Feeling "meh" about work? Learn the four steps to re-build your ability to excel and feel good about what you're doingJan 04, 2022
I’ve coached about 720 people to date, and the issue of languishing is very real. If you've had trouble concentrating and don't feel excited about your work, you're not alone. This article will tell you how to re-build your ability to rise and achieve something in your career that feels great. [This is a summary of a one-hour workshop I did recently].
We all know the feeling of losing clarity, vitality, and being lethargic with our work from time-to-time. It’s normal to not be bouncing off the walls every time we turn on our computers or to feel really good about ourselves when typing emails at 9.30pm... and this is why languishing can sneak up and catch us by surprise. We're slow to realise we’ve had it after many months or years of feeling "just ok" or "meh" about work.
Businesses are taking this issue of languishing more seriously because it triples the odds of people not doing the work required and they're worried about this more than ever before because they can't 'see' people when they're working remotely (not that this makes a difference, but let's talk about that another time). Individuals are also taking this issue more seriously because they’re starting to feel very dissatisfied, disenchanted, disconnected from what they’re doing, and rather seriously, detached from who they are (which for many is rooted in their achievements at work).
The chief reason for languishing is the detachment that we’re feeling. Being disconnected and detached from vision, why, and desire to serve others and succeed beyond standard results.
So how do we spot it?
Grade 1 symptoms: trouble concentrating... frequently losing focus and motivation. More time is spent staring blankly into the distance, into our phones, or into the fridge. It’s going over work you’ve already done and doing the bare minimum to get by. It sounds like, “meh, maybe next week”.
Grade 2 symptoms: include the more serious feelings of stagnation and emptiness… you’re unsure why you feel this way. Everything seems ok because you’re still logging in, right? Bills are paid. But for anyone who knows a thing or two about high performing people and cultures, how we feel is critical to our success. Emotions create feelings. Feelings alter moods. Moods affect decisions - the things we choose to do and the things we choose to leave for next week. Just think about those work chats and WhatsApp groups... bad feelings spread and infect more quickly than good news. 👀
At this second grade, our vision is unclear, a bit like trying to drive while looking through a foggy windshield and turning all the dials but nothing is really de-fogging. We pretty much know where to go and what to do, we just don’t feel the urgency or passion to get it done. We rub our eyes. Maybe we’re hungry? No. Depressed? No. But go on like this for too much longer, and as humans, we lose confidence. And when showing up as professionals, we know that confidence is at least 50% of the game... We can have the best solutions available, wrapped up with a cosy amount of customer care - but without the confidence and good energy to show up and perform, the solutions collect dust, leading to poor performance and loss of stability and security. And potentially, yes, clinical depression. Business and families suffer. Everyone suffers.
So why is languishing so prevalent now?
Well, the last 20 months of uncertainty, loss, and lockdown closed the doors on our connection with our work and with others. Doors opened again, then closed. Maybe it hit you on the way out. Masks were on, then off... then on again. Christmas was cancelled, remember?! We’ve been feeling disconnected for so long, it’s become a way of life now. We’ve felt so much anguish about the purpose, progress, and (very sadly) the people that we’ve lost, and it has all been so painful that we’ve become really good at blocking feelings out. We're reluctant to get excited, in case we're ghosted or directly rejected. Languishing spread as quickly as the C-Word virus. 🦠 🙅♀️
The issue we’re faced with at work and life now, is that we’re blocking out the good things too, and as we continue in this new way of working – hybrid home and office setup, less days here, more days there – the disconnect with purpose, passion for work, and serving others is being carried over.
“Hey Mark, feel like meeting up later today?” “No, not really, Bob.” “Hey Sophie, how about calling that list of prospects this week?” “Umm how about next week, Janice? What’s the mad rush?”
When we languish, we avoid challenging conversations and activities.
Now, for some good news! 😁
If detachment is the venom to high performance and the primary cause of languishing, then attachment is the anti-venom. Attachment is about connection to ourselves, to serving others, and performing beyond standard norms or requirements. To excel and feel great about what we do!
We can become connected and attached again by re-building and maintaining four key elements:
3. Discipline; and
4. Distraction minimisation.
These four elements are the pillars of achievement, and they can be built and re-built within individuals, teams, and businesses, connecting people and their passions with organisational objectives. 🤠
First pillar: vision.
Vision is about desire. We have to want something. Be HUNGRY for a dream, mission, something or someone we really care about. Without desire, it’s easy to fall into negative emotions, to languish and blame the market, colleagues, even loved ones – everyone but ourselves, for feeling low.
Desire comes from visualising your ideal future, ambitions, and then obsessing about the goals that will make those dreams a reality. But the truth is that most of us spend more time worrying about the things we don’t want. Instead of obsessing about our ideal futures, we’re obsessing on the inconveniences of now, the uncertainty of now, and the fear of now, and giving more time to consuming what is put in front of us. People convince themselves that it’s ok to pause their vision and see how things go over the next month or year, but the truth behind success is making positive progress every single day. Even if it’s having one conversation, listening to one podcast episode, or making one new friend in the industry.
