Slow Flow

The pandemic has caused parents to slow down. Here’s how to preserve that pace

One of the biggest pain points I hear about from parents involves time. Time feels scarce, and schedules become bloated with activities and appointments that feel obligatory, annoying or unwanted. The pandemic served up the ultimate reset, recalibrating us all to a new, empty baseline.

At first, that line was deeply unsettling; the losses represented missed milestones and a lack of control. Yet, as time passed, many people reveled in the slower pace. Parents found relief in not having schedules packed and planned to the minute, and they delighted in experiencing simple joys such as family walks, meals together and game time.

Erin Loechner, author of “Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path,” thinks there’s opportunity in this new challenge. “As we reintegrate into a changed society,” Loechner says, “can we maintain the steadiness of home when society encourages us to tether ourselves elsewhere? We’ve survived the pandemic of covid-19, but we have yet to conquer the pandemic of hurriedness. Now’s our chance to be deliberate in carving out a new, sustainable rhythm for ourselves and each other.”

Before the pandemic, calendar Tetris and multitasking were the name of the game for many families. We now have a unique opportunity to advocate for less instead of more; to tune in to what we care about; and to be intentional about our time.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. 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.

So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.

The pandemic was a big loss. To transcend languishing, try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunit or the rush of playing a seven-letter word. One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.

“Not depressed” doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. “Not burned out” doesn’t mean you’re fired up. By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can start giving voice to quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void.

I watch a lot of different YouTube channels, mostly bicycle-related or technology-related. But I occasionally watch channels of these hikers and camping enthusiasts and I know why: they move so slowly and deliberately and are not being distracted while they walk or strike camp or chop wood or start fires or cook dinners. The content is akin to “slow TV”. Two of these channels are Kraig Adams and UPNORTHOF60.

It’s no secret that I’m a big Cal Newport fan even though I’ve yet to read his books, I consume his blog and his podcast regularly. I try to practice time-blocking whenever possible. I don’t really spend much time on social networks. But I still feel constantly inundated by information, requests on my time, new tasks, new projects, new “fires” to manage. It’s all my fault, of course. I could start fewer projects, fewer businesses, find fewer things interesting, have a less ambitious information diet.

But I watch these people go on hikes in the wilderness for days and feel a tremendous about of jealousy. I should plan some solo outings into the woods. Surely my family and my coworkers would forgive me.

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