More Leisure, Less Languishing?

Recently psychologist Adam Grant wrote an article in the NYTimes on languishing or a sense of “blah” at work that so many people are experiencing right now. He doesn’t mention leisure time as a solution — but it may be just what the doctor ordered.

Grant defines languishing as a sense of stagnation and emptiness, somewhere between burnout and fulfillment.

Ring a bell?

It’s a truism in psychology: The absence of mental illness is not the same as health and flourishing.

You might be languishing if:

  • You don’t feel especially excited about your work or future, but you’re not hopeless either.
  • You feel indifferent, on like you’re operating on “automatic.” There may be a sense of being trapped or listless.
  • You’re not especially productive, but you’re doing “OK.”
  • You’re more withdrawn and less cheerful than usual, but you don’t feel sad exactly. You’re kind of flat when it comes to your work, period.

It’s where a lot of people might find themselves at the end or deescalation of a long, emotionally draining haul — like COVID living.

Grant offers flow states, time blocking, and achievable goals as antidotes. Interestingly, he mentions nothing about breaks or leisure time.

I have observed that the ways my clients spend time outside of work (if any) significantly impacts their experience of work itself.

Why? Because their mind and bodies don’t know the difference. An empty cup is an empty cup.

And because for some people, an over identification with work (e.g., for their sense of worth), and/or the blurring of boundaries between work and downtime especially with remote work setups right now, is part of the problem.

A few ways you can decompress and reinvigorate include:

  • Setting better boundaries where work’s off limits. Think things like putting your phone in airplane mode, powering off your computer after a certain time daily, working in an area that’s for work only, and taking whole weekends off.
  • Using downtime for high quality activity that truly relaxes and/or reenergizes you. Think more exercise and meaningful socializing, less drinking and boob tube.
  • Taking a vacation or doing something else to mix things up. Note this isn’t about escaping: If you really dislike your work and/or want to move on that’s a different conversation, although time away can also give perspective, as it did for me. If it’s relatively short-term languishing though, this is simply about giving yourself the time off.
  • Take up a new hobby or skill. This harkens back to much of the advice being offered when the pandemic started but it can help with today’s languishing as well. Mastering a new kind of home cooking, starting a blog, sharpening your wit with improv, practicing a new sport or dance style. For example Masterclass and CreativeLive have lots of options — they’re pretty endless!
  • Expanding your network with connections that refresh you and get you out of your usual circles. Lunchclub and Clubhouse are great options (At the time of this writing I have extra Clubhouse invites if anyone wants one).

“Leisure” comes from the latin “licere” meaning “to be permitted” or “to be free.” We humans aren’t well built for endless work marathons. At our wisest we are joyful, compassionate, creative creatures and we know on some level, despite the challenges, real injustices and at times less than sanguine circumstances, that we’re free.

If you’re not enjoying yourself and celebrating — in or out of work — you are much more likely to end up languishing. When we treat ourselves like robots that’s exactly what we become.

So go ahead — find ways to get turned on by your work again as Grant suggests, and do-do-do to your heart’s delight. But don’t forget to treat yourself and power off sometimes. When it comes to our health and humanity, even and especially the hardest working among us have permission for a little leisure — or a grand reboot.

Ready to reboot your work life? Sign up for coaching or my newsletter at caseyonder.com.

Or, if you’re a worker bee woman interested in going deep for a reboot-and-reinvigorate experience abroad, you may be a good fit for my Career Sabbatical program.

Psychologist, success coach, believer in solid behavioral science and the power of tuning in.

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