Mind Matters with Kyle MacDonald: Find motivation during Covid 19 Delta lockdown


Q: I’m so demotivated and I don’t know why or how to fix it. I am known as hardworking and usually have no trouble starting and completing tasks. But these days it feels so hard. It’s not that I can’t be bothered, because I really do want to achieve things, I just can’t seem to find a way to get started or keep going.

And what makes me feel worse is that everyone else is doing so well, our boss is always praising the hard work of staff and, in the news, it’s reported how people are doing so well working from home. Well, here’s one who isn’t. I don’t want to work from home, I hate it. I want to go back to the office.

I’m feeling so bad about my uselessness and laziness. I’m not depressed. Worried maybe. Flat definitely. And I feel like the longer this lockdown goes on the harder it’s getting.

What can I do to get back on track?

A: You’re right, it’s likely not depression – especially if you don’t have a history of depression or mood disorders.

What you’re describing has been labelled “languishing” and it’s a fairly well-recognised response to long periods of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

The main experience is of flatness, as you describe. Not predominantly sadness, or hopelessness, like depression, or predominantly worry and tenseness like anxiety – although both these feelings may be present at times.

Languishing is more an absence of joy, motivation and enthusiasm for anything, even things you may have found previously enjoyable.

What some have described as living in a state of “blah”.

While not a formal diagnosis, it is something that psychology research did define prior to the pandemic. And despite the positivity that your boss is expressing, the circumstances of 2020 and 2021 tell us it’s an increasingly common experience.

There is some research that suggests that extroverts are more prone to experience languishing in lockdown conditions, as people who score high on extroversion need more social contact to maintain their well-being. However, the longer Covid restrictions continue, we can all have periods of feeling this way.

So, what to do about it.

The opposite of languishing is described as “flourishing” and while it may be hard to imagine how one might flourish under the weight of pandemic restrictions, it’s important to note the opposite isn’t happiness.

Flourishing is about still having a sense of meaning and connection even when times are trying or overwhelming.

The first thing to pay attention to is all the boring things people like me tell you to do, sleep, diet, exercise, control (or cut out) alcohol and other drug use, and minimise screen time – a challenge if this is what your work has morphed into.

But in addition to all of this is to find some way of having meaning in day-to-day life. For some, this might mean more time with family and connecting with our children more. For others, it may mean reaching out, finding a way to contribute or volunteer, or otherwise help our neighbours.

Or it may mean taking some time to daydream and make plans for the future – for when we can travel, study or come together with others.

But it doesn’t have to be big. Working your way through a series of movies, reading books you’ve always meant to, or learning new recipes – whatever it might be, make sure you have something small you can look forward to each day.

And all of the above require us to be present – one of the keys to flourishing is to be mindfully present. So find some ways to practise basic mindful meditation, and do it daily. Being present to the small joys, and being able to connect with the present moment – no matter the circumstances – is the key that unlocks our ability to find our way through most crises in life – and the pandemic is no exception.

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