Rewire Your Brain for Resilience – Harvard Expert Dr. Nerurkar

Aditi Nerurkar

Have you ever felt like you’re drowning in stress, no matter what you try? That the weight of it all seems impossible to overcome? I’ve been there too. Today I’m speaking with Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a Harvard stress expert on a mission to help us reframe and reset our relationship with stress.

In my experience, we often feel alone when stressed, as if we’re the only ones struggling. The truth is stress touches us all. As Aditi shares, stress is a natural and healthy human response, but in modern life it can become overactivated, leaving us burnt out and fatigued. The good news? There are simple, daily mindset shifts we can make to reboot our brains and bodies – no expensive spas or months in Bali required.

Dr. Aditi Nerurkar is a nationally sought-after speaker, television correspondent, and author of the new book The Five Resets: Rewire Your Brain and Body for Less Stress and More Resilience. With over two decades of clinical experience, she offers a reimagined approach to overcoming stress and burnout using five science-backed mindset shifts.

Rather than preaching toxic resilience, she provides real-world solutions tailored to the realities of modern life – from the myth of multitasking to the vital role of social connections. She prescribes time-efficient, cost-free techniques accessible to anyone, helping us change our relationship with stress and find balance once more.

You can find Aditi at: Website | Instagram

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Episode Transcript:

Aditi Nerurkar: [00:00:00] There is just a chronic level of elevated stress with these cyclical flares of things happening in the world, and we are just all naturally at this time feeling a sense of, you know, being very keyed up. But the good news is that you have the ability and the power to reset your stress from the inside out using small changes. Let your brain and your body come back into balance, and then you can be engaged in the world more fully rather than running on fumes as many of us are.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:32] So a bit of a trick question. Have you ever felt like you were just drowning in stress? No matter what you tried? That the weight of it all seems impossible. I’ve been there, you’ve been there. Turns out we have all been there. This is this thing that we all experience but rarely ever talk to each other about. So today I’m speaking with Doctor Aditi Nerurkar, a Harvard stress expert, on a mission to really help us reframe and reset our relationship with stress. In my experience, we often feel alone when stressed and she validates this experience. It’s as if we’re the only ones struggling. The truth is, stress touches us all. As Aditi shares, it’s a natural and healthy human response, but in modern life it can become overactivated, leaving us burned out and fatigued. And the good news? There are simple daily mindset shifts that we can make to reboot our brains and bodies. No expensive spa or months in Bali required. So Doctor Aditi Nerurkar is a nationally sought-after speaker, television correspondent and author of the new book The Five Resets Rewire Your Brain and Body for Less Stress and More Resilience.


