The New York Times suggested this week that languishing may be the dominant emotion for 2021. Therapists speak of a spectrum from depression to flourishing. In the middle are these feelings of stagnation or emptiness, which some call languishing. Apparently over the long haul of the pandemic, more intense feelings of fear and grief have often given way to this joyless aimless blah. Many people not clinically ill, nor even burnt out, are nonetheless finding motivation and enthusiasm hard to access.

What to do if you are languishing? Or know someone who is?

The NYT article suggested two things: uninterrupted alone time and completing a small goal. Excellent practices, both of which I recommend. There is also something deeper to explore here.

There is no better time to discover where true motivation and enthusiasm come from. People who study their own low times, notice an unexpected strength. It turns out that what animates you is not conditional on how good or bad you may feel. You will do what really matters to you regardless. So even if you are successful in finding an antidote to blah feelings—and few emotional antidotes last—you would not have found the source from which motivation flows.

The Source From Which You Flow

Here is a 20-minute self inquiry you might want to try. Make a list of times in your life when you were flourishing, brimming with motivation and enthusiasm. For each occasion, note the feeling and also what mattered to you most at the time.

Make another list of times when you were languishing, joyless and aimless. Again for each occasion, note the feeling and also what mattered to you most at the time. Now on a new page write about all the things you can observe that were different, qualities present in the flourishing times not present in the languishing times and what was in languishing and not in flourishing.

Finally—and this is perhaps the most interesting list—write about what was present in both. What is still here whether you are languishing or flourishing.

When we know our own bedrock in this way, we emerge into a confident and stable sense of who we are and the unique gifts we bring. It doesn’t necessarily make low times more comfortable, or up times less exciting. What we do find however is that we show up fully whatever may be arising. Psychologists call that “flow”, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.

Let’s make flow the dominant experience of 2021.