Why am I languishing?
There are lots of theories, but the post-pandemic world we now live in could move anyone into feeling that they are simply existing, not moving forward. Perhaps the spontaneous joy in life has evaporated as people feel stuck in a rut and unable to muster any enthusiasm for cooking a new recipe, let alone adding new ingredients into their life. Loosing our sense of fulfilment or purpose in life is easy when Covid has had us rooted in one place metaphorically and physically. Our progress in life seems to stall and we loose the meaning attached to what we do, and the sense of achievement and happiness in the why we do it.
Experts seem to agree that getting out of a state of languishing involves 3 main mindsets.
Balance: black and white thinking is over-rated. The joy and colour of life is in the nuances as we shift along the middle of the classic dualisms. The portfolio career is a great example.
Acceptance: being ok about feeling less than great is fine. Noticing that you simply aren't at your best helps you to recognise and support yourself through this phase, as you would a good friend.
Connection: keeping your friendships and social activities going will enhance your mood, and sharing positive emotions with others, or connecting with the natural world is scientifically proven as helping to people feel happier.
Sarah's Story: Am I having an existential or mid-life crisis?
Sarah was an intelligent, stylish woman living in a gorgeous leafy suburb, but languishing in a life that had stagnated, rather than evolved. She couldn’t muster up any excitement as a new phase in her life came closer and her old one ended. Her children were rapidly leaving for the independence of college, work and travel, and her husband and her were talking of moving house to free up time and equity. Her energies had been focused on supporting and caring for others, and an empty nest coupled with the house move was creating the perfect foundation for a new start. But she just couldn't face any change.
An existential crisis or "is this it?"
She came to me for coaching near crisis-point as the idea of selling up and moving had put her into a state of constant rumination – despite “knowing that it was a good idea”. She was spiralling round in circles of indecision as she continually asked herself “what are Stephen and I going to do, I just can’t see it?”.
She was clearly able to intellectualise that her thinking was a barrier to being energised and motivated about a new lease of life, despite part of her looking forward to restarting her career that she’d put on hold. She'd become comfortable sleep-walking through life and now felt anxious at the thought of waking up to face new challenges. The question was reframed in coaching to "Who am I going to be?” and “Who will Stephen and I become in our new life?”
How coaching moved her from languishing to relishing a new beginning:
Coaching helped reveal Sarah’s identity without her roles, outside of her family home, to find her authentic sense of self, behind the scenes. Who she was, what she liked, what she needed and what she believed in. We uncovered her talents, skills, values and strengths that would be the foundation of exploring what could fulfil her and give her a revitalised ‘reason for being’ or ikigai.
Sarah realised that she was living a half-hearted life and had forgotten the pure joy of living life to the full. One of her previous jobs had been working in a museum in Rome, immersed in a life that lived and breathed her love of Italian art and culture. She relished the thought of unearthing her passions and breathing new life into her somewhat stale existence. She visualised an egyptian mummy changing to a pheonix as a metaphor for her new identity, breaking free from her confines and state of listlessness, or living in limbo.
The phoenix rises
This shift in her thinking was really illuminating and allowed her to visualise various 'Sarahs' and new lifestyles that could work for her, and for her as part of a couple. Her existential crisis of loss and fear of endings shifted to the realisation that she was now free to choose, to start afresh with clearer insight into how to energise herself to find a new purpose in life and sense of fulfilment.
Seeing herself as a phoenix rising helped her to feel confident with the responsibility that went alongside those choices. To have the courage to accept the balance of highs and lows in whatever she decided. As she accepted the possibilities of her new life, she also accepted that she could balance various roles and didn't need to flip to the other extreme of becoming a professional career woman now that motherhood was ending, but could embrace both and shift along them to suit her lifestyle and needs, as she wanted.
Changing her mindset to a positive, accepting one
Sarah felt immensely relieved at this epiphany, that there was no pressure to become anything, other than her own self-generated pressure to conform to what she thought was expected of her. Her state of languishing slowly gave way to little flames of excitement as she allowed herself to think about what she really enjoyed, what really made her happy, and what would energise her enough to build a new life around. This change in her outlook and mindset allowed her to gently flourish and start looking at new places to live, trips to take and lives to lead.
“I was really struck by how I had let myself become a shadow of my true self, without even realising it.
Ella took me right back to finding more purpose in life, so I could slowly wake up out of my limbo, and look forward to living my life. I can now see a new future with a sense of freedom,
as well as excitement.”
Interesting reads & watches:
Adam Grant's TED talk How to stop languishing and find flow
Try this at home:
Just fill in the outer circles of the ikagai model , and see what it illuminates.
The ikigai model very cleverly matches up passion, profession, vocation and mission against how you could be feeling: 'satisfaction but feeling of uselessness' in the case of languishing perhaps.
It also adds in the practicalities of 'what the world needs' or 'what you can be paid for' as extrinsic needs, and your own intrinsic needs of 'what you love' and 'what you are good at'.
Contemplate what you write in each area, and notice where the energy and synergy is. This may reveal what is missing in your life and where you want to be. Ikigai is your 'reason for being', your purpose in life, the thing that makes you jump out of bed every morning.
This is just one of many models, tools and approaches we might use in our coaching sessions. Some are from neurolingistic programming, cognitive behavioural techniques, career coach framework or positive pyschology. All are evidence-based and tailored to fit each client.