You’ve been “safer at home”. You’ve adapted to remain productive. You started with zeal. “Let’s do this!” you said to yourself.
Maybe you decided to become a more intentional and healthy eater. Perhaps you decided to read a book instead of scrolling on your phone. You might have established a solid exercise regimen and learned in the process that cardio, sweat, resistance and exertion can happen outside of a gym. Overall, you started strong and justifiably have much to be proud of.
But like anything, the excitement of the new gives way to repetitiveness, and that very repetitiveness can cause us to slip into a funk and abandon the habits that were easier to maintain in the early days.
On the subject of repetitiveness, it’s hard to think of something more repetitive than getting out of bed everyday to not go anywhere – just as you did yesterday and will again tomorrow. It’s as if your alarm clock clicks on each and every morning to the same part of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”.
This sense of boredom is natural and part of the process. Let’s take a cruise through three somewhat synonymous words that help describe this feeling, and then consider strategies to counterbalance their effects.
The doldrums is a nautical term for a sailing vessel being “stuck” in windless waters. Sailors over the centuries would experience the doldrums on long voyages, particularly along the equatorial belt. According to this NOAA site, the solar heating at the equator causes air to ascend upwards and thus there is little surface wind, which is a real problem if you’re on a cramped ship with surly, un-showered men who have nothing to do but wait for wind and possibly discuss mutiny. This is why “the doldrums” refers to a feeling of being stuck with little near-term prospects for forward movement.
Torpor is a word that captures a feeling of being listless or sluggish. It comes from the Latin torpere, which was a feeling of numbness or sluggishness. As we can see below (courtesy of Google), the word was a much bigger deal a couple centuries ago, but perhaps torpor is experiencing its own torpor as it sort of bumps along in modern usage. It’s a great word because I think it captures a sense of suffering I don’t think our other two words convey as neatly. Whereas the doldrums is a metaphor, torpor is not. It directly describes a feeling we’ve all had.
Ennui is a French word meaning boredom, but it does so with a certain French flair for the dramatic. Pronounced ahn-WEE (expressed in linguistic short-hand as: änˈwē), it is one of the French words adopted into the English language with it’s French pronunciation intact – much like the French word “rendezvous”. It was derived from the Latin phrase mihi in odio est, or “it is hateful to me”, which was shortened to in odio, and then somehow lept to “ennui” in French and became all about boredom. Ennui is often associated with brooding artists who have lost their muse or existential philosophers smoking cigarettes in Parisian cafés, and as a result can be used with great comedic effect if you cite it as the reason why you were unable to wash the dishes last night. Although its use has also declined over the years it has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence.
You can choose your preferred word, but they describe a common feeling experienced by humans over the centuries. The question becomes: how can you regain your momentum? Here are a few ideas to consider during your own moments of torpor/ennui:
- Recommit yourself to physical activity. Getting your body moving – preferably outside – has been proven over and over to be a great antidote to the blahs.
- Most of us have more willpower early in the day, which dissipates as the day wears on. Get your least-interesting but important work done early – or, said another way, eat your vegetables early and save dessert for later.
- Make it fun and fast. Children tend to clean their rooms faster when its turned into a fun ten minute burst (timed, and they can’t keep cleaning when the timer goes off). Make up your own game. “Can I get my most important calls done before noon?” How many emails can I responsibly delete in ten minutes?” Etc.
- Give yourself breaks. Working from home can be monotonous, and it’s not good to be on video calls all day. Build in some buffer and go for a walk. Also, consider getting in your car, driving somewhere, and going for a walk in a different setting than normal so that you’re not always walking the same route. Mix it up.
As I said earlier, this is all part of the process. Be gentle on yourself, but pick those important tasks and commit yourself to them, each day.
You might feel stuck in place now, but a gentle breeze will come along, your sails will fill out, and you’ll be on your way again.