Jonathan Fields: [00:01:33] With over two decades of clinical experience, she offers a bit of a reimagined approach to overcoming stress and burnout, using five science-backed mindset shifts rather than preaching toxic resilience, which we talk about, she provides real-world solutions tailored to the realities of modern life, and she prescribes time efficient, cost-free techniques that are accessible to anyone to help us change our relationship with stress and find balance once more. So excited to share this conversation with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:12] I feel like as we have this conversation, we’re living in a world where we feel like increasingly, so much of what’s going on around us is outside of our control, and there’s a level of almost ambient stress that it’s become the fiber of our days. And, you know, this has been your work for so many years. I’m curious, what have you been seeing around how we’re experiencing life and how stress is showing up, either in a way that you’ve seen it showing up for a long time or differently.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:02:46] It’s such a thoughtful question that you start this conversation with, and, you know, our brains and our bodies are designed expertly to handle acute stress. That is what our brains and bodies are born to do. But especially now, we are facing this low hum in the background so aptly mentioned of chronic stress. There is no respite, there is no time for rest or recovery. And it’s this cyclical nature. When you look around the world over the past, say, four years, we all went through an individual and a collective period of trauma. We lived through that. We came out of that period. But even coming out of that very difficult time of the pandemic, we didn’t ever really have a moment to breathe, to rest, to recover emotionally, psychologically and even biologically. As we sit today, there are current events in the world and that level of stress we know through the biology of stress that when things are happening far away from you, because of our hyper-connectedness, our brains don’t really recognize the difference. You can be sitting on your sofa in your living room, and there is a catastrophe occurring thousands of miles away, and it feels like it’s happening very close, simply because of our sense of hyper-connectedness. And so while our brains and our bodies are adept at managing acute stress in the short term, they do need a moment of respite to recalibrate.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:04:27] And we just haven’t ever been able to catch our breath and to get back to that sense of equilibrium, simply because we are informed citizens living in this world. And so one of the things that I really try to advocate is this sense of digital boundaries and the importance of digital boundaries. We have boundaries in every other relationship in our lives, whether it be with our spouses or partners, our children, our parents, our friends, our colleagues. Why is it that we have no boundaries when it comes to the relationship we have with the digital world? There is a porous boundary, so it’s not so much about renouncing our phones or, you know, headlines, etc. and becoming a digital monk. In fact, the science shows that that is not even really helpful for health and well-being. Decreasing our reliance on these external stimuli is what actually is helpful for our health and well-being. So it’s just time to reconsider our relationship with the digital world in a way that can serve us and keep us as informed citizens without compromising and sacrificing our mental health, never at the expense of stress and burnout.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:41] Yeah, it’s such an interesting point. I think when so many of us think about our digital devices and how it’s sort of like 24/7 connected, we are these days, I think some of the data, some of the research that we’ve seen come out, a lot of times we focus on, well, how the illusion of what people post on their social platforms can sometimes make us feel bad about our own lives or how, you know, we’re living in a state of constant digital comparison itis, and that that has an effect on our mental health. But what you’re saying, you’re making a different point, which I think is really interesting and poignant to the notion of this, how we live with pervasive stress, which is it’s not just that, it’s the fact that we now have the ability, and I would probably even argue the impulse almost to the level of obsession, to perpetually check in on things that are happening sometimes on the other side of the world, and that the way that our brains function is that when we see all of these really hard things traumas, disasters, violence, that is the argument that our brain doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing what’s happening in our backyard versus on the other side of the world, and therefore it affects us in a level that maybe we’re not even aware of.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:06:54] Very much so. In fact, data from the University of California in Irvine has showed that when people the study was looking specifically at Americans, when people consume graphic images, graphic videos of things. Happening thousands of miles away. They increase their chance of developing PTSD. Years later, they have not engaged firsthand in any experience of trauma. And yet their brains and their bodies have recognized traumatic events happening far away. And it has an impact to the point of increasing your risk of PTSD, increasing your risk of chronic health conditions years later. And the reason that we feel compelled, you know, when you are feeling a sense of stress, you may say to yourself, I really don’t want to watch those graphic images or videos of whatever it may be. Our brains and our bodies do not recognize the difference in terms of the biological impact that things externally have on us, whether they are happening close at home or at a great distance. The other thing to remember about our brains and our bodies is that we have a predilection to scroll and seek information when we are feeling stressed, so if you are feeling stressed, you are more likely to scroll because of the biology of stress. Under periods of stress, your amygdala is on high alert. That’s an almond-shaped structure deep in your brain. The sole purpose of the amygdala is survival and self-preservation. Under periods of stress, your primal urge to scroll is stoked because you are. You are feeling a sense of danger. So you begin to scan your environment. You know, evolutionarily, back in when we were all cave people, there was a night watchman who would scan the environment for danger while the tribe slept.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:08:59] Now we are our own night watchman, all of us. And so we scan our environment for danger, and we scroll and we scroll and we scroll when we feel a sense of danger, or when we’re not feeling very safe, when our amygdala is firing, our fight or flight response. Now, we talked about how this is going on in the background all the time because of external influences, but also things that are potentially happening in our own lives health issues, financial concerns, relationship concerns, etc.. So if there is just a chronic low hum of stress all around us with acute flares through various things happening, and there’s a cyclical nature of that acute flare, your brain and your body is continually revved up, your amygdala is firing and trying to keep you safe. And so you scroll, scrolling through the headlines, and what’s happening in current events makes you feel even more concerned. It increases your stress response. The biology of stress goes haywire. And so you scroll some more. I’ve had patients over the years, particularly my patients who are 60, 70 and 80 years old. These are my patients who typically watch a lot of TV to consume news and other headlines to remain informed citizens. And more often than not, and I have heard this over and over. A patient will say to me, I used to watch the news for 30 minutes or an hour, and now I can’t shut it off. I’ve had a patient and I wrote about this in the five resets, who told me I watched the news all day and sometimes all night, and I laughed and I said, oh, I mean, come on, that’s impossible.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:10:36] But in fact, when we dug deep into his daily habits, in fact, news was on all day and all night. Again, if you are feeling a sense of stress and you are scrolling and it is difficult to stop, it is not your fault. You are not alone. It is simply your brain and your body working as it should. Of course, your stress response has gone a little haywire. It’s become maladaptive, and there are very scientific ways that we can use to bring it back into balance. And so I know we’re painting a picture of doom and gloom here, talking about how there is just a chronic level of elevated stress with these cyclical flares of things happening in the world, and we are just all naturally at this stage of, at this time, feeling a sense of, you know, being very keyed up. But the good news is that you have the ability and the power to reset your stress from the inside out using small changes. I would never endorse censorship, for example, because consuming the news. I work in journalism, I’m a medical contributor and journalism is one of my great passions, along with medicine, you know, health information and the importance of sharing accurate scientific information and just journalism in general. One of my true great loves. So this is not about censorship. It is simply about creating some digital boundaries, creating some stop gaps in your life so that you can have some. In time and space to equilibrate. Let your brain and your body come back into balance, and then you can be engaged in the world more fully, rather than running on fumes, as many of us are.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:22] Yeah, that makes so much sense to me. You know, you’re really describing this downward spiral, and we think that we’re doing the thing that will help us turn it into an upward spiral and like, sort of like pull us out of the abyss. But unwittingly, we’re actually just deepening into the issue. And as you describe, at the same time, we are conscious, sentient, intentional beings who also care about ourselves and the people around us and the world around us. And it’s not about just putting your head in the sand and ignoring the fact that there are hard things going on around us. You know, we want to be informed. We want to know what we need to know, to feel like that we’re in a place where we can take informed action. And yet there’s like a dance that we do. Right? You know, in terms of like having that insight, that information so that we feel like we can be wise and participate in a way that feels like right action to us and yet at the same time, not spiral into that place where it’s literally just destroying us day and night. So there’s like a, I would imagine, a bit of a sweet spot that’s probably individual to each person that we have to experiment a little bit with to find. Yeah.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:13:22] And the data shows that that sweet spot that people have, it really depends on many factors. It’s not just one thing that contributes to that sweet spot. It’s, you know, your general constitutional makeup, it’s your upbringing. It’s where you currently live, what you are engaged with on a day-to-day basis and there, and what you are consuming again, many, many factors. It’s deep and there are many layers to this. But yes, and the other piece of it is that from a biological perspective, taking responsible action, taking informed action, that part of our brain when we do those things, you know, when we see something, a calamity happening in the world and you want to step up and you want to contribute in some positive way to make a difference, what a wonderful thing to do. That part of our brain is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the area of our brain right behind our forehead. The prefrontal cortex governs memory, planning, organization, solving complex tasks and problems. In modern times, it’s adulting, right? That’s essentially what the prefrontal cortex does. But during periods of stress, your prefrontal cortex takes a back seat and your amygdala is what’s driving that fight or flight train forward, that runaway train of stress forward. It’s self-preservation, survival, scanning for danger. And that is the focus. So the way you move away from stressed mode, back to resilient mode, where you can contribute positively to some of these things happening in the world and play your part is to switch from the amygdala back to the prefrontal cortex. And it sounds very scientific. I’m using these big words, but there are very simple things that you can do every single day to help shape that biology of stress away from one mode, back to the other mode.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:15:21] The interesting thing about our brains and bodies is that when you are feeling that sense of stress, your fight-or-flight response is on overdrive. Your amygdala is firing and revved up. You are governed by a brain and body system, the nervous system. It’s called the sympathetic nervous system. However, when you are focused on memory, planning, organization, strategic thinking, solving complex tasks, all of these things that the prefrontal cortex does, you are governed by the rest and digest system, not the fight or flight system. It’s the rest and digest system, and it is the parasympathetic system. The interesting thing about science and these two systems is that they are mutually exclusive. When the sympathetic system is on and firing and you’re scanning for danger and you’re nervous and you’re anxious and stressed, that parasympathetic system is quiet. So you can it’s like a switch. You can switch to the parasympathetic system. It’s all in the doing. When you do better, you feel better. And that’s the mind-body connection. So when you are feeling, you know, like you mentioned, you’re in this dark tunnel of stress and you’re feeling like you just can’t get out, understanding that when you do better and you make small choices, it takes two, three, four, five minutes a day, a little bit of intentionality in terms of what you can do. It can switch you away from that stress system back to that sense of resilience and, you know, true resilience, not toxic resilience, of course, so that you can make that switch.


