Where have all our words gone?

Quick question for the group: Why do all our words bad?

Sorry, let us try again. Help talk good?

We’ll be hearing about the impact of isolation in the pandemic for the rest of our days, but one noticeable effect that our confinement and long-term overwhelm has had–at least anecdotally–is on our capacity for language.

We feel less eloquent. We struggle to find the words for things that would’ve rolled off the tongue in the Old Days. Writing an email seems to require 110% of the brain.

In part, it’s likely an “astronaut bones” situation — our brain-to-mouth muscles have atrophied in the vacuum of covid space. Remote workers are simply required to talk out loud less in their daily lives, and the spectre of long-covid and other general “mushbrain” syndrome (not a scientific term) looms large. But there’s something else…something that threatens our ability to connect, even as we venture out into the real world.

We’ve been flying on autopilot

Our brains aren’t meant to shoulder high levels of stress and overwhelm long-term. And, as the fatigue of constant “checking in” became too great, we began to check out, using coping mechanisms like Tik Tok, after-work drinks, or — our personal favorite — staring slack-jawed into space for unknown minutes at a time.

It’s an understandable reaction; for many of us, our mind has been a scary place to be for a while now. But, as the world opens up (for REAL this time), if we want to reap the rewards of connection, we have to get back in touch.

Depth of reflection = strength of connection

We’ve written about the “connection equation” before: The idea that the quality of our connection is directly related to the quality of our self-reflection.

Deep self-reflection allows for greater specificity and authenticity — key pillars of good conversation (and, coincidentally, a good improv scene). When we tune out the details of our day-to-day rather than engage with them, it leaves us woefully un-equipped to talk meaningfully about our experiences and perspective; when it’s our turn to “catch up” with friends, we find we have nothing to say.

Unfortunately, we struggle to identify our feelings even outside of a global pandemic: in her new series, Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown shares that in her research, adults could name an average of just three different emotions they experienced in their day-to-day lives. So, consider this challenge to check back in with yourself, and practice finding our words again.

20-minute check-in challenge

The challenge is an adaptation of “morning pages,” from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, with a specific focus on specificity, self-reflection, and conversational flow:

At the end of the day, set a 20-minute timer and free write about one thing you thought or did that day, and how it made you feel. It could be as small as watching the sun hit your plants or as mundane as eating oatmeal for breakfast, and it doesnt have to be noteworthy to anyone except you.

“Take care to be precise in describing your feelings, not just external events (this wheel of 128 emotions is a great place to start).

If you have time, follow that thread. Did your breakfast gloop remind you of another memory from your life? A funny story? A person? Did it bring up any questions you don’t have answers to? Why are you thinking so much about oatmeal???

Go into great detail, but don’t worry about writing “well.” Try to keep writing without judging your words or editing yourself. When the time is up, you can choose to keep the page, toss it, or if you’re feeling brave, read it out loud to yourself. Congrats! You just had a conversation with yourself.

We’ve got a long road ahead to get reacquainted with ourselves and each other — but we can start rebuilding the foundation for connection, one word at a time.

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