So, to build this first pillar of achievement, we must force our minds to visualise our ideal future. You must ask yourself what you really want and how you want to live, have relationships, and work. Your mental time spent towards visualising, feeling, and self-talking about ambitions and goals are either driving your motivation up or down. There's no neutral territory. You might say that your dreams aren’t realistic right now, and if this is the case, keeping your vision is required of you now. Because if you lose touch with your ideal future, you will lose your motivation, what you’re working towards, and why you’re working… and enter stage left, languishing. 🤡
Something to try: CARVE OUT TIME EVERY MORNING.
A practice to help connect with your vision is to, every morning, carve out time (or a reoccurring appointment with yourself) to write down your ambitions and goals, for your life and for your day, and then sit with them and let your mind marinate on creating ways to achieve them… to remember who you want to be. This is a simple action that everyone can do, every morning, even if it’s 10 minutes on the loo (which happens with some clients I work with, it’s the only privacy they get!).
Then, ask yourself “what are three things that I will absolutely do today, that are not just household or self-care tasks, that will move me towards these ambitions of mine?” Get me right – self-care is important, but these three things must go beyond self-care and the a day-to-day things we do for survival. For me and my ambitions, it’s been recording videos, meeting with podcast producers, and doing at least 45 mins of exercise every day. You must do something beyond surviving, because if your mind doesn’t feel like it’s stretching or engaging in something tasty that is going to help you thrive, then your motivation will go down unconsciously. Don't underestimate the simplicity here. It works.
For leaders, this is when your ability to influence and unite your tribe becomes critical. First, make sure that you experience this morning process yourself, especially when you have so many moving parts to juggle… the huge role of setting and maintaining course for the business, reporting to your peers, managing yourself and key personnel, and then keeping in touch with everything that is happening in the industry, market, world, and your family. Without sacred time like this, you risk experiencing real burn-out (and I know many of your have experienced real burn-out... and you'll recall that you were so horizontal under the duvet, you didn't have the luxury of worrying about how you could fit this into your schedule, but you would have given anything to be able to take more moments to yourself and prevent the dreaded burn-out). Your goal here is to connect the ambitions of your people to the objectives of the business, and together with your people, set milestones to be achieved. Have these conversations. People back the ideas that they create because they’ve put their skin in the game, so let your people determine how they want to do that. Guide then step aside, my friend - and let your people impress you.
In high performance coaching, we role play how these conversations might go. And for this first pillar of VISION, the high performance habits of clarity and influence are key.
When it comes to being influential with prospects and clients, we are often very prepared for each interaction. We’ve carefully considered what they want, what their pain points are, and how we can wow them with our knowledge, experience, and personable nature, before asking them to do anything. We can wait days, weeks, and months before asking anything of them!
But when it comes to colleagues, our close friends, and family, we often skip this step and go straight into telling them what we want and why it’s absolutely necessary for them to do it now! And we wonder why there is resistance, languishing, and general reluctance. 😅 Funnily enough, what works to stimulate prospects and clients, also works really well with people we work with and love.
So when approaching these internal conversations about vision, ambition, and personal progress within a business, consider the base-level science of influence:
1. You must shape how you want the other person to think about the situation (give them 360-degree perspective and why it matters);
2. Challenge them to take an action (will direct or indirect challenge work best with this person?); and
3. Role model the way (walk your talk and be consistent - people are watching you).
Second pillar: direction.
If vision is ‘what’ you want, then direction is ‘how’ you’re getting there. A roadmap. And this is when things can become overwhelming, because direction demands learning – courses, classes, podcasts, lectures, coaches, mentors, conversations… you must learn the steps and identify the skills that you need achieve your vision. You need to find out what you don't know (yet).
When I look back over my life transitions, namely from working as a lawyer in construction and infrastructure and moving into marketing and starting businesses, the reason I was able to keep the transition time to just a few months in between each, was because I prioritised learning from others who achieved it before me, and scheduled this into my calendar. I didn’t need to re-invent any wheels.
For example, when I transitioned from law to marketing, I took a job as a receptionist. I woke up at 4am and went to bed at midnight so that I could learn marketing around my day job. Every week I would schedule daily time to learn a topic - for example - email marketing, events marketing, copywriting, Facebook advertising, billboard design, website building, SEO, AdWords, Adobe Illustrator... everything that I knew was in the toolbox for a marketing strategist, because my ambition was to lead marketing strategy for international businesses. I would then experiment with my new skills and offer marketing services to my network, and within 3 months, secured my first marketing job at a BMW, MINI, and Ferrari dealership and was nominated for an innovation award. Within 3.5 years, I was head of marketing for international businesses. I was clear about my vision, direction, and discipline to achieve it, and learned from others how to achieve it faster. It didn't take a decade of pain.
Third pillar: discipline.
By this stage, we know our vision/ambition and we know the way to get there.