Jonathan Fields: [00:16:54] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know, the question that’s lingering in my mind is how do we recognize stress in our lives? On one hand, you may hear this and say, well, it’s kind of obvious. Like you quote, feel stressed. But I think for a lot of people, it’s actually not necessarily all that obvious. And I may be one of them. I had an experience in the middle of this year, which led me to deal with a lot of physical health issues, and upon reflection, I realized that it was very likely triggered by stress, by a whole bunch of things that were going on. And yet, I have such long-standing mindset practices that the whole time my mind was kind of saying like, no, you’re good. Like, you can handle this. Yes, there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot swirling around you. Some of it’s in your control, some of it’s not. But you’ve got this like and my mind is just sitting here telling me, I’ve got this. And at some point my body basically decided to say to my mind, no, you don’t. I’m going to take you down. Like Bessel van der Kolk’s classic, you know, like the title of his book, the body always keeps score. My body was keeping score, my mind wasn’t. And it surprised me because I thought I had been doing so many mindfulness practices, so many of these different practices we’re supposed to do to move through these moments with equanimity, with more ease, more grace, and in a weird way, it masked what was really going on until my body came online and said, hmm, time to listen.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:18:29] What a beautiful recount of what happened to you. You know, I would actually argue that it is not obvious for most people, so your experience is much more the rule rather than the exception, simply because of two ideas. The first idea is this sense of toxic resilience. That is just the way our modern society functions, which is mind over matter, productivity at all costs and not really understanding human limitations. True resilience. The actual scientific definition of resilience is your innate biological ability to adapt, recover, and grow in the face of life’s challenges. For true resilience to really show itself, you do need a little bit of stress. And I mean healthy amounts of stress, not unhealthy amounts of stress. True resilience honors human boundaries and limitations, celebrates your ability to say no, and really uses a lens of self-compassion. Our modern world is built on toxic resilience. And when you would say to yourself, I got this, I’m fine. I’m doing all of these things, I got this. Your body was telling a different story. A lot of the reasons why many people, particularly this year, that’s how we started our conversation offline about just how it feels like a really weird time. One of the biggest reasons why this year has been particularly challenging to so many of us, including you, including me, even though I know all of the science is because of a biological phenomenon called the delayed stress response, it is what every single one of us is going through. I would say 90%, 95% of people are going through.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:20:09] We just came out of a very traumatic event. 2020, 2021 and 2022. We were promised the Roaring 20s, many headlines everywhere. We’re talking about, you know, just get into that post-pandemic era. You’re going to live in the Roaring 20s. It’s coming and can’t wait. And now we’re here. We’re decidedly in the post-pandemic era. It feels nothing like the Roaring 20s. I mean, the schism there is is very wide. And why is that? When I would read those headlines, I would laugh to myself thinking like, this isn’t even how the brain works, because I use this example in the five resets with my cancer patients, they have gone through a traumatic event of being diagnosed with cancer. Many of my patients who have cancer when they’re getting their treatments, they come to see me every week, every two, three, four weeks. And they’re fine. Doing great. Doc, I got this, I got this, and then they get, you know, six months later they get a clean bill of health, their treatment course is over, and they’re in my office the next week sobbing. And they say, why now? What is happening? I’m cured. The doctor said, come back in six months. And that is how our brains function. Our brains are built like dams. During acute events, acutely traumatizing, stressful events. We shore up our internal reserves. We keep it together at all costs. Only when you feel psychologically safe do you allow your defenses to come down and your true emotions can emerge, and it’s often a deluge when that happens.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:21:44] This year particularly, has been that collective moment for us individually and collectively. I cannot tell you, Jonathan, how many people have said to me in casual conversations with friends and family when I’ve been giving talks, media interviews, you know, I feel much worse this year than I did last year, or I feel much worse now than I did in 2020. Why is that? And the manifestations of what worse means is different for everyone. You know, some people have fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, GI disturbances. Others have aches and pains and, you know, physical manifestations. But regardless, it’s coming out. That deluge of our pent-up emotional state, the stress and burnout. We all feel psychologically safe now. For the first time in several years, we don’t feel like we are in imminent danger with our health and well-being. Some of us, of course, in the world are. But for the most part, you and I are as we sit here. But in 2020, that wasn’t an assurance at all. We were quite concerned about our health and safety and well-being. And so now there’s a moment of collective moment of pause and the dam has broken. Our sense of psychological safety is high, and therefore there’s the deluge. So if you are feeling worse now, and worse can mean whatever it may mean for you, understand that it is your brain and your body working exactly as it should. The only way around is through. That doesn’t mean that you should, you know, put on that badge of toxic resilience and say, I’m good, it’s fine.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:23:27] I’ll get through this. Seek the counseling that you need, go to see your doctors, get medical supervision and help you know through your journey. But you’re not an anomaly for feeling this way. In fact, most of us, in one way, shape or form are feeling that same way. Not to minimize an individual struggle because it manifests differently. Some people have mental manifestations of stress. Other people have physical manifestations of stress. It’s also not to say that if you have a new medical or physical or mental condition or symptom, that it is due to stress. Stress is not causal. It doesn’t cause, you know, certain medical conditions, but it certainly contributes to it and worsens existing medical conditions. So it is a very complex time for many people. And we should all over ourselves, especially now. I should be feeling great. What’s going on? I should have more energy. I should be more productive, I should be happy, I should be feeling this, that and the other. And instead it’s almost like instead come from a place of self-compassion, acceptance and grace that you are exactly where you are meant to be, feeling everything that you are meant to be right here, right now, and understanding that it’s in fact your brain and body doing exactly what they should be doing. There is nothing right with you, just everything right with you. That is a famous expression, as you know, of Jon Kabat-Zinn. And it really rings true, especially now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:25:03] Yeah, there’s a sense of just a little bit of lightness that started sneaking, as you’re describing, that I would imagine for a lot of people listening, because we’ve probably all felt this like delayed sense of stress, and we’re kind of looking around and saying, yes, there are things around us in the world that would like cause me to feel stressed, but like, I thought it was past sort of like certain, like things that I should have been feeling or like there was that thing that I was carrying for the last few years. And, you know, like, objectively in the world, yes, there are things. But in, in my local world, like I quote, shouldn’t feel this way right now. And you sharing that and this is exactly how the brain is supposed to work and that there’s this delayed effect. It’s completely natural. And it happens to be a factor of kind of stepping back into enough psychological safety that you’re it’s like your mind is actually letting you feel these things that it was protecting you against from survival mode, and that that’s kind of what’s happening here. It gives sort of like a, a biological reason saying like, there’s actually nothing wrong with the way that my brain is functioning right now. This is what it does. And now the work is what do we do with this? You know, like now that we are feeling this, what do we do with that? And I think that really brings us nicely into your idea around the five resets, because there are things that we can do.


