Ep 9 - The Five Resets: A Harvard Physician's Insights on Stress and Balance

WLE Ep9 YoutTube

On this episode Priya and Paul are joined by Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a Harvard physician, nationally recognized stress expert, and author of the book "Rewire Your Brain for Less Stress and More Joy." Dr. Nerurkar shares invaluable insights from her years of expertise working with patients on managing stress and burnout. She debunks the myth of multitasking, explaining how our brains are wired for "monotasking" and provides actionable strategies like time blocking to boost productivity. She also offers empowering advice for working mothers navigating the impossible demands placed on them. Whether you're looking to rewire your relationship with stress or simply live with more joy, this candid conversation with the insightful Dr. Nerurkar provides a roadmap for lasting change.

Read the full transcript

00:00:05 – Commercial  
Welcome to The Work-Life Equation, hosted by Priya Krishnan and Paul Sullivan. During this episode, you will hear from working parents just like you who understand the daily struggles and triumphs while finding our unique work-life equation. Now, here are your hosts. 

00:00:24 - Priya Krishnan 
Hello everyone, and welcome to The Work-Life Equation podcast. I'm Priya Krishnan, one of the co-hosts, and I'm the Chief Digital and Transformation Officer at Bright Horizons. 

00:00:33 - Paul Sullivan 
And I'm Paul Sullivan, your other co-host and the founder of The Company of Dads. 

00:00:38 - Priya Krishnan 
Our guest today is Dr. Aditi Nerurkar Thank you for being here, Dr. Aditi. She's a Harvard physician, a nationally recognized stress expert, and an author of the five. Rewire your brain and body for less stress and more joy. Dr. Nerurkar wears many hats. She's an in demand multimedia personality. She's a high profile medical correspondent, internationally renowned Fortune 50 speaker, and a co-host of popular podcast Timeout with our friend Eva Rodsky. Her unique background fulfills her original career ambition to be a journalist and as an Indian born us based physician and researcher. She's been featured in many major publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Oprah magazine, and has more than 300 appearances as a medical commentator on networks like MSNBC, CNN, NBC and ABC. She will be sharing her amazing, valuable insights on managing stress for her years of expertise working with patients. Welcome today to the show, Dr. Nerurkar. 

00:01:47 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
It is such a pleasure to join you both, truly. 

00:01:52 - Paul Sullivan 
You know, doctor, why don't we start off? I mean, both Priya and I read your book. We loved your book. I think we're complete fans and maybe we were sort of, you know, fighting over here as to who was the bigger super fan before you came on. So you've got a receptive audience in us, but it is so actionable. But as a writer myself, it is so incredibly well written and readable. So I'm just, I'm amazed. I'm in awe. I'm going to be recommending everyone. But for those who haven't read the book yet, maybe you could just start by talking about, you know, briefly what the five resets are. And, you know, how people need to think about, you know, stress as, as you said in the book, something that is natural. And even though it's natural, it's something that we don't often share with other people. We try to hide that we're feeling the stress. We don't want it to be out in the open, but when you get it out in the open, you know, what are those five resets that can help people manage their stress a bit better. 

