Adam Grant Has a Name for Your Pandemic Rut: “Languishing”

Try these Microsteps to break free of your rut and find more joy every day.

Marina Andrejchenko / Shutterstock
Marina Andrejchenko / Shutterstock

Going through the motions. Down in the dumps. Simply feeling blah. Any of these sound familiar? If you’ve found yourself in a pandemic rut or unable to shake a feeling of discontent or lethargy lately, there’s a term for what you’re experiencing: languishing. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant defines languishing as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” and he believes it could be the most dominant emotion of this year. 

The pandemic has created the perfect conditions for languishing: We went from living in a state of constant stress, to developing routines that eased our dread, to then settling into a state of quiet suffering as the pandemic dragged on, Grant explains. This perfect storm of fight-or-flight turned brain fog has led so many of us to “a chronic condition of languish.” And while languishing isn’t quite burnout or depression, Grant says it can be a huge blocker to motivation and productivity, and ultimately put you at risk for mental illness. In other words, languishing is worth taking seriously. 

One of the first steps in coping with languishing is to put a label on it. “Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them,” Grant says, so simply acknowledging that you are languishing — whether aloud or through your own inner monologue — can help. And to further cope with the languish in your current life and find more joy in your day to day, you can try these Microsteps. 

Set time on your calendar to focus on your passions each week — even just a few minutes. 

By setting aside some time to strictly focus on yourself, you’ll begin to build the muscle of prioritizing things that bring you joy, even in the face of stress.

Take a minute to block off time for focused work today — ideally in the morning.

Set a calendar reminder and let colleagues know so they’ll be less likely to interrupt you. Limiting multitasking significantly improves your productivity and will help you feel less stressed at work and throughout the rest of your day.

Try something you’ve never done before. 

When you break out of your comfort zone in small ways, you’ll build up your capacity to manage more anxiety-inducing moments in life and break free of the monotony we’re so used to during this time. You don’t need to do something big — make a new recipe, take a different route home, or watch a movie you typically wouldn’t queue up.

Write down three things you accomplished at the end of each day.

When you let yourself acknowledge what you have achieved — no matter how insignificant it might seem — you’ll be much more motivated and engaged. And as Grant points out, the pandemic was a huge loss for all of us — why not find appreciation and delight in our small wins? Recognizing that you were a bit more productive today or made time to make a meal for your family can help offset languishing. 

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