Dr Ted Mockrish, Head of School, Canadian International School, Bangalore

As we ease out of the most recent lockdown, many adults are grappling with the changes in work environment and the emotions that come with continued uncertainty relative to Covid-19. A new term to help identify these feelings has become more common in our language recently, and it is Languishing. What is languishing? Languish, as defined by the Cambridge dictionary, is to exist in an unpleasant state or failure to improve and succeed. Many adults have reported feelings of languishing over the past 18 months. Understanding and identifying these feelings, and taking steps to move into a state of flourishing, or growth and rejuvenation, will have lasting impacts on your well-being and efficiency.

Though numbers are decreasing and the lockdown restrictions are easing, this is a unique moment to examine what we do in our lives, rather than just return to what we used to do. We likely can name the things that made us depressed or feel like we were languishing, but what are some of the things we discovered during lockdown and restrictions that made us feel like we were flourishing?

As we return to more open lives, let’s not lose some of the very valuable lessons, activities and arrangements we made for ourselves as we return to past schedules and habits. Did that morning online yoga class or exercise routine help you during lockdown? Why give it up as you return to the office? What about the new hobby you picked up? The point is to make time for the things in your life you discovered during lockdown that kept you fulfilled and happy.

If staying healthy by doing yoga almost every morning was a good way to start the day, or walking and sprinting, or other forms of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more help too- then find time to keep that up. If you started to learn a musical instrument like the piano, that challenges you intellectually, developed mind-muscle memory and created a meditative habit that comes from practicing scales and hearing intervals, then keep that up! This is a gift and an opportunity to experience sheer joy when playing a song you love or actually writing a new song that expresses our feelings.

There are many things that can be done to spark joy in us. It is more than “clearing out your closet joy” though, as gratifying as that can be. Turning Languishing to Thriving is more than accomplishing one thing, it is a steady march, sometimes uphill, sometimes coasting, towards a goal that you may never reach, but that brings you closer every day. In education, this is known as process over product. It is much more important for a learner to understand and be able to execute highly competent research skills in terms of reviewing and vetting sources, examining multiple perspectives and synthesizing a response than the paper or exam that competency is for!

The process of doing this outweighs any product you make along the way. This is very much in the spirit of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, where one does not view not achieving something as failure but as growth, the development of grit and stamina, and a continued focus on the process to achieve what it is that you set out to do. Fixed mindset people, those focused on a product and maintaining the status quo, most often quit, flail, or languish away when met with something that they cannot immediately be successful at.

For students, the toppers that cram and mug for exams, who game the systems but really don’t walk away with any conceptual understanding or competencies from their time of study often quit and fail when they encounter something hard in real life, or that “won’t be on the test.” Whereas growth mindset learners look at their process, their understanding of what is needed and their ability to achieve what they want, and then work towards that goal- over and over – “failure after failure” and value their internal assessments of growth as much or more than how they are graded. We are not preparing students for tests after all, but for real life!

When times are good, we don’t have to consider these things. But as times have shown, they are not always good! So there is a need to cultivate and sustain an approach to things that allow us to push through when times are tough; that ground us and motivate us, and keep us with direction and aim internally, and not just, “our aim is to do well on our test.” A test score is an external motivation, wellbeing is internal motivation.

So there is a direct connect to developing a growth mindset of grit and determination and pushing through when things are hard by creating a sense of thriving for yourself; and seeing languishing as a result of a fixed, “change is bad, and having no strategies to push past this” mentality as a recipe for languishing.

These are some simple things that can be done to push ourselves past languishing:

  • Go to bed with a sense of purpose and a plan to accomplish some things for yourself (not your job or school)
  • Set exercise as a part of a routine – Wake up early, exercise, shower, and have breakfast. Our mind would be popping and by noon we would have put in a good number of hours of work on our well- being and accomplished A LOT towards our work goals for the day by lunch time
  • Keep things in line for post lunch for what you want to do and make time for: a walk with your partner, gardening, calling friends, practicing an instrument, singing, whatever it is that gives you joy for a brief while.
  • Eat healthy meals- it’s easy to order everything online now, but cooking fresh clean food with no preservatives or other junk is going to be worth it!
  • Make a time to unplug, stop work, get away from your day to day in the evening
  • And get 8 hours of sleep- you can’t thrive on 6 hours or less night after night

Finally, it should be understood that all of us are in this together and have to find our own way to thrive, limit languishing, and continue to grow as individual people and as a community.

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