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Blueprint for moving from languishing to flourishing

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July 8, 2024
By Bill Howatt

Credit: Getty Images Plus/Nuthawut Somsuk

During a keynote address, I often ask audience members to share how they learned to move from feeling blah (i.e., languishing) to charged (i.e., flourishing). I do this to anchor that students are taught how to read and write, but most never learn how to develop resiliency or flourish.

Many struggle to articulate how they learned to flourish. No wonder society has so many mental health challenges, concerns and chronic diseases. I have written much on mental fitness over the years to provide insights into actions that can help people move towards flourishing.

The difference between mental illness prevention and mental health supports is interesting. Mental health supports are typically things like making an appointment with a mental health professional when facing a crisis or a challenge.

Mental illness prevention includes actions like mental fitness, which focuses on habits that become a part of one’s daily routine. While a person might walk 10,000 steps daily to promote cardiovascular health, it also benefits their mental health.

Leveraging mental fitness to move from languishing to flourishing

In his new release, Languishing: How to feel alive again in a world that wears us down, Corey Keyes reminds readers that good mental health requires good choices and a plan. William Glasser’s Choice Theory: A new psychology of personal freedom supports Keyes’ belief that choices influence our opportunity to flourish (e.g., feel we are thriving and living a meaningful life). Both authors clarify why, what and how to move from languishing to flourishing.

The following micro-skills begin with awareness, followed by accountability and action to support your mental fitness practice and positively influence your daily mental health and well-being. A common mistake regarding mental health is confusing activity with outcomes. Taking a resiliency course does not make one resilient; it provides insightful actions to become resilient.

Flourishing requires daily actions and habits that support what a person does, feels and thinks.

  • Turn on AC-DC — not the rock band. Choice begins by accepting and directing your energy towards what you can control. Acceptance and commitment therapy has grown in popularity as it teaches people how to focus on their reality and accept their thoughts and feelings without judgment. The AC application is that things we do not want to happen, like a breakup, will happen. We cannot control someone else’s decisions or life events. It is reasonable to feel unpleasant emotions. The best way to move forward is to face life challenges for what they are and plan to solve them, not ignore or run from them. Practice self-acceptance and face the challenges with kindness head-on. DC means focusing on what you can control, moving towards solving the problem, and accepting that unpleasant emotions are a part of moving forward and that there is no escaping them. Turning on AC-DC requires being mindful that regardless of how complex and hard the life challenge tossed at us, we ultimately have free choice. Like any micro-skill, knowing and doing are separate elements. This micro-skill’s success depends on learning accountability and accepting what is in and out of your control.
  • Install a positive mindset one thought at a time – In his landmark book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill promotes the power of self-affirmations. He suggests that the unconscious brain must be programmed to produce a desired outcome. Liking who you are and believing you can achieve a goal starts with self-programming (i.e., what you say to yourself). The power of the words we say to ourselves influences how we perceive our lives. A positive mindset through self-programming begins by paying attention to what we say to ourselves and saying what we want to believe to be true. Hill makes it clear that self-affirmation programming does not happen by chance, only through practice. Having a positive mindset does not mean you are always happy or cheerful. It means you can cope and accept that bad things happen, but these events outside your control do not need to define your future. One critical insight about positive affirmation is we all have a choice to believe what is true about ourselves and our potential.
  • Small changes matter — Micro-decisions and actions add up. Use the example of humans needing a daily intake of about 3500 calories per pound. When you ingest more calories than you need, you store the excess. So, taking in just 100 more calories than you burn over 35 days will add one pound. Many add a few pounds without noticing and lack the knowledge, skills or self-determination to change their lifestyle. The consequence is the added pounds can increase their risk of chronic disease. The critical insight here is that small changes matter. Improving your mental fitness begins with small changes that provide the desired outcome. Most adults take about 30 weeks to lose 30 pounds. To move from languishing to flourishing, you must discover how small changes can create confidence and new feelings. There is neither a quick fix nor a shortcut to learning how to flourish. However, with a plan, the right mindset, accepting what you can control and making small decisions regarding diet, exercise, rest and relationships can help attain your goal. Defining purpose and meaning, improving emotional regulation and learning to stop worrying can also help. Focus on the journey and accept that making small, healthy and positive changes one at a time can be steps towards flourishing. When practicing this micro-skill, pick a healthy activity and do it rather than think about it.
  • Lock in your people — The challenging thing about relationships is that they pick you as you choose them. Humans are pack animals dependent on social connections and supports. Healthy individuals require authentic connections to feel a sense of belonging. Friendship and love are two of the most important life tasks as defined by Adler (see Adler’s Five Life Tasks). Developing relationships is a skill, as is maintaining them and dealing with conflict, which happens in most healthy relationships. Locking in your five most valuable relationships at work, home, and in the community is beneficial. If building healthy relationships is a challenge, you can take training and learn. One of my motivations for writing The Cure for Loneliness was to help people discover how to build meaningful and psychologically safe relationships. One suggestion for this micro-skill is to accept that social connections happen by learning, improving your capacity to create healthy, psychologically safe connections and locking in your people through authentic connections.

Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting.

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