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:22] We may not be able to necessarily change the circumstances, or at least all of the circumstances, but there are a lot of things internally, and there are things that we do have control over. So I’d love to drop into those resets and spend a little bit of time in them. You know, one of the you kind of start out with the notion of getting clear on what really matters to you. Which I found interesting because I also look at that very question and exploration as a source of stress for a lot of people, especially in the middle years of their lives. And when they hit that point and they’re like, I don’t know what matters to me. So it’s interesting that you sort of posit this as like, this is actually one of the resets. Whereas I think a lot of people look at that, that question or the set of questions around it and say, I actually don’t want to deal with this now because it’s going to bring more stress to me because I don’t have an answer. So take me into this a bit.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:27:14] The first reset is find what matters most. Most is in capitals because it’s an acronym most. And this first reset lays the foundation of everything that’s to come. This first reset has three science-backed strategies in it, which help you when you go through these exercises. Get out of that reactionary amygdala self-preservation survival mode and get you into that prefrontal cortex of your brain where you can plan, organize, and have some strategic thinking and solve the complex problem of your stress and burnout. Now, as you read the first reset and go through it, you might not necessarily know or even think that that’s what’s happening, but that is what’s happening biologically. You know, from the scientific perspective, the clinical perspective. The first resets big question is similar to what we talked about just a few minutes ago. It’s not about what’s the matter with me, it’s about what matters to me. Most often when you are feeling a sense of stress and burnout, you can’t seem to get out of your own way. Again, not your fault. It’s just what’s happening. You’re focused on immediate survival, self-preservation, safety. That’s just the stress response. The first reset helps you zoom out. It helps you take a step back. It helps you figure out where you are and where you’d like to be. It may sound like a big question what matters to you most? And yes, at first glance it might scare someone, but when you go through the exercises, it’s actually quite simple. I’ve used this with I’ve used this with countless patients over the years. Essentially, when you have a destination of where you would like to go and it doesn’t have to be a grand aspirational destination, it can be that I want to throw a baseball with my grandson, and right now I can’t because I’m in a lot of pain or I feel stressed.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:29:26] I would like to attend my high school reunion, but I am not in a place where I can do that. I’ve had. And again, these are real-life examples of patients over the years. I had a patient say to me once she was going through cancer treatment, and when I asked her what her most goal was, what her why was, she said she wanted to be a children’s book author, and that was something that she had really wanted to focus on. Most people who are feeling a sense of stress and burnout or, you know, having struggling with the emotional component of chronic illness, which is a lot of the work that I do, they have all of the knowledge and information, and the challenge is not giving people more knowledge and information about their particular condition. Because, you know, I’ve had many patients who’ve said, I know I need to lose weight because I have high blood pressure, I have heart disease, cholesterol. I know I need to stop smoking. I know that my sleep isn’t great. I need to get more sleep. The challenge isn’t the knowledge and information, it’s the action. There seems to be a wide gap between knowledge and information, where they are to where they would like to be. Action. And my job in clinical practice, in the five resets when I speak to audiences is to close that gap so people don’t feel this wide gap between where they are and where they need to be.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:30:48] The gap gets closer through the scientific principles and the strategies that I’ve mentioned in the first reset. And the first reset also helps you create a roadmap step by step by step, to close that gap and get to that. Why? For you get to your most goal. Initially you may feel what is my most goal, but again, very easy to figure out what your most goal is. It doesn’t have to be just one thing. Start small and build up the reason. The first reset is the first reset rather than the second, third, fourth, or fifth reset is because it lays the foundation for everything ahead. It helps your brain shift from stress mode into a more resilient state, where you can then plan to reach. You know that future thinking part of your brain can take over. But if you’re living in the amygdala and the here and now, it’s really difficult to get to that place, just biologically. And so when you have a clear plan, when you have written out your where you are, where you’d like to go and the steps to get there, that’s it. You know, that’s half the battle. The other thing that the first reset does is it helps to normalize and validate your experience. So as you mentioned, when I explained the delayed stress response, you know, you said that there was a glimmer of light. I loved how you said that. And the reason you felt that glimmer of light is because I, in explaining what the delayed stress response was, helped to normalize and validate something that you were experiencing that millions of people are experiencing.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:32:22] Stress is the great paradox because we are all experiencing this and yet no one talks about it. It’s an incredibly it’s a universal thing that is happening, a universal phenomenon that is oddly, incredibly isolating. Makes no sense. The reason group therapy works so well is because it is a group of people, ten, 15, 20 people who sit around a room who’ve all had one particular event that’s happened in their life or a stressful experience, and then they talk about it. And when someone else says, oh, this happened to me, and I was feeling this way, and I must be the only one. And someone across the room says, oh, you were feeling like that? I was feeling like that too. Oh, wow. That can be incredibly therapeutic and healing. It’s called the group effect. And what I hope the first reset does, and really all five resets, is that it creates that therapeutic experience. So as you are going through the first reset and going through those strategies, you realize based on very concrete data that you are not alone, that it is not your fault. And these feelings that you’re having, it’s what everyone is struggling with. You know, I saw this one on one with patients in my practice in Boston, and when I started speaking to larger audiences globally around the world, I saw this same paradox of stress on a much larger scale. So stress, in fact, is the great equalizer.


Jonathan Fields: [00:33:46] We don’t like to think about that. But that’s right. You know it is. It’s such a common part of the human experience, the way you describe, sort of like finding your your most goal, like capital, most. Do you distinguish that from the notion of purpose, or do you feel like those are sort of like the same type of thing?


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:34:05] What a great question. In that first reset, I also touch on this idea of purpose because humans are meaning-seeking, purpose-driven creatures. We all want to be seen, heard, understood, and ultimately loved. What’s interesting about our sense of purpose is that that taps into a certain kind of happiness. It’s called eudaimonic happiness. Our sense of meaning and purpose versus hedonic happiness, which taps into, you know, pleasure and joy for joy’s sake. Both are important, but one actually has demonstrated effects on our cells and molecules and immune system, and that is the eudaimonic happiness. So this particular reset, yes, it is about fostering that sense of eudaimonic happiness, a sense of meaning and purpose. But it doesn’t have to be, because sometimes when people hear that meaning and purpose, they also shirk. It doesn’t have to be something big, right? It can also be make you hedonically happy, like throwing a baseball with your grandson and the ability to be able to do that or take a walk around the block when, let’s say you aren’t able to. That’s another example of a patient I describe who initially started off unable to really walk due to knee and knee and ankle pain. Her goal was to walk around the block. She set out her most goal and came back and said, you know doc, I’m really sorry I didn’t follow this. The plan because you told me that I was supposed to walk around the block, but I’ve actually been walking 20 blocks because she increased her sense of self-efficacy. And so yes, it will. The most goal will help you channel that sense of meaning and purpose eudaimonic happiness, but in a way that feels hedonically happy. So it’s not about martyrdom or strife or oh, it’s so much work to get there because no one is going to go down that path.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:36:09] It has to feel joyful in the moment. There has to be a sense of excitement and enthusiasm again, because you want to close that gap. It can’t feel aspirational. It has to feel very realistic and tangible. One of the in that most acronym, the last T, is for timeliness. It has to be something that you can achieve within a few months because your brain and body, you know, it takes about eight weeks to build a habit. So give yourself about three months to build in some of these strategies from the resets and get to your most goal. So it has to feel within reach. That gap between knowing and doing can only be closed when you feel like, oh, it’s within reach. And when you feel that sense of self-efficacy rise, saying it’s within reach. And guess what? I have the capability to do that. That was the example I gave about the patient who, you know, was prescribed walking a block and ended up walking 20 when prior to getting her motorcycle, she didn’t want to walk at all because that self-efficacy, you know, you fan that flame and then you start saying, oh, I can do this, and guess what? I can do this and I can do even more. And it’s a sense of joyfulness. So yes, it is purpose-driven and we are meaning seeking purpose-driven creatures as human beings, but we also need to feel that sense of joy in our daily experience of less stress and more resilience. Again, biologically it does help the brain.


