What's the hubbub about languishing and what can I do about it?

#abetterway coaching mentalhealth stress wellness

Did you see the recent NY Times article on the concept of languishing?  The term languishing was first coined in 2002 by the sociologist Corey Keyes.

Languishing can feel like simply going through the motions and yet rudderless.  You’re getting stuff done (sometimes barely), but you don’t quite feel yourself and most of the time you don’t care.

The spark you once had for life is faint and you’re not even sure you want it back because that sounds like a lot of work.

Worse, you think there’s something wrong with you for feeling the way you feel and for going through most days zoned out.  A sort of meh kind of existing, waiting for life to be purposeful again.

Sociologists are working overtime to describe the mental health impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on society and the word languishing seems the word du jour.

  • Devoid of promise or hope
  • Unsure of your purpose
  • Things that once delighted and excited you now seem blah
  • Hesitation or uncertainty about resuming life (as though it somehow stopped rather than changed)

So what do you do about it if this sounds like what you’re experiencing?

First, recognize you’re not alone.  You and millions of others on the planet are feeling similarly.  There’s comfort in knowing you’re not an outlier and there’s nothing uniquely wrong with you.

Second, decide if you’re ok with feeling this way going forward.  Too often we want to do a deep dive into why and how we got to this mental health state, putting all of our energy into past reflection and figuring it out.  And while I believe self-reflection and intentional exploration into root causes of angst or suffering can be incredibly insightful and a healthy practice, there are times when that’s not what best serves a person.

Languishing is one of those times in my opinion because of the murkiness of it all and the changing landscape we’re living through.  We could waste a lot of time looking back and use our precious life energy to regurgitate the past year, or we could make a concrete decision to move on from languishing.

It can be as simple as that declarative decision.  It doesn’t mean that it will be easy to take consistent steps of action away from languishing and into flourishing or thriving, but it is the first necessary step.


Your inner dialogue might sound like “I’m ready to move forward” or “I’m resilient and now’s the time to remind myself just how much” or “I want to shake this blah feeling and I haven’t been able to on my own, maybe I should ask for help?!”

When you decide, you're drawing a line in the sand stating you’re no longer willing to stay stuck and languish any longer,.  When your inner voice speaks to you in this way, stop what you're doing and pay really close attention.  It's time to latch on to that decision like your life depends on it.

Then start.  Take a step of action.  ANY forward step of action (seriously, any, no matter how small).

Do more of what you know increases your energy and helps you feel calm and confident.  For many, this will mean experimenting and discovering what works and what doesn’t.  Take it a day or week at a time, then pause to assess how it’s going, then tweak where needed and begin again.

If it seems too overwhelming and you don’t know where to even begin, start here with these 3 action steps I recommend:

  1. Have a regular bedtime and strive for 7-8 hours+ sleep per night.  Consistent high quality sleep is your #1 lifeline to digging out of languishing.  Your day begins the night before!  So put intentional effort into a regular bedtime and wind down ritual so that you have the energy to take on the next day with conscious intention instead of on auto-pilot (auto-pilot living is a hallmark trait of languishing)
  2. Stop letting other people’s drama and problems invade your mind first thing in the morning.  Meaning: let the first 30-45 minutes of your day be “me time” attending to your wellness priorities.  Yes, START your day with me-time rather than way til the end of the day and see if you have the time.  You have the time IF you choose it and there’s no better decision you can make than owning your morning.  No email, social media, news, texting with others, etc.  If that means you have to get up a little earlier so you have the quiet of your house to yourself – do it!
  3. Start saying no to any requests that you’ve typically said yes to out of guilt, obligation or pity (for yourself or another).  Pro Tip Hint:  you can say no without going into a detailed explanation to justify why you’re saying no.  Keep it simple sweetheart, just say no thank you, that won’t be possible for me or similar.  It’s not up for debate and they don’t need to understand why.  Yes, it’ll be uncomfortable to start saying no to others when they’ve known you to historically say yes or even volunteer to overextend yourself.  The discomfort will pass and in it’s place (with practice and time) will be a sense of confidence and pride that you’re choosing what’s best for your wellbeing.  It’s not selfish either – because when you’re healthier in your mind, spirit and body, you’re more capable of giving your best to others and you prioritize things that deeply matter to you.  Life on auto-pilot and living to please others doesn’t feel that way.

Want more ideas?  Check out Lion’s Roar.  This deeply rich wellbeing and contemplative resource is a go-to for me.  They recently suggested the following articles to work with the feelings of languishing and emerge from it with strength and a new zest for life.

  1. examining the true nature of boredom,
  2. liberating yourself from habitual patterns, and
  3. the benefits of walking meditation and being outdoors

Please trust me when I say, there is nothing wrong with you in this season of your life.  You are not broken and no, life will not always feel like this.  You need some new tools, strategies and helpful perspectives.

Decide you want to move on from languishing and into thriving.

Ask for help – we’re not meant to do this alone and together we’re stronger.  Seek help from trusted friends or mentors, a counselor or coach, or spiritual advisor.  Whomever you trust and can open up with in an authentic way.

There’s reason to feel hopeful and there are better ways to live life post-pandemic.

My hope is that you decide you want to.  Big virtual hug to you my friend.

What’s the big idea or takeaway you got from today’s article?  Leave a comment and if you think there are others in your circle that could benefit from this, pass it on and share.

Coach Rusti


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