00:02:51 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
So when I was thinking about writing a book, this book has been 25 years in the making. And I was a stressed patient looking for answers before I became a doctor with an expertise on stress. And in my clinical practice of working with patients with stress management and burnout and other mental health conditions, what I realized is that there are five main mindset shifts and that is what the five resets are. It's a way to reframe your stress and burnout and to really think about things in a new and different way. Like you said, one of the first resets and the premise for this book is that not all stress is created equal and there's good stress and bad stress. And the goal of life is not to live a life with zero stress. It's actually biologically impossible is to live a life with healthy, manageable stress. So the five resets comes out of my own personal struggle as a stressed medical resident working 80 hours a week, then becoming a doctor with an expertise on stress. And the five resets has five mindset shifts and 515 science backed strategies. And everything is science backed. And the really important thing for me is that everything is free. Because I have been a clinician for many years and patients of all walks of life and varying resources were coming to see me to manage stress and burnout because these are universal phenomenon that have affected everyone disproportionately. Working parents. I am one of that cohort. In fact, I am a bright horizons alum. I have loved bright horizons from the time that I was, you know, early. We sent our daughter to bright horizons, I think at age one. And so for me, writing this book was really my way of giving back to the scientific community, but also my patients more than anything, because they have taught me so much about their healing journeys. And I am a vault of information, right? Like, as a doctor, we keep it all in the vault. So many stories of pain to person. And so this is really a tribute to them, and particularly now, because we know that stress is at unprecedented levels and we are seeing higher than ever rates of stress and burnout across industry. And so writing this book felt like, you know, the time was now to really do it. We can go through the five resets if you would like. But I also just wanted to kind of paint that broader picture of why I wanted to write the book, why it's important for now. And hopefully, thank you for saying that. It's actionable. I wanted it to be free and accessible to everyone. Very practical. So nothing, I suggest, has a cost and also time sensitive because we are busy working people and really raising children and taking care of elderly relatives and working, and whether you work inside the home or outside the home, and really, we all lead such over scheduled, busy lives, and to really manage our stress in the moment is very difficult. And we can talk about biologically why that is. And so everything in this book, I want it to feel tangible and practical for people. When you have a wide gap between where you are and where you'd like to go, if it's too wide, you kind of give up. And I think that's what's happened to many people who are feeling stress and burnout. They think, oh, this is just how life is supposed to be. But in fact, you can reset your stress and burnout in the middle of your messy, over scheduled life through the five resets. 

00:06:31 - Priya Krishnan 
And you can, you know, given me claim to be the bigger fans, and I will. I will still fight him for the fact that I'm the bigger fan. I think everyone should go out there and buy your book. Maybe one of us can play back the five resets. But what I'd love for, you know, the fact that you made it so simple, one rule of five is great. You can count them on the fingers of one hand. As an early childhood practitioner, that's important for you to say. It's easy and actionable. So the fact that it's, you know, you talk about most, which is motivating, it's objective, it is smart, it's timely, and it's actionable. Setting boundaries with your devices and your life in general. Talking about the mind body connection, which for me was very, very real, and I think you were putting words to what one feels on an ongoing basis and then talking about your, you know, the notion of multitasking and how it isn't a real thing, and we as humans are not meant to multitask and how you translate that to task switching and gratitude and journaling. But one really important aspect that you brought about was the rule of two and the resilience around the rule of two. I do think anyone who's read the book will find the 15 actions really practical, but the rule of two was the one that really appealed to me. Would you mind talking about that a little bit? 

00:07:56 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
Of course. So the resilience rule of two is how your brain responds to change when you are feeling a sense of an eagerness to change and you have a lot of stress and burnout and you want to make a change. These are positive changes, but in fact, your brain registers any change, whether it be positive or negative, as a stress. And that is why we can't sustain huge lifestyle overhauls during periods of stress. You know, think back to early 2020 when we were all in lockdown. I know that's an era that no one wants to revisit, but you might have had huge, lofty goals, like, I don't know. My goals were build a farmhouse table from scratch, learn Italian, learn to play the guitar, and all of these, you know, write a book. None of that happened. And now it's a wonder that you can wear clean clothes, shower and eat a little vegetables. Like that is a win. That's a day where you say to yourself, yourself, oh, that's a win. It's because we've just sustained a massive lifestyle overhaul. And when you are feeling a sense of stress and burnout, particularly now, after that acute period is over, we can talk about the delayed stress reaction after this. When you are in the midst of wanting to make change for yourself, your brain can only handle two new changes at a time. So you're right, Priya. We have, you know, particularly we're going to talk about these 15 scientific strategies that you can use, but in fact, you can only adopt them two at a time. If you do too much, it's just a lost cause. So think back to, you know, at the start of this year, so many of us, we make New Year's resolutions, and you might have 15 or 20 New Year's resolutions that you really want to put forth, and then by February, maybe doing one or zero, because it's just too much for your brain. So the rule of two states, do two small changes at a time. If you want those changes to be sustainable, understand that it takes eight weeks to build a habit. And part of habit formation is falling off the wagon and getting back up. It is not a personal failing, it is just how your brain is built. And then after those eight weeks, you can add another two habits and another two habits, and on and on we go. So you will get through all of the strategies in the five resets, but you do them two at a time, because that is how you break. Your brain will work best to bring change into your life. When you work with your biology rather than against it, you have the greatest chance for these changes to become sustainable rather than falling off. 