Jonathan Fields: [00:37:33] I love that you close the gap between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness, because so often I’ve heard them talked about as an either-or thing, very often sort of blasting the hedonic side is like, no, no, no, no, that’s not the good kind of happiness, you know, like, that’s the quote, cheap happiness. We need to go for the eudaimonic like the meaning and the purpose, which clearly matters to us like it’s it has lasting impact. And yet so many of us also want to feel happy along the way. We want to have these little moments of just absolute bliss and joy and just like, you know, I can’t believe I’m doing this. It feels so good in the moment. So, you know, inviting us to say like, no, this is not necessarily an either-or, like, what if this was a yes? And how could we step into that? It feels more expansive and inclusive simultaneously and saying like, okay, so let me not shame myself for wanting to actually dip into the hedonic, you know, like pond along the way too, but find a way for all of it to dance together. Yeah.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:38:31] And in fact, one of the strategies in the first reset is to uncover your buried childhood treasure. And that directly speaks to, of course, this idea of eudaimonic happiness, meaning in purpose, but very much through hedonic activities. So think about what you did as a child that brought you joy, that made the hours pass like minutes, right? Carl Jung has said that, and one of my patients I describe in the five resets was a high-powered career woman, a lawyer, corporate lawyer, and had lost her sense of hedonic happiness. And by tapping into her sense of play and wonder and creativity and curiosity, her examples of uncovering her buried treasure was during her childhood. She was very much an artist and would paint and sculpt and became a corporate lawyer and lost that artistic side of her, as many of us have over the years. And my prescription for her to manage her stress and burnout was to tap into that and dive again deep into that creative pursuit, not for showing, but joy for joy’s sake. Because that when you are engaged in an activity that brings you a sense of joy and expansiveness and spaciousness in your brain, what’s actually happening when those hours pass like minutes? It’s a brain state called flow.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:40:01] And the flow state has tremendous therapeutic and healing properties. And so to tap into that flow state, there has to be an element of joy, enjoyment, and, you know, a little bit of frivolity. So she started painting not to show anyone just to do it for herself. You know, I think so many of us, we are achievement driven for all of those reasons. We talked about toxic resilience and even our hobbies have to mean something, you know, like we can’t take up a sport unless we’re going to be joining the master’s program of intramural league and win that competition and championship. And instead, it’s the invitation. This first reset in that particular strategy is the invitation to be a beginner. We talk about beginner’s mind a lot in mindfulness, right. But really to stay in beginner’s mind and just engage in something, even if you’re supremely bad at it, simply because it brings you joy. And that alone can be a therapeutic experience.


Jonathan Fields: [00:41:04] I love that, and knowing that you’ll never have to show anyone else or talk about it, like just step into it from the beginning with that assumption. So you kind of let go of any expectations of perfectionism or like rising to a certain bar. It’s just for you. It brings us, I think, nicely to the second reset, which is really all about stillness in a world that seems to not want you to be still. We talked a little bit about some of the ideas in this earlier in our conversation, when you dipped into the notion of managing digital distractions, which is a big part of this, and boundaries. You also describe under this reset, sort of the role of social connections, which I thought was interesting.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:41:42] So the second reset is find your quiet in a noisy world, and social connection is very important. Reason being we are living through a loneliness epidemic right now. The Surgeon General, who happens to be one of my childhood friends, talks about it as a public health crisis. When you look at the data, hundreds of millions of people globally go two weeks without speaking to anyone. And we know that loneliness isn’t just, you know, something, a nicety to try to overcome, but it has real physical and mental health ramifications. It increases your risk of heart disease and stroke by about 30%. And especially if you are an older adult, it decreases your lifespan. So loneliness has been found to be equal to 25 cigarettes a day, to smoking 25 cigarettes a day, which is a shocking statistic. And when you compare all-cause mortality from sort of the big ones that we talk about, you know, heart disease, cancer and all of these other big things that we consider to be real drivers of mortality, particularly here in the US. Loneliness trumps many of them in terms of its ability to increase your risk of early death. So loneliness and social connection, conversely, is not just something nice to have. It is important for your mental and physical health. Now, the first pushback I often get when I talk about the need for social connection is. But what if I’m an introvert? I don’t really need people. I don’t really want to engage.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:43:30] It’s not about becoming a social butterfly. Feeling that sense of social connection is about having a sense of community and tribe. So, you know, ask yourself, are there two people in your life? I typically say anywhere from 2 to 5. Are there 2 or 5 people in your life? The 4 a.m. friend? If something were to happen to you at 4 a.m., could you pick up the phone and call a handful of people? And it’s surprising how many people say no. I’ve had countless patients over my decades of clinical practice when I’ve talked about social connection, and I’ve asked the question, who’s your best friend? They say, me and I see them once every 2 to 3 months. We have one office visit. I ask them questions about themselves. I hold space for them to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. So I understand why they would say that because I am a friend to them. But seeing your doctor every 2 to 3 months and acknowledging that that person is your best friend is challenging in terms of the fabric of society and what we’re doing. Because humans are social creatures as much as we are meaning-seeking, purpose-driven creatures, we are social creatures. That’s not to say everyone needs to become a social butterfly. We all have levels of that and thresholds. It’s not about going to a cocktail party. It’s about feeling a sense of connection and a sense of tribe with others so that you bolster your mental health and physical health.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:45:03] No man is an island. No woman is an island. No person is an island, I should say. And so in this particular reset, you know, I tried to shine a light on this idea of we are hyper-connected, always on these things, our phones, and yet we are more disconnected than ever. Data shows that Americans particularly, but this is a global phenomenon as well. But this particular data set shows that Americans are more are spending more time alone now than they ever have. And that steep drop happened. There was a steady state of Americans spending time alone and with others. And then that sharp drop happened. Coincidentally, I don’t know, a big question mark there. It happened when more than 50% of people got a device. That’s not to say that phones are causing us to be isolated. Of course not. I engage in my phone every single day. I communicate with friends and family far away. I have several WhatsApp groups I belong to, a wonderful WhatsApp group of seven of my closest girlfriends from age six, and we give each other, you know, tips on, oh, this is. A great show to watch or, you know, try this and try this recipe. Or did you see this celebrity? And like we have lots of fun again, hedonic happiness, but also creating a sense of meaning and purpose and community there. I think that social connection is incredibly important, and I love my phone as a way to build and foster that.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:46:37] But certainly, you know, we have to set some limits simply because the science shows that there is a, you know, benefit to in-person connection, but also it doesn’t have to feel that hard if you’re an introvert and you hear this data and you think, oh, no way, I’m not going to suddenly start talking to people, you know, on your when you’re going to your mailbox, you get your mail, you see your neighbor maybe out for a walk or getting their mail to just say, hey, how’s it going? You know, make small talk. There is there was a very provocative study which came out just a few weeks ago that showed that casual conversations with strangers, your barista, where you go to pick up your dry cleaning when you’re at the grocery store, at the bank. Casual conversations can have a profound impact on your mental health, so you don’t have to go deep. Don’t have to have heart-to-heart with your close friends. You can just have these light-hearted moments of connection throughout your day, and it can bolster your sense of mental health and in turn, decrease your stress and burnout and help your sense of loneliness. Because all of these connections, these touchpoints, foster a sense of community and community when you feel connected to those around you that we know is a boon for so many things.


