Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, has spent his career studying motivation. He is one of the most followed, quoted experts among coaches and leaders – and he is one of my favorite sources of valuable insight.
Grant delivered a TED talk on languishing. He clarifies languish as “not depressed, not burned out, not lonely,” but more about aimlessness, a lack of joy, and a sense of emptiness or stagnation, where we’re muddling through our days. And while he acknowledges the anguish of the COVID pandemic, Grant says languish is not exclusive to the pandemic. He defines the languish we’re experiencing as the “middle child” of mental health and says it’s the “dominant emotion of our time” – wow.
Many of my clients and colleagues are reporting variations of this – a general malaise and agitation in the work world today and a contributing factor to the “Great Resignation”.
Hope is not lost! Grant tells us that recovery is in finding our flow – that feeling of being in the zone, total absorption in an activity where we lose sense of time and self. Cooking, gardening, playing a musical instrument. But not binging TV or scrolling social media – that’s passive; flow is active engagement in the real world. Grant outlines three conditions for finding our flow: mastery, mindfulness, mattering.
Mastery is not as grand as it sounds. Rather than total accomplishment, peak flow is achieved through a sense of progress. It’s small wins, day after day, week over week.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing our full attention on a single task, setting boundaries, and dedicating uninterrupted blocks of time.
We experience peak flow when we know that we matter and that we’re making a difference.
Grant tells us that finding our flow does not have to be traditionally productive; it can be about relationships or merely joyful. Finding flow “lights a path out of the void,” and helps us find “bliss in a blah day”.
Click the link below to watch Grant’s TED Talk and learn how he used Mario Kart to find his flow.