Some people call it languishing. Others describe it as burnout, dormancy, or even wintering. Whatever your label of choice, the basic experience is the same and is instantly recognizable to many people right now. After nearly a year and a half of coronavirus chaos, your energy and motivation are low, your mind foggy, and your next steps far from clear.
The diagnosis is clear as its cause (psychologists confirm that "Covid brain" is real and is a natural, predictable response to long-term stress). What's less clear is what to do about it. A nice long vacation probably sounds good, and with quit rates at record highs, apparently so do big professional changes for many people, but is there a solution that doesn't involve overturning your life if that's not a practical way to address your post-pandemic exhaustion?
Yes, suggests author and executive coach Brad Stulberg on Forge recently. In his post, he outlines the simple process he recommends to clients looking to jump-start their energy levels and lives after spending 18 long months in the coronavirus deep freeze.
New behaviors come before new feelings
Stulberg's straightforward prescription is based on the work of psychologist Steven Hayes, who developed acceptance and commitment therapy. "Hayes's program, backed by over a thousand scientific studies, points toward defining your core values--the things that matter most to you--and then showing up in service of those values day in and day out," Stulberg explains. "His approach is simple if not easy."
According to this approach, humans flourish when they feel their day-to-day actions line up with their deepest values. That's what gives us pep in our step and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day. Rest and pampering are nice, of course, but if you really want to feel excited to get out of bed in the morning, you need more than beach holidays, naps, and reunions with friends and family (incredibly joyful as those might be).
Which is why the first step in Stulberg's exhaustion-busting system is to name a handful of your most deeply held values. "No more than five, no fewer than three," he specifies. Once you know what you care about, the next step is to get crystal clear on what concrete day-to-day behaviors would get you closer to those ideals.
These need not be dramatic actions like selling your business and joining the Peace Corps. The key is aligning what you care about with what you do all day in small but actionable ways.
"Presence could mean meditation for 15 minutes Monday through Saturday. Love could mean having no digital devices on during dinner with one's partner. Health could mean 30 minutes of movement every day. Intellect could mean reading for at least 40 minutes four days a week," Stulberg offers as examples.
And the final step? Taking action. "You can't think, feel, or will your way into a new way of being. But you can show up and act in accordance with your values," he writes. You might need to take that vacation first, but "eventually you've got to get going."