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:57] Yeah, I love that. And raising my hand as an introvert, um, it gives me a lot to think on as you were describing that, having moved a couple of years back, I can almost remember the day that I walked in, just sort of like my regular coffee place and the barista already knew my order. It was the smallest little thing, this, like, seemingly insignificant. And yet in that one tiny moment, like I felt known in a way that actually mattered to me. Like it put a smile on my face that I didn’t see coming. And so I love the fact that you’re saying, like, this doesn’t have to be the big things like this can be tiny little touch points along the way, which makes it more accessible for a lot of people. I want to move into the third reset, which is really about the connection between your mind and body, which you sort of spoke to again earlier in our conversation, but really bringing home the fact that these are not two different operating systems that function independently. You know, all the research is crystal clear now, this is a seamless feedback mechanism, and we’ve got to do things that tether them together, that sync them in a way. One of the things that you talk about, I think is really interesting. It’s been a long-time fascination of mine, and part of my personal practice is the notion of of breathing. And I think a lot of folks are like, well, this is just the thing that we do. Like subconsciously it happens. It’s part of the autonomic nervous system. I don’t control it. And yet we can actually exert control over our breathing, and we can change the way that we breathe in ways that really regulate those two parts of the nervous system that you were describing earlier to make us a lot more functional and healthy, but at the same time, to help us experience that stress, um, in a more easeful way.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:49:43] The mind body connection sounds like a woo-woo concept. In fact, there is great science to support it. What’s good for your body is good for your mind and vice versa. When you do better, you feel better and it’s all in the doing. For people who have maybe never heard of the terms mind, body, connection, it is like gravity. It’s been working all this time and you just never called it that. But when you fall in love and you get those butterflies, that is the mind body connection. When you’re walking into a work meeting and you’re about to give a presentation and your face flushes, that’s the mind body connection. If you are entering a space and you’re excited, let’s say you’re going to a surprise birthday party and you feel that flutter, you know, that excitement in your body, that’s the mind body connection. So we have many moments throughout the day when we feel the mind body connection, but we don’t call it that. The reason the mind body connection is so powerful is because it is happening, like gravity around us all the time. To us. And with a few simple strategies, you can influence your mind body connection. The breath is often the gateway to influence your mind-body connection, because your breath is the only physiological function in your body that is under voluntary and involuntary control. Your heartbeat is happening right now. You and I are sitting here and our hearts are beating, and even though we can try to control them, guess what? It’s out of luck.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:51:13] We can’t control our heartbeat. We can’t control our digestion consciously. We can’t control any physiological process in our bodies except our breath. So right now, as you and I are speaking, Jonathan, we’re just breathing and chatting and talking and, you know, just our breath is moving and in and out in breath out, breath in the background. But if we both just pause for a second and took a deep breath in. Took a deep breath out. Suddenly we’re influencing our breathing. Our breath is the only physiological process under voluntary and involuntary control, which makes it the most potent way to tap into your mind body connection. And tied to the idea what we had spoken about earlier. When you are feeling stressed, when your amygdala is firing, your sympathetic nervous system is on an alert and you’re feeling that sense of hypervigilance and stress. You often take quick, shallow breaths. It’s a physiological response. Evolutionarily, the fight or flight response is designed to fight tigers in the forest, so blood is shunted away from your vital organs to your muscles. Your pupils dilate so you can see things better. Your heart starts pumping fast, so the oxygen in the blood can move to your muscles to either fight or flee, and you start breathing quicker to get that oxygen level up all throughout your body. However, when you are feeling calm, rested, rest and digest system, the prefrontal cortex is working.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:52:47] You’re in a state of flow. All of these things that we’ve talked about, tying those ideas together. Your breath is slow and deep, not really coming from your chest, coming usually from your stomach. Babies are born with the ability for diaphragmatic breathing that is, deep belly breathing. When you look at babies and how they breathe, you see how their bellies rise and fall. And sometime as we are growing up, we lose that ability to naturally diaphragmatic breathe. And diaphragmatic breathing is simply belly breathing. But diaphragmatic breathing, that deep belly breathing is actually tapping into your parasympathetic response because it’s actively moving away from that short, quick, shallow, anxious breathing back to that deep breath. So that is why the breath is such a potent tool of minimizing your stress and burnout in the moment. Because of this ability to do turn on and off, and the fact that you can control your breathing and focus on some deep belly breathing exercises, which I offer in this reset. But it also over time when you continue to practice these breathing exercises, and some of them are honestly three seconds and some are a little bit longer, a few minutes. When you do these incrementally over time, throughout the entire day, you tap into your mind-body connection and you start influencing your mind-body connection to serve you rather than harm you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:18] That makes a lot of sense. My first exposure to the effectiveness of breathing was many years ago, when in a multiple past lives. At this point, I was a lawyer and working in a large firm in New York City under like incredible amounts of pressure and high stakes and a lot of stress. And I every time the phone rang, I had this stress response to it because it was often a, you know, like an adversarial conversation that I would find myself in. And I was just like, how do I keep doing this and not fall apart? And being sort of in the fitness world for a lot of my life before that, and I had been in the early parts of exploring yoga, and there’s a whole part of those practices called pranayama, which is effectively, you know, like managing your life, force your energy through the process of breathing. And I found it so effective. And it was one of these interventions where, yes, it builds over time, but also there are ways to breathe, which can be incredibly effective in the moment, in a matter of seconds, to take you from this really agitated, stressed out state to maybe not entirely dissipated, but it lowers it to a level where you’re like, oh, I can like, now I can function, I can figure out where to go and what to do from here. And I love that it is accessible and available to all of us and free. So this is something that we’re all walking around with. And we can do, you can do in a cab, on a subway, at a dinner table, like while you’re literally having a stressful conversation with somebody else without them knowing it. You know, you can drop into these things. So I love the availability of this to basically anyone.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:55:52] I’m so glad you brought that up, because the two sort of tenants that all of the resets, the five resets, and the 15 science-backed strategies have been centered around is that every single thing in the five resets is free. Because I have as a clinician, I have had patients with all varying levels of resources, and so I’m particularly sensitive to that. Of course, I have my patients who can afford fancy spas and retreats and take six months to surf in Bali and feel better. And then I have my patients who work three jobs and would love to be able to have a surfing holiday in Bali for six months, but it’s just not in the cards at the moment, so it was exceedingly important. For me that everything in the five resets was science backed. Of course, since I am a physician and driven by the data. But most importantly for me that is like so, so important to me. And then the second tenet for me that I’ve really centered my workaround is that everything can be done in the privacy of your own home or at work or wherever, but no one is going to know. There’s a sense of discretion also, because I’ve had many patients who are high-powered people or have jobs that require them to be forward-facing in some way, shape or form. Many of us have jobs where workplaces, you know, if you say, hey, I’m going to just do a 15-minute meditation, I’m going to go in that room and I’ll be back. Um, that’s not really looked upon favorably.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:57:27] So in the moment, things have to be, you know, you have to be able to do certain things like these breathing exercises. That’s a great example. And other strategies in the five resets, you have to be able to do them anywhere. So one exercise. So there are several breathing exercises I offer. But one particular exercise, as you were telling the story of being a high-powered lawyer and picking up that phone, that Pavlovian response, you know, where you hear the ring and that’s it. Your sympathetic system starts going into overdrive. I, too, had that response when I was seeing patients and I was going. I was a medical resident, and I was going from room to room to room. And then you entered the room and it was a whole nother story, and it was a lot of stress. And then you had to manage it as the physician. Then you would go to the next room and the same thing would happen. And so I learned a wonderful technique called stop, breathe and be. And that is what I’ve did right before that highly triggering moment. So as I would and I talk about this in the five resets, in fact, when you were sharing your story about the phone, I thought, wow, if only you had known about stop, breathe and be to many years ago, you know? But it’s usually helpful when you have a repeated action that you do throughout the day. But it doesn’t have to be so in this day and age.