00:10:26 - Paul Sullivan 
You know, one of the stories you tell in the book that I really liked is you're giving a talk and this fellow comes and picks you up in his car there. And he says, you know, what's wrong with me? Like, in the beginning of the pandemic, I was able to keep together. I knew what I had to do. I'd say, okay, it was only two or three weeks. And now that whenever it was a couple years afterwards, he was really struggling with it. You talk about the delayed stress response, and we think about how we worked and lived for better or worse. Before the pandemic, it was fairly set. Most people went to an office, and that's where they worked. Most people came home and you ride on one of a place like bright horizons for childcare, and you figure things out. But now it's so much more fluid. Some people within the same organization are going in five days a week. Some people are working fully remote. Some people are working hybrid. It's a lot more difficult for us to shut off before either starting really early or working really late. And those boundaries have really fallen apart, which for many people has increased the amount of stress that they're living with. And as you say in the book, probably sharing with many of their coworkers, even if they don't verbally share it, you know, they're all feeling a similar amount of stress. Now that we're four years in a post pandemic, talk about some strategies that both individuals and organizations can do almost on a structural level to help people, you know, adjust and adapt to this, you know, new normal, next normal, and get their stress back to a more manageable normal level. 

00:11:58 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
Yeah, it's a great question. So, you know, all of us, the three of us sitting here today, are facing a higher level of stress and burnout than where we were, let's say, in 2019. In fact, when you look at the data in a room of 30 people, 21 people are struggling with stress and burnout. So if you feel this way, you are not alone, and it is not your fault. Data shows that across industries, 70% of people, more or less, are struggling with stress and burnout. The delayed stress reaction, the story that I shared in the book of me driving to a talk and someone taking me there, and this was in 20. 2023, I believe. 2022, I believe. And so he was feeling a lot of shame about the fact that he didn't feel great. And so many of us are not feeling great right now. We are feeling a sense of burnout and stress. Our mental health has deteriorated. And yet societal messaging is like, we're out of the pandemic. We're out of the woods. We should be celebrating. In fact, every headline for the past several years, since 2020, has promised us the roaring twenties. After that time of pandemic lockdown, it's like, let's just make it through and then we can celebrate. Yet it feels absolutely not celebratory right now at all. And so when your lived experience feels like very much the anti celebration, and yet you're getting these messages about celebrating, of course you're going to start saying, hey, is there something wrong with me? What's going on? In fact, there is nothing right with. There's nothing wrong with you and everything right with you, because that is how your brain works. When you are going through an acute stressor, like many of us were in 2020, we shore up our internal reserves and we keep it together at all costs is just how the brain works. That's not to say people weren't struggling with their mental health, stress and burnout during that time, but that number was particularly small. When the acute crisis passes and we feel psychologically safe, our guard comes down and our true emotions can emerge. And it's often like a dam breaking because we had kept everything pent up. And so if you are feeling worse now in 2024 than you were in 2020, that is called a normal. It's called the delayed stress reaction, and it's a normal, healthy biological process. The only way around is through. And then you can get to the roaring twenties. But this is how our brain works. In fact, with my patients with cancer, they would come into my office and they would be, of course, stunned and very sad with that initial diagnosis. And they would come to see me every week or every month, and they would be getting their chemotherapy, radiation treatments, never shed a tear. The oncologist would give them a clean bell of health and say, congratulations, you're cancer free. Go out and celebrate. They would be in my office the next week sobbing because they said that. What's going on? Why do I feel worse now? And it was very therapeutic for them, for our conversation, because first you have to normalize and validate that difficult experience because it doesn't make sense. Why are you feeling worse now? Like with my patients? Why were they feeling worse with that clean bill of health after they went through that process? Or why are we feeling worse now after we've come through a really difficult time? That acute stressor is over. It's because we have all started to feel more psychologically safe and our true emotions have started to emerge. And so I would say give it another year or two. If you are really struggling, of course, see a therapist, see your doctor, start medication if you need to, but read the five resets to start bringing some of these in. When I say give it a year or two, I don't mean for you to feel better. Of course, it takes about three months to see a change. But I mean, you know, give the world collectively, we need a year or two to really work through all of this stuff as a society and a global whole, because we have all suffered. It's the great equalizer, stress and burnout. 

