Languishing to Flowing


Naming a problem or an uncomfortable emotion is a good first step towards overcoming it.

This is why there was collective relief and aha moment when Adam Grant diagnosed the strange feeling that everyone was going through during the pandemic as "Languishing" in his now famous NYTimes article

Languishing, he says, is the neglected middle child of mental health. It is that middle void in the wide mental spectrum between depression and flourishing. It is that experience of life where you don't feel actively depressed, but you also don't feel excited or engaged about your day-to-day and your life. You are just passing time, going through the motions, and getting by without a sense of joy, fulfillment or purpose. You feel dispassionate, dull, and indifferent. 

The acknowledgement of this experience and addition of this term to our lexicon might be one of the gifts of the pandemic. Because this isn't just a passing pandemic phenomena - it is a very longstanding and widespread phenomena that lots and lots of people have endured and continue to endure. Just think about how often you or people you know feel dissatisfied or meh with their jobs, social life, or daily lives? How often do they feel life could be better and want it to be better but aren't afraid to take the leap because the current situation "isn't too bad"? I'd guess that a majority of people, for a large chunk of their lives, aren't flourishing or depressed - they are in this middle place of languishing. 


Grant presents the solution and alternative as "Flow", a term popularized by author Michaly Csikzentmihalyi. The state of being where you are totally engrossed and fulfilled by whatever you are experiencing and doing. It is a state that you experience when there is full alignment with your internal priorities, interests and beliefs, and the environment, experience, and activity. When there is a total absence of pesky friction like doubt, distraction, anxiety, frustration, or environmental disturbances. When the past and future cease to exist, and you are completely immersed and present in the now.  

This sounds fantastical, but it really isn't. Chances are that you can recall and fondly remember times when you have experienced this state. Maybe that time when you were engrossed in a familiar game or exercise, when writing a blog post, cooking, or creating something, when playing with a child, when you are in the heat of a competition or challenge, during a conversation or class, or even when doing a chore.

Now, imagine if you can experience flow more and more, until your entire life just flows. That would be very nice, wouldn't it? 

Actually, it would be beyond nice - it would be the ultimate and most satisfying state of being. When great philosophers and spiritual leaders say the answer to life is 'being in the present', that is the same or similar to flow. 

Path to Flowing

Like most amazing things in life, that path to flowing is first difficult, then easy; first slow, then sudden; first mysterious and unimaginable, then indispensable; first confusing, then second nature. And it is a never ending journey of ups, downs, progress and discovery. 

Being in flow persistently and consistently is a complex concept and pursuit. Adam Grant recommends giving yourself uninterrupted time, something really hard and rare in today's distracted world, and focusing on small goals with just-manageable difficulty. 

I think are two parts to achieving flow - (a) internal clarity, and then (b) aligned being and doing. Both are endless quests, so attempting them sequentially isn't an option. Clarity without alignment in being or doing is even more uncomfortable and painful than having no clarity. Progress in one reinforces and necessitates the progress in other. So you have to progress on them together, in lock step. 

Internal clarity is being in touch with yourself and knowing yourself - the deepest and most authentic parts of you, after peeling away the many, many layers of conditioning over your life time. There's no other way to knowing, other than from lots of solitary, distraction-free inner work. You have to regularly spend a lot of continuous time just left to your own thoughts and perhaps, journalling, without being bombarded by distractions and more conditioning. No Youtube video, self-help book, blog post, Twitter guru, or spiritual teaching holds the answer for you. And even if they do, you only truly accept the answer by discovering it yourself. At best, they can point you to the path and inspire you, but you have to go down the path yourself. I will recommend this video and this this one from Dr. K, and other similar ones in his channel. 

Aligned being and doing is about changing your way of living, attitude, behaviors, activities, environment, and community to match your internal longing. Lot of times, we are doing things that aren't really serving us well - like doing an uninteresting job for more money than you need, being in relationships that aren't nourishing, thinking and behaving in ways that lack authenticity and integrity with who you are and what you value. True awakening and alignment can and should dramatically transform your life - you might change your job or career, break some relationships, move to a different place, or start valuing very different things and goals. But that level of change can be difficult and paralyzing to start with and to sustain. Instead, you can start making small changes and moves - do some activities every day that naturally make you feel alive and in flow, reduce your distractions substantially, spend more time doing fewer things with more care, get more engrossed and curious about your projects. 

As you spin this wheel of inner clarity and small changes, you will get the strength, confidence, and more clarity to make bigger changes that will make your life flowy.