With DISCIPLINE, we’re knocking on the door of opportunity… And is it any surprise that it’s work that answers?! Work will ask you to put in the effort and elbow grease it takes to put your plan into action. To honour the time scheduled to acquire the knowledge and learn the skill, and to actually do it. But, let’s face it… it’s easy not to be disciplined… to leave things to tomorrow or next month. To continue as we have been, and focus on responding to notifications instead of initiating them.
The key to change – to putting your vision and direction into action – is developing the courage to act. To back yourself. I know that you know this makes sense, but what stops us from being courageous? Well, in the office or home office environment, we humans typically fear three things:
1. The pain of process;
2. The pain of outcome; and
3. The pain of loss.
We fear the pain of process when we think and hear things like, “I’m WAY too swamped. I simply do not have capacity for developing my skills, or communicating better… whatever it is that you’re asking. It won’t work, the process will be too painful”.
We fear the pain of outcome when we think or hear things like, “But what if the grass ISN’T greener on the other side? I make these changes… for nothing? All that effort would be wasted and I’m not willing to take that risk.”
We fear the pain of loss when we think or hear things like, “I’m just not ready to give up (e.g.) micromanaging... Despite the feedback from my team! I’m worried that if I stop micromanaging, I’ll become irrelevant, or there will be a big mistake, and I’m not willing to take that risk.” OR “If I quit (e.g.) vaping, I’m going to lose the few precious moments in my day where I get to step away from my desk and breathe. I’m not willing to do that.”
So, you must decide what courage means to you. To look at your vision and ambitions and determine whether you’re living courageously enough at this stage of your life. To help you figure this out, envision your future self, knocking on your door while you’re reading this right now. Go on... IMAGINE IT.
It's your future best self, being a version of you just five or ten years older, who is even stronger, more capable, and more successful than you imagined yourself to be – they showed up at your doorstep right now and saw you in your current circumstances. What courageous action would your future self advise you to take right away to change your life? How would your future self tell you how to live? What would they tell you to let go of? To prioritise?
Your future self wouldn’t tell you to play small. You’d tell yourself to go for it in life! To feel the fear and do it anyway! In high performance, we talk about different ways of looking at fear to help you stay disciplined. Here are three ways to overcome fear and inaction:
1. Honour the struggle (expect it uncertainty and struggle - and welcome it! It's a sign you're on the right path);
2. Share your truth and ambitions with others more (except people who put you down or dismiss you... haters gonna hate... so surround yourself with people who are constructive and encouraging); and
3. Find someone else to fight for (someone that your change will benefit, because we’re more likely to do difficult things and stay disciplined for a person we care about).
You don’t always need massive transformations, just small, consistent actions to improve daily, because these compound into big character and output changes.
Fourth pillar: reducing distraction.
(Almost at the end, well done you).
Do you get distracted? What distracts you the most?
Most people are distracted by social media, email, and unnecessary meetings. A study in the US found that most adults are distracted for 3-4 hours per day, usually by screens (think scrolling, swiping, YouTube, and Netflix). That’s 13 years of distraction! Yikes. It all adds up. 😳
Early in my career (and on the other side of the world in Australia), I thought that increasing productivity meant doing more, so I would add more to my calendar and reduce my sleeping time. After getting sick, I discovered that being productive really meant doing the work that was going to have the significant impact I wanted. The lesson: not every mountain is worth the climb... and prioritise the things that actually matter. The rest can be delegated, outsourced, or maybe even deleted.
I also learned that productivity was about my life’s work as much as my career work, so I had to be able to see (from a bird’s eye perspective) everything that was going on in my life, being everything that I wanted to give time to and fit it all together in my calendar. This took a deliberate approach to planning projects, activities, and events across my days, weeks, and months. I say 'deliberate approach' because let's face it, if you're not deliberate, you're letting work and life happen to you... you're busy doing other people's work and leaving what you truly want to experience, to chance. I say this with love, so if you wanted an invitation to try something new and better for yourself, this can be it! 🎟 I also had to be uncomfortably honest with myself about what (and who) wasn't contributing to my life in a positive, progressive way - time for activities and people on this list was minimised or simply cancelled (with love and gratitude). This felt amazing and I was buzzing with excitement because I created space and could see everything I wanted coming together.
When I work with senior executives, I often ask them to open up their calendars to show me where they’re spending their time. The calendar a relatively accurate source of truth. If you’ve told me something is important to you, but I don’t see it scheduled in, chances are it’s not as important as you’re telling me it is.
In a distracted world, you must set up habits and repeatable practices that position you to produce something that matters, every single time. Personally, I like to have a timer on my social media, so if I find myself on there I get a notification after 5 mins and I swipe the app off. I also try, where possible, to schedule calls and meetings from 12noon, and protect my mornings to do my work – my outputs that matter… Think of it like being on an airplane and fitting your own oxygen mask first, because minimising distraction is about protecting your time before helping others.
To overcome languishing and have more clarity and passion for how you want to be in the world, re-build the four pillars of achievement (desire, direction, discipline, and distraction minimisation) and feel the connection with your work and relationships soar again. You've got this!
P.S. Got a question? Email me: [email protected]