00:15:53 - Priya Krishnan 
So one of the things that you spoke about in the book is around toxic resilience, right? So talking about the fact that, and you should talk about it because you've spoken about it so well, but the fact that we're all built to say that this is a badge of honor and being able to cope with something that we've been raised to believe that that is the normal. So, you know, for our listeners, especially working parents, I think normalizing that conversation would be really helpful. So if you could talk through toxic resilience and your advice for working parents would be incredible. 

00:16:30 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
Absolutely. And I am a working parent, so this particularly hits home for me. You know, the true scientific definition of resilience is your innate biological ability to adapt, recover, and grow in the face of life's challenges. Everyone is resilient as an individual. It's the systems that burn us out. And for many years, you would hear that word resilience. And it was a positive word. It had a positive connotation. However, over the past several years, particularly after 2020. But, you know, think about 20. 212-022-2023 when you hear that word resilience, whether it's in your workplace with a demanding boss or in, at home, you know, in society, out there in your communities, you bristle at the word. It's very cringey. It's a cringeworthy word now. In fact, it's part of, it's a word in my subtitle of the book. But I really spent time thinking about whether I wanted to include this on the COVID of the book, because I have the same visceral reaction when I see the word resilient. I roll my eyes and I say, are you serious? You're going to teach me to be more resilient? I've already. I've been through this. I know what resilience is. I'm here, standing here, right, because so many people can't say that. The reason that most of us now that word resilience has such a negative connotation is because it's morphed into something more sinister. It is now toxic resilience. So true. Resilience honors your boundaries, understands your human limitations, really celebrates your ability to say no, and understands that your brain and body need rest and recovery. It's a biological need. However, toxic resilience is a mind over matter mindset. It's productivity at all costs. And it's about just going on and on and on. It's a manifestation of hustle culture. So every society has some, like some badge of honor, a poster child of toxic resilience. So in the US, we have the energizer bunny. Just keep going at all costs, just keep going. Put your head down and keep going. In the UK, keep calm and carry on. The famous slogan, those are manifestations of toxic resilience. And my readers have been sharing lots of fun and interesting. They're from all over the world. This book is now in 35 countries, and people are really sharing their own messages and cultural messages of toxic resilience. And it's fascinating. And so if there is one thing that you take away from this book or our conversation, it's that resilient people can get burned out. The data shows this so clearly. Resilience is protective, but it's not enough to prevent burnout. And so often we are living this resilience myth, right? If you feel a sense of stress and burnout, you are told, or it just is imbued in the culture, that, ah, you must not be that resilient if you're burnt out. The truth is that resilience sure has some element of protection. But we are in such an unprecedented time that if you are feeling a sense of burnout or stress, you are not the exception, you are the rule. And so I really challenge and debunk this idea of toxic resilience. As working parents, we are taught at the minute you become a parent, it's like you should work like you don't have a family, and you should parent like you don't have a job, right? We're told that over and over in so many different ways. And I just push back against this idea of toxic resilience because ultimately, just like I was sharing that story about the guy who came to pick me up in the car before the talk, and he felt bad, right? He felt a sense of shame and blame, saying, oh, I must not be that resilient because I feel a sense of burnout and stress. No, in fact, resilience is your innate biological ability. We all have. We all have resilience within us. You need a little bit of healthy stress for it to show itself. But resilience is something that is innately present in us. But it's the systems, whether it be parenting or corporate culture or work or the many impossible demands, you know, an impossible boss or these deadlines, those are the things that burn us out. But we innately are very resilient. And so it's important to recognize that when you are feeling a sense of stress and burnout, instead of berating yourself and saying, ah, must not be that resilient. Again, very normal to do. Instead, use a lens of self compassion and really be gentle with yourself, because that is the most effective way to move forward in your healing journey. 

