So, we made it.
It’s the end of January.
I don’t know about you, but generally, this is right about the time I start to feel pangs of guilt.
Guilty about not making proper New Year’s resolutions.
Guilty about not keeping the ones I did make.
Guilty about feeling guilty.
What’s a girl to do?
I turned to my brilliant friend, Dr. Samantha Boardman.
Sam, as her friends call her, recently wrote the most brilliant book, Everyday Vitality.
In it, she gives practical advice on how all of us can achieve vitality, the positive energy that’s at the core of having a great day, every day.
Two years into a global pandemic, what are you waiting for?
Aren't you ready to inject some vitality into your life?
ALINA CHO: So, let's talk resolutions. I’m feeling guilty about not making enough resolutions, not keeping the ones I made and it's only January. How do you avoid putting yourself in a situation where you're setting yourself up to fail?
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: We often take this deficit approach to resolutions; we are trying to do something less of that we dislike about ourselves. We’re already setting ourselves up then for failure because it's really no fun. There is so little motivation to say, "I want to do less of this thing that I actually probably kind-of like doing." If we choose something we want to start doing, we're probably going to be much more successful at it.
ALINA CHO: Such as…
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Instead of saying, "Gee, I'd like to go to the gym for two hours every single day for the rest of my life," it might be, "I'm going to try to go for a walk outside with my friend every Saturday morning at 10 o'clock in the morning."
Make it realistic, make it doable and try to make it fun. Do something with somebody else. You're much more likely to stick to it.
ALINA CHO: Well, that makes perfect sense.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: And the other suggestion Katy Milkman has from the University of Pennsylvania is temptation bundle. Like, if there's something that you really like doing, like if you love reading Alina's Bulletin, or you love listening to this podcast, then only allow yourself to do it when you are walking in the park.
ALINA CHO: Oh, that's so smart.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: So, if there's a show you like to watch, then only let yourself watch it while you're on the treadmill.
I think those temptation bundles can be really fun.
ALINA CHO: Totally.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Also, expect setbacks. We are going to have days where you just can't do it, where it's just not going to work out.
ALINA CHO: So, what do you do? Because I think a lot of people, they make a resolution, they think, “Oh, God, I've failed at it already. I'm a failure."
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Any type of behavior change, like anything that we do, you've got to expect setbacks, and that's part of the process. Be a little bit more forgiving of yourself. Instead of throwing in the towel, that can be really tempting to be like…
ALINA CHO: “I’m giving up."
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: So, interesting research has shown that if you can just show up to that next one — and it might be even rewarding yourself, it might be giving yourself a $5 award, ordering your favorite food. Reward yourself for showing up the next time to do that thing.
ALINA CHO: Because that will get you to the one after that.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: And don't forget that you have many opportunities for a fresh start. It isn't just New Year's Day. We have something called the fresh start effect — any Monday, any first of the month, your birthday, there's so many opportunities for fresh starts.
Tomorrow, by the way, is a good one. So just keep that in mind.
ALINA CHO: I'm curious to know, in speaking to your patients, what did you notice during COVID that changed in terms of psyche?
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Well, at the very beginning of the pandemic, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of my patients, especially with anxiety, were actually doing well.
ALINA CHO: You wrote about that.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: But I've got to say now, as [COVID has] worn on, and we're now in the fifth phase of the seventh variant…
ALINA CHO: Exactly, I've lost track.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: If there's a word, I would say exhausted would be that word.
ALINA CHO: 100 percent.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: I’m just seeing now that anxiety is the word of the year. What I'm really sensing in my patient population is exhaustion, that stamina that they were sort-of bringing to it all. It's just kind-of living this as soon as kind-of life. Well, as soon as this is over, as soon as everyone's vaccinated, or as soon as the election is over, or as soon as whatever. And those goal posts, they just keep moving.
ALINA CHO: Well, this is the thing.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: It was so amazing how literally the Thursday of Thanksgiving, everything seemed okay. And then Friday, you're like, “Wait, how do we say that word, Omicron?” And how we really felt quite blindsided.
ALINA CHO: It felt like things changed overnight.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: We know you're going to have a lot of hassles in your everyday life. Find some uplifts, because we do know that we are primed to pay attention to what's wrong. That's what lodges in our brains.
ALINA CHO: Of course.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: We beat ourselves up about all that stuff we didn't get done. We have to be very deliberate more than ever right now about finding those uplifts, creating them, noticing them, sharing them, embracing them.
ALINA CHO: Well, you wrote in your book about this delight radar.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Yes!
ALINA CHO: So, essentially, [philosopher Ross Gay, in his book, The Book of Delights] found that the more he searched for delight or delightful things in his life, the more he found them.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: And it was the most lovely essays he wrote every single day for a year about the most mundane things. We think that our lives are going to be defined by those big moments, but when people actually write down the little things that happen each day, that's what makes you smile. It's the mundane, it's the ordinary. And it's so easy to forget when we are just lost and trying to keep our heads above water. But there are little moments of ordinary delight every day.
ALINA CHO: The title of your book is Everyday Vitality. What is vitality and how do you achieve it?
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Vitality really is a marker to me of everyday wellbeing. So, what gives people vitality? It really boils down to three essential factors. It’s when you feel you are contributing to something beyond yourself, when you're feeling connected to others, and when you feel challenged in a positive way.
ALINA CHO: You also talk about these so-called pebbles in your shoe. And it goes back to this amazing Muhammad Ali quote, where he said,
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: I think most of us expect that it's the major life events that flatten people.
ALINA CHO: Death in the family, divorce, something like that.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Loss of a job. But research shows most people are resilient to those big, bad monsters. But what we're less resilient with is those pebbles in our shoe. Those little things that are just pummeling us at all times. And I think the pandemic has just opened up that blizzard of pebbles.
ALINA CHO: It’s getting your coffee order wrong at Starbucks. It's your umbrella breaking in the middle of a storm. They add up.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: They really, really do. And that's where this idea of vitality I realized was so critical because people who had vitality were just less flattened by those pebbles.
ALINA CHO: So, what are three to five things that every person can do to achieve more vitality in their lives? One thing that really stuck with me was that you said a 30-minute walk, three times a week has been shown to reduce depression.
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Just go outside, be in nature.
We often assume, “Oh, I've just had a long day. I need to recover. I'm going to sit on my couch and watch another streaming series for the next six hours on a Saturday."
ALINA CHO: Well, you call those empty calories, right?
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Yes, it’s like junk food. Doing 15 minutes of aerobic exercise, or walking, is going to be more revitalizing for you. Just sitting up straight, your posture, changing your body and how your body is existing in the world. Not slumping, slouching, looking at your phone. When you're with other people, put your phone away.
Because you are, by definition, diluting the quality of a conversation you're having with others if [your phone is] just sitting there or you're constantly checking it.
ALINA CHO: You have a rule at your house, no phones at the dinner table, right?
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: No phones at the table. I think half of Americans could describe the website they recently looked at better than they could describe a person's eye color. So, it just shows you what we're paying attention to.
ALINA CHO: Bottom line is we are what we do, right?
DR. SAMANTHA BOARDMAN: Yes, yes. Thank you for saying that. We often think that we are what we think, but I think we are what we do. This idea that, oh, happiness is all in your head. No, it's in the actions we take and the connections we make. Our actions can really determine very much how we feel. And when we embody vitality, I think we are more resilient in our everyday lives.