning courses? 

Impress someone you want to connect with

Is there someone you aspire to make a connection with? Start building a list of talking points you’d like to share or questions you’d like to ask. Do this until you’re impressed with the conversation you envision, and then invite them to coffee. 

Build a portfolio

What do you want to be known for? Do you aspire to be the go-to writer or financial modeler or marketer? Start curating some work samples and craft a portfolio you’ll be excited to share.
 
The goal is that by spending some time each day creating momentum for yourself, you’re having an experience of moving, achieving, and developing.

Mindfulness

Mastery is about doing the thing. Mindfulness is about doing it completely, wholeheartedly, and without distraction.
 
Friend, this is where the art of boundary-setting becomes the craft you need to perfect. Creating the time and space for yourself to begin mastering the thing is critical. 
 
My calendar is blocked off every day until 10 a.m. If an emergency arises, clients know how to reach me. But as a matter of course, nothing is scheduled first thing in my morning. This is when I exercise, journal, and commit to mastery. I’ve carved out the time and space to make it happen.
 
Here are some strategies you might deploy to do the same.

Put time on your calendar

Mindfulness begins with commitment. Whether your mastery plan involves watching videos, taking online courses, journaling ideas, or reviewing past projects, you’ll need time to do it! So put it on your calendar and protect it like a mama bear protects her cubs. Will emergencies arise from time to time? Sure. But let those be the exception. You make the rule here.

Create space

Let your boss/partner/client/kids know when you’ll be unavailable. Put on an out-of-office responder for 30 minutes. Clear off your desk. Grab your headphones, a fancy set of pens, a killer snack—whatever will enable you to fully engage in the task at hand. You’ve cleared the time. Don’t squander it with clutter or distraction.

Phone a friend

Let someone close to you know what you’re striving for. And invite them to be your accountability buddy. Promise to text them to confirm you did what you said you’d do. Call them for help or advice when something or someone threatens your focus. There is no shame in asking for help here!

Don’t apologize

Just don’t. This is not selfish time. This is meaning-making time. You will never bring your best self—your best energy, creativity, motivation—to work when you’re languishing. So do not apologize for taking this time to improve you. Your company will benefit from your commitment to mindful mastery.

Mattering

Mattering, well, it matters. A lot. Because if you can’t attach your mastery and mindfulness to a “why”—a sense of purpose—then you’ll struggle to commit, to set boundaries, and to fall into that state of flow.
 
For me, I’m not just reading non-fiction to expand my knowledge base, but rather to be able to provide leaders and their teams with a broader range of tools and strategies that allow them to achieve success without burning out. I’m mastering something grounded in purpose. I’m finding meaning in the mastery.
 
So, what really matters to you? 
 
How will learning that new program allow you to better serve your clients? How will building your portfolio position you to someday step into a leadership role, teaching and mentoring other young talent?  
 
Getting clear on why something matters to you will help you commit. It will motivate your mastery and help you protect your mindfulness.
 
Give these ideas a go. And check in with yourself. I suspect—and I hope—your feeling of languishing begins to slowly morph into a gentle experience of flow and flourishing.
 
 

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.