00:21:00 - Paul Sullivan 
Doctor, I can't believe we're already at our commercial break here, so we're just going to have to take a quick pause. You're all listening, listening to Paul and Priya on The Work-Life Equation podcast. And we'll be right back. 

00:21:21 – Commercial  
What's more magical than a childhood filled with days of play, learning, exploration and discovery? At Bright Horizons, we think of childcare as a chance to help a child experience. Our teachers go beyond the usual ensuring your child has an enriching, satisfying day. They take the time to listen, engage, encourage, and celebrate the wins big and small. At Bright Horizons, we put the care in childcare. Visit brighthorizons.com to find a center near you. Welcome back to The Work-Life Equation with Priya Krishnan and Paul Sullivan. We hope you're enjoying this episode and are finding the stories empowering and inspirational. Now back to the show. 

00:22:13 - Paul Sullivan 
Welcome back to The Work-Life Equation podcast with Priya and Paul. Doctor, this is so fascinating. I'm just gonna hop right back into it. You know, I remember when I was a young dad, I had a good friend whose first child was born at the exact same time as my first child, whose second child was born at the exact same time as my second child. And we were out to dinner with this other dad who only had one child, and he was complaining, you know, how hard it was, how stressed out he was. And after he left, the two of us looked at each other rather smugly and said, you know, what does he know? He only has one. And pretty soon after that, I had my third child. And I immediately called up my friend and said, you got it easy, man. Two is nothing. I've got three. And it became a running joke that a true joke between I said, as parents, you always look at somebody who has one fewer children than you do and say, oh, they must have it easier than me. In your book you talk about how stress is so universal and that competitive stress, those are my words, not yours. Competitive stress is really harmful. When you start to say, like, how can that person be stressed out? He or she only has to do x. But I, on the other hand, I am stressed out, but I am doing this, or I was a former other athlete. This will pass. I can go through, how do we stop that competitive stress competition to see who is more stressed out and to move toward more of an acknowledgement that stress is universal. It's a response within the brain, whatever people may be dealing with at the same time, whether they're performing high risk brain surgery or doing any number of other things in the world, stress is real, it's present, and it's something that they can deal with and benefit from with the five resets. 

