The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

Moving Forward

Moving Forward

With so many stories circulating about our collective struggle to "return to normal" after the last year and a half, I have been thinking a lot about how we can make small, meaningful steps each day to feel like we are moving forward.

Last year, I read Adam Grant's popular New York Times article, "There's a Name for the Blah You're Feeling: It's Called Languishing." He recently gave an insightful TED talk on this topic, describing his own experience over the last year as feeling "…a little bit aimless and a little bit joyless." While social psychologist Dr Corey Keyes described languishing nearly 2 decades ago, with the pandemic we see a heightened awareness of this state of being. With many of us feeling "stuck" in what is basically a state of indifference, there are some things we can do to help ourselves and each other.

In his TED talk, Grant shares that researchers identified the best predictor of well-being during the early part of the pandemic as flow. It is the same flow described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as, "…joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life." I first learned about this notion of flow several years ago (Csikszentmihalyi's book "Flow" was mandatory reading for a course I took on the psychology of performance). I have since seen the concept threaded within the context of elite athletes, the visual and performing arts, and now within the context of pandemic life.

Grant shares 3 pillars to help us move away from languishing and toward flow:

Mastery: This relates to making progress in something of interest or of meaning to you. It does not need to be something grand—just something where you are making even small gains or advancements regularly.

Mindfulness: This relates to focusing on the task and filtering out other distractions, including cognitive "noise." You may need to create boundaries to give yourself some space free of other demands to allow for dedicated time for mindfulness.

Mattering: This relates to recognizing and believing that you and what you do matters.

Earlier this year, I took up the martial art of Muay Thai. I was not sure what to expect but felt the need to do something new and different. Little did I know how much it would accelerate my own journey to flow: Mastery of the movement, the discipline of focusing on the task, and—within our classes—being there for each other for mutual support and to foster comradery and presence with other students, has been incredibly fulfilling and full of life lessons. Finding your flow will take a little work but holds the promise of helping us return to some sense of normalcy. As my sensei says, "There's a minute and a half left in the round. Are you going to sit down and let your opponent beat you up? No, you're going to get up, shake it off, and keep moving forward."

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