My life used to look great but feel crap
Here's how to avoid falling into this trap
I honestly had it all: a husband, two beautiful children, a house with a white picket fence and backyard pool in the suburbs, a reputable career, even the obligatory Golden Retriever 🦮
And yet there was a little pocket of emptiness inside of me that slowly grew over time.
It was tiny and barely noticeable in the beginning. Like a little whisper that was overshadowed by the noise of the busyness of life. But over time it grew bigger and louder until one day I realised how significant it was.
I realised there were two things where I had gone fundamentally wrong.
First of all, while my job in public health research was great and paid well, it wasn’t me. It just didn’t feel aligned with how I perceived myself and wanted to show up in this world. And second of all, I realised that while I had always worked towards creating this ‘perfect life’ of mine I found it utterly boring.
I was languishing.
Adam Grant calls it feeling ‘meh’, Corey Keyes a lack of mental wellbeing, and if you ask me, it’s not all that different from having a quarter-life or midlife crisis. I understood that there were some core values of mine that I had failed to meet. And, that I was lacking a sense of purpose. What I needed was to understand how I could realise my potential and live my purpose; and, reconsider my core values and prioritise my life in line with them. In particular, I wanted my life to feel like a great adventure.
So, I started soul-searching and put in the work.
Fast forward a few years and I’m working for myself while travelling the world, helping people around the globe understand how to flourish, realise their potential, and create a life that excites them. I do that through public speaking and coaching and even created courses about how to understand yourself, realise your potential, and create a fresh start.
These days, my belongings literally fit into one bag 🧳
But, I feel wealthier, and more aligned and fulfilled than I ever have. I’d hate to think where I’d be (mentally) if I hadn’t acted upon my crisis. As you’ll see below, languishing dramatically increases the likelihood of developing a mental illness.
So, in today’s volume of Flourish Forward, I share an article about the relationship between languishing and mental illness, a study spotlight (and step-by-step instructions) about the best self exercise, a guide to identifying your values, a must-watch TED talk and much more! I hope you find it as valuable as I know it can be.
Smiles and gratitude,
PS: Here’s a picture of me enjoying the Team Lab Planets exhibition in Tokyo - such an epic adventure for all the senses. I’ve enjoyed a magical time at Mount Fuji the last 4 days and, while this bad boy is landing in your inbox, I’m on the bullet train to Kyoto. Any travel tips always shamelessly welcome 😄🙏
“A beautiful facade can never make up for an empty heart.”
- Dr Maike Neuhaus
📇 Beyond a passing mood: Why languishing puts you at greater risk of mental illness
Do you often feel like you're just going through the motions of life, without any real sense of purpose or joy?
If so, you may be experiencing a state of mental health that psychologists call "languishing." But did you know that languishing is not just a passing mood or feeling, but is actually closely linked to the development of mental illness?
According to a study by Corey L. M. Keyes, people who are languishing are eight (!) times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, ten years later, compared to people who are flourishing. This is a worrying statistic, especially given that the prevalence of languishing is on the rise.
But what exactly is languishing, and why does it lead to an increased risk of mental illness?
🔬 Study spotlight: My best self in the past, present, or future
Carrillo, A., Carrillo, M., Carrillo, L., & Carrillo, J. (2021). My best self in the past, present, or future: Results of two randomized controlled trials. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(3), 314-335.
What it’s about
In this study, the authors conducted two randomized controlled trials to investigate the effects of self-reflection on individuals' well-being and performance. The study aimed to understand whether reflecting on one's best self in the past, present, or future could lead to positive outcomes.
The results demonstrated that engaging in such self-reflection exercises significantly improved participants' well-being and performance. Interestingly, the future best-self condition yielded the most significant improvements, suggesting that envisioning a better future self can foster personal growth and success.
🎁 Bonus: How to practise the best future self exercise
Find a quiet and comfortable space: Choose a place where you can concentrate without any distractions. It can be helpful to have a pen and paper or a digital device for note-taking.
Set a specific time frame: Decide on a time frame for your future self, such as one year, five years, or ten years from now. This will provide a clear context for your reflection.
Close your eyes and visualise: Take a few deep breaths to relax and clear your mind. Then, imagine your life at the chosen point in the future where you have achieved your goals, overcome obstacles, and reached your full potential.
Consider different aspects of your life: Reflect on various areas of your life, such as career, relationships, personal growth, health, and hobbies. Think about how your future self has grown and developed in these aspects.
Identify your strengths and values: Consider the qualities, strengths, and values that have helped your future self achieve success and well-being. These attributes may include resilience, empathy, discipline, or creativity.
Write down your vision: After visualising your best future self, take some time to write down your thoughts and insights. Describe your achievements, feelings, and the qualities that have contributed to your success.
Reflect on your goals and actions: Based on your vision, identify specific goals and actions that you can take to work towards becoming your best future self. Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps.
Review and revisit: Regularly revisit your best possible self exercise and reflect on your progress. Update your vision and goals as needed to maintain motivation and stay on track.
📺 Worth watching: Why we all need to practice emotional first aid
In this incredible talk, psychologist Guy Winch discusses the need for emotional first aid and how society often prioritises physical health over mental health. He explains that just like we tend to our physical injuries, we should also pay attention to our emotional wounds, such as loneliness, failure, and rejection.
By practising emotional first aid, we can develop better coping mechanisms, build emotional resilience, and ultimately improve our mental well-being. But it’s not just WHAT he talks about but HOW he tells it - using stories about his own life experiences and emotional struggles as a twin. Must watch.
🎧 Worth listening to: Science-based tools for increasing happiness
I make it no secret that I’m a big fan of Andrew Huberman’s work on the Huberman lab podcast! He selects one subject and presents the current state of evidence about it in a way non-experts can understand. You can probably imagine then how excited I was to find an episode he did on happiness! He covers a broad range of happiness-related topics, including the effects of alcohol, social connection, mind wandering, lifestyle habits and many more. Must listen.
🧰 Worth cultivating: An understanding of your values 🧭
Above, I wrote about having a life that looks great but feels crap. Here’s the thing: the best way to create a life that feels as good as it looks is to understand your personal core values!
Your values are what matters most to you in life - how you’d like to show up and be in life. You can identify your core values by considering a list of them (like the one I share below) and identifying which speak most to you. Try to identify your top 3-5 values. Alternatively, do this 👇🏻
Understanding your decisions to identify your values
Think of a time when you made a big decision. Why did you decide one way rather than the other? What was it that was important to you? Or, remember some good times 👇🏻
Understanding great moments in your life to identify your values
Remember a time when you felt most alive, deeply happy, proud and fulfilled. What exactly was it that made this moment so precious? Try to distil it into 3-5 words and voila - they might just be your core values.
PS: Last year, I was interviewed by Wondermind (Selena Gomez’ online platform to raise mental health awareness) about how to identify your values, which you may find helpful, too. Read it here.
🏼 Community love: Meet Dr Ellen Wong
If there’s one thing I absolutely adore about social media it’s that I get to meet some incredible and often like-minded people. Sometimes, we just click, jump into DMs, and set up a 30-minute virtual chat - with no agenda other than to get to know each other and ask How can I support you?
Last month, I got to connect with Chief Happiness Officer Dr Ellen Wong who helps entrepreneurs and leaders prioritise their happiness and wellbeing as much as success. I can also confirm that Ellen is a lovely human being ☺️