In the spring of 2020, an article circulated naming the collective emotion we were all experiencing: grief. As we mourned the death of loved ones along with the loss of normalcy, this shared vocabulary helped so many of us process the overwhelming news cycle.
Now a New York Times article from Adam Grant has been circulating about a collective emotion we’re experiencing right now: It’s called languishing.
“At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021.
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
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.”
Languishing: a state in which you’re not functioning at full capacity, devoid of motivation and the ability to focus. After this year with so much weight on the collective consciousness, of course we’d be feeling this way.
Again we have a word to lean on to explain our feelings — and this shared vocabulary is more important than you may think. When you can put a name to your emotions, you can better process the feelings.
So what’s the antidote to languishing?
In the article, Grant explains that the antidote to languishing is flow. No matter what your profession, you’re likely familiar with when you’re “in the zone” — solving complex problems and working through your to-do list with ease.
“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.“
In addition to combatting this collective sluggishness we’re all experiencing, increased time in flow state has some serious benefits.
One decade long study from McKinsey found that high-performance executives who were operating in flow state increased their ability to solve strategic problems over 500%. Another study at the University of Sydney found that students could solve complex problems eight times better when they were in flow state.
When you’re in flow state, you’re experiencing new challenges within meaningful work. You lose sense of time and space. You deliver your innate fulfillment to your work.
Want to know a secret? People who meditate find flow state easier.
Meditation and Flow State
There are some key ways that meditation helps increase your flow state. Yes it makes you feel calmer and increases your presence and focus so you can give your full attention to your task at hand. But perhaps most importantly in the search for flow, it improves your problem-solving skills and work speed by strengthening a part of your brain called the corpus callosum.
The corpus callosum connects the right and left hemispheres of your brain and meditators have been proven to have thicker corpus callosums than non-meditators. The thicker your corpus callosum, the easier it is to access creative solutions even while under stress. This is because your right brain (creative side) and left brain (intellectual side) are better able to communicate with one another.
This enhanced communication with your right brain means tapping into boundless creativity and source energy. And when you are operating from a more restful and creative place, connected to flow, you can better serve your work, friends, family and community and inspire others as well.
As we navigate this everchanging world, it’s necessary that we have a practice where we can travel inward to give ourselves uninterrupted space to process big emotions and give ourselves the rest most of us have been depriving ourselves of. And with the stakes so high, we need a practice that is scientifically-proved to work.