00:23:57 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
I think that gets back to that question of the stress paradox. And what is it, and why does it influence us in that, like you say, this competitive nature of stress, or, you know, clinically, we call it relative stress, right? Like, relatively speaking, my stress is different than your stress. So what is the stress paradox? I would see this all the time in my clinic. It would be a packed waiting room, people sitting shoulder to shoulder, everyone looking at their phones, patients or looking around, no one talking to each other or engaging. They would come into my office, the door would shut, and they would burst into tears. And then my 12:00 patient and my 1245 and my 130 and my 215, everyone would share their stress struggle with me. And I think so often stress and mental health in general, but particularly stress and burnout because of this resilience myth and the toxic resilience that we talked about, there is a sense of feeling very isolated when you're feeling a sense of stress, like, oh, no one can understand what I'm going through. This is so difficult. And you keep it to yourself. And I always used to say, if only in the waiting room, people could turn and say to each other and say, oh, you know, what's bothering you or what's bothering you? It's like we call it in clinical medicine, when people undergo group therapy, we call it the group effect, because there is this real active ingredient. When you are sitting together as a group and you've gone through a different difficult experience and you're sharing your story, and then the other person shares their story and you feel like, ah, it's normal. It really normalizes and validates that difficult experience of stress. Unfortunately, with stress and burnout both, we often are going through it altogether, but yet completely isolated. And so there's a real paradox there. And so I hope that the five resets, and in general, our collective sense of responsibility to ourselves and to each other, we can start talking more openly about our stress struggle. That is why, as a doctor, we are socialized to play small. So I never talk about with my patients. I've never talked about my personal anything. It is always about the patient. As you know, when you go to see your doctor, they might be having a bad day or something might be going on on their personal life, but they are there to serve you. And so for me, it was a real departure from my training to share my own personal stress story in the five resets, because I wanted to lead with that sense of vulnerability and authenticity. And I think that that is really the way forward if we want to overcome this idea of the stress paradox, because we are truly all universally struggling with stress and burnout, based on the sheer statistics. And to answer your question, Paul, more directly about the sense of relative stress, you know, my stress is bigger than your stress, or your stress is certainly bigger than my stress. I had a question. I was doing a talk last week, and someone asked me, there's all these humanitarian crises in the world, or climate crises in the world, right? So much strife in the world. How can my stress even matter? And my answer to that, and it's this moment in time. But there have been so many moments in time prior where different people are living different experiences. And your lived experience is very different from mine. When we think about the pandemic, and some people really suffered and lost loved ones and suffered greatly economically with their jobs and others did not. I think the key is to understand, first, come at this with the lens of self compassion. Understand that your. Your journey is valid and important because you have lived a certain way and you have had lots, you know, your upbringing, your stress response is really dependent on many things. It's not just one thing. It's multifactorial. So it is genetics. It is early childhood development. Your forte, guys. It is adverse events in childhood. It is things that happen to you, your brain, because of a process called neuroplasticity, which is that your brain is a muscle. Your brain is always changing and evolving based on external stimuli. So the way your life up until this point and how things have gone for you and the struggles that you face all shape your stress response. And so it is not fair to anyone to say that, you know, you go through this and you have this response, and I go through the same thing and have a different response. Which response is better? It's just, it's a case by case basis. Some people are naturally inclined to tolerate a higher level of stress based on the resilience myth. Right? Like this idea that different people have different tolerances. But that's not to say that, you know, you're suffering and your struggle. It doesn't have to. There's no contest here. It doesn't have to match someone else's struggling, struggle, or suffering. We are all suffering. You know, it's the human condition, the sense of stress and burnout, particularly now more than ever. Now, of course, I don't want to minimize. There are many parts of the world where people don't have, you know, there's food insecurity. They don't have a roof over their heads. They are concerned about climate, and, you know, they're just not feeling a sense of safety. And that is also. That's the acute stress. The amygdala is firing. That amygdala is a small almond shaped structure. We don't have to get into the science, but it's the small almond shaped structure deep in your brain that is responsible for the stress response, and it turns on or off. And so that is what's happening. But there are people who do have a roof over their head. They have plenty of food in their fridge and their pantry. They have a home. Home. And yet that amygdala is on, and they are feeling a sense of high alert. So it is really just very much dependent on so many things. I would say, give yourself lots of grace. If you're feeling a sense of stress. Give your others people that you may be either interacting with or people that you're seeing in other parts of the world, give them lots of grace with their stress response and understand that underlying all of this is this idea, this toxic resilience. It's like, oh, we should be more resilient. We can handle anything. No, I beg to differ. And I really would love for us to just dismantle this idea of a stress paradox. We are all suffering in our own unique ways. And when we come together in this conversation and really talk about the ways that we're struggling, I think we can find much more common ground. 

00:30:10 - Priya Krishnan 
Your notion of this solace and collective misery, it brought back this very deep seated memory of our oldest son was in the NICU when he was born. And, you know, the fact that the parents started sharing stories about what exactly? We were all in the hospital, you know, so we were all sharing our stories of what happened with our child. And then you suddenly have this realization that my problems are smaller than somebody else's, and there is comfort in that sharing. So it certainly, I wish we could all share it a lot more actively. I do want to switch us to another topic, which Hailey very close to home, because we are talking about the work life equation, the notion of sort of saying, how do you balance things? And when you talked about multitasking and the fact that there is no real thing called multitasking, we all focus on task switching. I'd love for you to talk about that, because that is, again, one of those things which is a paradox, and people believe and wear it as a badge of honor. My ability to mulch multitask, my ability to balance ten things that are going on at a point in time. So I love your perspective, and perhaps even talking about the three resets that within that topic just for people to take away and think about. 