Aditi Nerurkar: [00:58:46] You know, when you right before you click join meeting for zoom, because you know what’s going to happen when you join that meeting and you know all of the stress, etc. but stop, breathe and be is a three-second exercise. It taps into your mind body connection. It helps you get back into diaphragmatic breathing, and it can literally reset your stress in the moment. But also when you practice it repeatedly over time at baseline. And the stop breathe be method is very easy. You stop, you breathe, take a deep breath, and you be focus on your feet, on the floor. Put your mind where your feet are. Initially when I was starting stop, breathe and be. I would do this in a busy clinical practice wearing a white coat, and I would whisper it to myself under my breath as I knocked on the door. There were people all around me. No one knew I was practicing. Stop. Breathe. Be. As I got better. I didn’t have to whisper that to myself. I could just say to myself internally, stop, breathe and be. It was a moment to feel grounded, create a sense of calm and presence before I entered the room. Because when I would enter the room, I would hear the story the patient was wanting to share, and it would often cause a lot of stress for the patient. You know, your help wanting you’re there to serve and to help. And so stop, breathe, be was my way of tapping into my mind body connection for the first time. It was the gateway exercise for me to learn about the mind body connection, because at that time, now I am a seasoned meditator.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:00:14] I’ve been meditating for 20-plus years, but at the time I was not a meditator. The thought of sitting still for 5 minutes or 10 minutes was excruciatingly painful and uncomfortable to me. It was certainly something that I have worked up to. Now I can meditate for 40 minutes now, but it has taken 25 years. So stop, breathe and be was my way to tap into my breath, mind, body, connection and to my sense of presence in the here and now. So that is the first strategy in this reset because it sets the stage again. Many people have never heard of the mind body connection. Sounds very woo-woo. How do you tap into it? I have a stressful job. I have three children. I have lots of demands on my time. How am I going to be able to do this woo-woo stuff living in my life? And so again, you know, these strategies can be done right in the middle of your messy, overscheduled, chaotic life. You can practice, stop, breathe, be in your workplace and it will work because it’s the science of stress. And like we talked about, you know, when you are focusing on your breathing and getting that deep belly breathing, it triggers a different reaction and cascade of chemicals in your brain and your body that directly offset the cascade of reactions that are happening with the fight or flight response. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [01:01:40] Make so much sense. And you and I both speak. We both keynote and I actually do that very technique generally just before I get on stage. And, you know, I’ve been doing it long enough so that I’m generally pretty comfortable. There’s always a little bit of like, you know, like there’s an energy there in me, but I especially if it’s a newer or bigger audience and a venue I haven’t been in or I’m bringing out a new topic. You know, it’s the first couple of times I’ve done it, I will do that exact same thing and literally takes five seconds maybe. And you feel it like you it feels like, how could you possibly feel differently? But I can tell you, I’ve been doing it for years and I do. Me too. I do want to touch on the final two resets. Also, the fourth one you describe as coming up for air, and I feel like to a certain extent, some of the things that we’ve talked about also play into this. But you also speak to the notion of monotasking. And I think a lot of us have heard, you know, how multitasking is not necessarily the badge of honor that like it once was held up to be. But maybe we don’t really understand how it affects us on a psychological and physiological level.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:02:44] It’s one of my most common questions that I get about multitasking and monotasking. So multitasking is a scientific misnomer. There is no such thing when you are multitasking. What you are essentially doing is task switching. You’re doing two separate tasks in rapid succession, even though 100% of human beings, including me and likely you, think that we are excellent multitaskers, only 2% of human brains effectively can multitask. So what does multitasking do? And unfortunately, our modern world, and particularly the workplace. But even home life and parenting is built on multitasking. It’s really considered a badge of honor. Multitasking weakens cognition, memory, attention, and your productivity, ironically enough, because you are multitasking, thinking it’s making you more productive when in fact it is not. It also weakens your prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain right behind your forehead that we’ve talked about quite extensively weakens your ability to solve complex problems in the world. I don’t know about you, but life for me is filled with complex problems that I’m trying to solve. As it is for many people. We can’t really afford to multitask. And so the question I get is, okay, you don’t want me to multitask, I get it. So what am I supposed to do? I have a slack channel. I have emails that I have to do. I have four projects that are the priority. Everything is a priority, right? Instead of multitasking, the antidote is monotasking doing one thing at a time.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:04:20] But in our modern life, with work and parenting and just life in general, monotasking doesn’t seem to even make sense. How can you use this science and apply it to your everyday life, which is chaotic and overscheduled and just messy? You can begin monotasking in your work at home, wherever, by focusing on a technique called time blocking. And time blocking is how I wrote the five resets. Time blocking is how I manage my entire day. I learned time blocking in medical school, when I had to consume vast amounts of information and retain information, and I just didn’t know how else. And so essentially, time blocking is focusing on one task for a short amount of time. Start at five minutes at the end of that five-minute period time. It by the way, like set a timer. I explain step by step, set a timer at the end of that five-minute period, take a short walk or get up and stretch. Do something intentional 30s a minute, then start your second task again. Five minutes build up and then take a break again. And so it’s task break, task break, task break. Start at five-minute increments. Move up to ten minutes. Over time. Maybe you’ll get to 15 or 20-minute increments where you can sit and focus. What you will notice is at the end of that hour, instead of multitasking and doing those four projects all at once at different times in the tabs are popping up and you’re responding to emails, etc., which weakens productivity, cognition, memory, attention, all of the things we talked about because you are quote-unquote task switching, not multitasking.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:06:03] There’s no such thing. Instead, when you mono task in that one hour, you have completed four tasks. You might not have completed them fully, but you’ve certainly made headway on all of your projects. You have given your brain a sense of a break in between, and we can talk about biologically what that does. And you have preserved your brainpower and the prefrontal cortex. So now personally, I can mono-task for 45 minutes at a time, and then I take a 5 to 10-minute break. I never go past 45 or 50 minutes, I would say. But when. I started, I could only multitask for five minutes because there was that pull of like, I have to do all of these things. I can very proudly say, I used to wear the proud badge of honor, that I was a multitasker. Knowing the science and knowing what I know now, I can very proudly say that I wear the badge of being a reformed multitasker and truly owning my monotasking abilities. It is so easy to get sucked back in, of course, so you have to stay vigilant. But there are so many benefits to monotasking and it can be incorporated into a busy, overscheduled life.


