I’ve been using my phone timer a lot lately. Twenty minutes to load the dishwasher. Twenty minutes to work on editing my printed out manuscript. Twenty minutes to walk the cat around the yard. Twenty minutes to learn some French.

Answer e-mails. Go on Twitter. Repeat.

It’s helping.

It’s helping me close – or open – my laptop or put down my phone and get off the couch despite this state-of-mind I seem to have entered, flavoured a bit like the frightening despair (a.k.a. depression) I fell into a couple of years ago, which I struggled to get a handle on.

But this isn’t depression. It’s just flavoured in a similar way (probably thanks to medication). It’s got the same tang of ‘whatisthepointedness’ but without that salty and dark, squid ink undertow.

Turns out there’s a name for it.


‘The neglected middle child of mental health,’ writer Adam Grant called it in the New York Times this week, in an article pointed at the next day by The Guardian which summarized it in case, you know, readers couldn’t concentrate long enough to read the entire article (because, yeah).

“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” writes Grant. “It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”

Languishing and mental illness are at the bottom of the mental health continuum scale – developed by Canadian Dr. Corey Keyes in 2002 – while flourishing is at the top.

And flourishing is really, really hard these days. For many of us. For me.

What to do? According to the article’s advice: pursue the “just manageable difficulty” or ‘tiny things’ as I call them in my Writing During Difficult Times workshop.

Taking on a small but achievable challenge – a project, a puzzle, a modest goal – that can sharpen your focus and rekindle your enthusiasm for life,” advises The Guardian.

Enthusiasm might be a lot to ask for these days but keeping one’s head above water isn’t because it’s necessary. Life will get better, and perhaps we’ll even find a way to make meaning out of this whole mess, as Vic Strecher talks about with vulnerability, humour, and optimism in his Ted Talk On Purpose (if you do no other ‘tiny thing’ today, watch this video).

My timer has already gone off – 20 minutes to write a blog post – but I continue to polish it, to finish it up. This effort, with a cup of hot tea by my side, feels meaningful, feels like a way of turning the shit-happens of my current mood into a pretty little ball of sculptured dung (seriously, watch the video).

And now over to you. How are you coping? What ‘tiny things’ are helping you?