What we save to Pocket can be a fascinating window into what’s occupying our collective attention. And in 2021, the most-saved article on Pocket gave a name to the mood that many of us were feeling but couldn’t quite identify: languishing, a pervasive ‘meh’ feeling that dulls our motivation, focus, and joy. If 2020 was a rollercoaster of intense anxiety and grief, 2021 had many of us struggling to cope with the long-haul stress and ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic. The result was a mass sensation of “stagnation and emptiness,” writes organizational psychologist Adam Grant. “It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”
We asked Grant, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife, to curate a collection of articles that inspired his research on languishing and his own methods for finding focus and flow. Read on for tips for taking proper stock of your mental well-being and how to rekindle your spark.
AG: “Journalist Oliver Burkeman offers a searing indictment of our obsession with maximizing efficiency. I came away from this article—and his follow-up book, Four Thousand Weeks—believing that instead of trying to optimize our time, we’re better off managing our attention. Prioritize the people and projects that matter to you, and it won’t matter how much time you waste.”
AG: “The definitive book on flow, by the intellectual giant who coined the term. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi passed away this fall, and I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory than to read his classic about the importance of taking on challenges that stretch your skills.”
AG: “A rich conversation between vulnerability researcher Brené Brown and emotion expert Susan David on the problems with forced enthusiasm. As Susan puts it: ‘When you tell someone to be positive, you’re saying to them, My comfort is more important than your reality.’”
AG: “Therapist Nedra Tawwab presents the practical tools we need to prioritize our own mental health. She shows us that setting boundaries doesn’t mean you don’t care; it’s an act of self-care.”
AG: “New research points to four ways to overcome languishing on video calls: (a) increase mobility by giving permission to walk around, (b) reduce eye contact intensity by sitting farther away, (c) reduce self-consciousness by turning off your self-view, and (d) reduce cognitive load by holding audio-only sessions.”
AG: “An NBA star who got depressed, a pair of leading psychologists, and a manager whose COVID message went viral illuminate how we can build mentally healthier workplaces. What people need most is not sympathy (I’m sorry you’re in pain) or empathy (I feel your pain), but compassion (I’ll do what I can to alleviate your pain).”
AG: “This cracked me up. I hope it makes you laugh too.”
Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at Wharton and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. He hosts the TED podcast WorkLife, going inside the minds of some of the world’s most interesting people to explore the science of making work not suck. You can subscribe to his free monthly newsletter Granted or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.