Jonathan Fields: [01:07:18] Yeah, I love that.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:07:19] The importance of taking breaks and the reason why monotasking and time blocking is so important, and giving yourself that break between tasks is because the science has shown that breaks aren’t just a nice to have these breaks, so anywhere from 10s to ten minutes can decrease the cumulative effect of stress throughout the day. And it changes your brain. And, you know, brain studies with brain scans have found this.


Jonathan Fields: [01:07:44] That makes a lot of sense. I love the the idea of time-blocking. It’s something I’ve started doing just in the last few years. I moved away from the quote to-do list, and so my schedule now looks like there are blocks of time, but those times have very particular projects or tasks assigned to them. And like you, I started smaller. And like over time you just sort of like it’s like building the muscle. I feel like you build the muscle to be able to really push it a little bit longer and longer and longer. But an agreed, I may think that I’m being effective past about 45 minutes, but at the end of the day, I kind of know that unless I’ve taken a break, unless I’ve snuck something in there, you know, I may be looking at my screen and my fingers may be typing something in there, but you know, it’s not what it needs to be. I just need to kind of like check out for a little bit. And I think that brings us nicely also to the fifth and final reset, bringing yourself your best self forward, which also feels a little bit like the accumulation of a lot of what we’ve been talking about, but with some additional ideas in there. One of the things that you talk about under this reset is the notion of expressive writing or expressive journaling. I thought it was really interesting. I’ve recently been doing a deep dive into James Pennebaker’s research, expressive journaling, and very, very specific approach to it after like looking at all different forms of journaling. And it is really fascinating to see there’s a very, very strong body of replicated science behind these practices that show how profound the effect can be, which I didn’t realize until fairly recently.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:09:09] Expressive writing. Again, you know, all of these strategies that I talk about in the five resets I have used myself when I was going through my stress struggle. As a early medical trainee, I have taught many patients, and expressive writing is one of them. It has a robust amount of literature to support it. James Pennebaker is a psychologist who developed the technique. Expressive writing or therapeutic writing is essentially for four consecutive days. You sit down with a pen or a pencil and a paper, and you set a timer for 20 to 25 minutes and you freehand write whatever traumatic event that you’ve experienced or something that you’re facing, and you just write about that event or that experience. And then when the time’s up, you stop writing and you do it again on day two, three, and four. You will likely notice that on day two, you will have an acutely heightened sense of negativity as you’re writing, and then it works itself out on day three and day four. Therapeutic writing or expressive writing has been found to decrease medical symptoms. It has been found to decrease E.R. visits, believe it or not, increase your GPA. I mean, the data is so vast and it has looked at so many patient populations, college people, elderly people with chronic medical conditions, athletes. It runs the gamut and the findings are always the same. Therapeutic writing has a profound impact on your brain and your body. It can decrease your stress, your sense of burnout, increase your sense of true resilience, not toxic resilience. And it can make a profound difference simply, you know.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:10:51] And Doctor James Pennebaker talks about the reasons why, but simply because you’re giving yourself that time complete privacy. No one is reading your things. And the other really important instruction with therapeutic writing is to use a pen or pencil and not type up the, you know, reflection, the 20 to 25 minutes that you’re writing. Because our brains use a different neural circuitry when we write versus when we type, which is why, for example, you write your grocery list on a Post-it and you go to the grocery store, you lose the Post-it, but you still remember, oddly enough, everything that was on that list. But if you type it into your phone and say you leave your phone at home, it’s gone. You don’t remember anything. So you’re using a different neural circuitry when you’re writing. Many of us don’t really write that often. We mostly type. I try to be as paperless as. They can, but particularly for therapeutic writing. I will use scrap paper and find a pen or a pencil and practice it. I have been using therapeutic writing since I learned about it during my stress struggle, during my medical training, and I’ve used it for all sorts of things, and it really makes it just, you know, it makes a big difference. It’s almost I would describe it as like, it’s like you get out of your own way and you work it out, but you don’t even realize you’re working it out. It’s just 20 to 25 minutes of writing for consecutive days. It’s magic I love.


Jonathan Fields: [01:12:13] Also like reflecting back on earlier in our conversation, when you talk about doing things on the side just for you and nobody else. This is also part of like the instructions with this approach to expressive writing is like you’re not writing to actually like keep this and reflect back on it or like to, you know, write your memoir one day or to show anybody else like this is 100% for you. I’ve even heard part of the instructions offered as in some way destroy what you’ve written shortly after, because this is not the intention, is not to go back and sort of like keep rehashing or building on it, or like turning this into something or building a conversation with other people. This is entirely just a process of you getting it out in a way that, for whatever reason, has been shown over. I think it’s over a thousand studies now to be profoundly therapeutic in nearly every aspect of life.


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:13:01] Yeah. It’s cathartic. I always shred what I write. I usually write on scrap paper. I try to be green. So I’m, you know, if there’s something that’s come out of the printer that I save all of those papers, and then I practice therapeutic writing, and then it goes right in the shredder.


Jonathan Fields: [01:13:14] So you never have to worry about, like, you know what? If somebody hears like, or sees my darkest thoughts or, like, this thing that I’ve been hiding for 30 years. Um, it’s entirely for you. And I love that. I love the idea of zooming out, you know, that normalizing stress, this is something that it’s a part of our lives. It’s going to be a part of our lives. It is not you going through it alone. Everybody is going through their version of it, whether they voice it or share it or not, and that there are simple things that every single person can do that are accessible, that are free, that are non-obtrusive, that can make a real difference both in the moment and over time. Um, it feels like a good place for us to sort of come full circle in our conversation as well. So zooming the lens out even further in this container of Good Life Project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Aditi Nerurkar: [01:14:07] I think understanding, you know, this is in response to what you were saying, understanding that the goal is not to live a life with zero stress because that’s biologically impossible. It’s to live a life with healthy, manageable stress and to really shift what’s happening in your brain and body away from that unhealthy, maladaptive, unproductive and dysfunctional stress. Back to balance so that your brain and body can do what they have always intended to do, not just survive, but in fact thrive.


Jonathan Fields: [01:14:40] Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode Safe bet, you’ll also love the conversation we had with Stephen and Seth Porges about safety, stress, and your nervous system. You’ll find a link to their episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and Me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.


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