00:31:27 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
So I am a recovered multitasker, Priya, and I wear that badge probably now, but for many years, decades, I was a multitasker, or rather, you know, task switcher. Because in the science, we have found that multitasking is a scientific misnomer. There is no such thing. Your brain is wired to do one thing at a time. And so when you are quote unquote multitasking, and when I use that word in our conversation, it should be in quotes. Right? Because there is no such thing as multitasking. When we are multitasking, what your brain is actually doing is task switching, meaning it is doing two separate tasks in rapid succession. In fact, the science shows that even though 100% of us, including me back then, you know, you pride yourself on being an excellent multitasker, even though 100% of us think that we're excellent multitaskers, the truth is, only 2% of human brains can effectively multitask. The irony in the science is that multitasking is something that is very much, like you said, a bad, a badge of honor. But ironically, multitasking isn't something that's good for your brain. It is detrimental for your brain, certainly for your stress and burnout. Multitasking weakens an area in your brain called the prefrontal cortex. And if you put your hand on your forehead, it's the area right behind your forehead. Not to get too scientific, but the prefrontal cortex, its main function is memory, planning, organization, cognition, attention, complex problem solving. These are really important features for our day to day life. And another really important thing that the prefrontal cortex does is helps with productivity, so what you are doing when you are multitasking, or rather task switching, is that you are weakening the prefrontal cortex. All of these functions that we talked about, productivity, ironically, complex problem solving, attention, cognition, memory, strategic thinking, forward planning, all of these are weakened. And instead, the antidote to multitasking is, in fact, something called monotasking. And when I suggest that to people, you know, try to monotask, if the first reaction I get is, like, I met with, like, eyes rolling and scoffing, like, come on, get real. Like, I can't multi. I can't monotask. It's, I'm a working person, I'm a working parent, and there's no way. It's, like, not even part of my vocabulary. Monotasking, you can monotask by doing a couple of things. So there's a time, there's a technique I write about in the five resets called time blocking. And so let's say you have. Because in modern culture, right, like in our work life, monotasking is absolutely frowned upon. Multitasking is what's celebrated. You open up your screen, there's your slack channel going, your emails, multiple meetings and dings and bells and whistles all at once. That's just at work. Forget even what's happening at home, and the teacher emailing you, etcetera, your spouse or your partner or your kid. And so how can you mono task in this modern age? And how can you use that science of monotasking in your everyday life? You can do it by practicing something called time blocking. So let's say you have an hour to complete four tasks, and what you would normally do is just work on those four tasks at the same time. Now, we know that multitasking is a myth. Your brain cannot do that, and it's wired to do one thing at a time. And so instead, I lay it all out, you know, in the five resets. But I'm happy to talk about it here. It's that we. So you have four tasks to do. And let's say you work on one for ten or 15 minutes, and then you take a short break, two, three minute break, then work on task two for ten or 15 minutes, take a two or three minute break, and then task three, and then task four, making sure that you take breaks in the middle. The key is that at the end of that hour, you will have made progress on every single one of those tasks. And yet you are protecting that prefrontal cortex. It's like a dinner party, you know, when you're making dinner before you have guests arriving, you have four burners going at once. And if you said, I'm going to make all four dishes all at the same time, you'll probably burn the house down. Instead, you work on one dish, then you put it on the side. While it's simmering and cooking, you work on another dish, you put it on the back burner, you work on the third and then the fourth dish. So when you think about it that way, it just seems much more actionable and practical. We do this in our everyday life, but for some reason, with work and deadlines and all of these things, we forget that, in fact, monotasking or time blocking is really a better technique. And so practicing time blocking is really important. And, you know, I just encourage everyone to let go of that badge of honor that says, multitasking is like, I'm a great multitasker. I'm an excellent multitasker, especially for working mothers, because we societally have unfortunately shouldered so much of that burden. Right? Like, as a working mother myself, it's like, oh, I was forever telling myself, I'm an excellent multitasker. My friends, we say it to each other, and now, of course, I speak a different language, and I pride myself on being a monotasker. Also, understand that if you are having a challenge, let's say you listen to this conversation and you say, I want to try monotasking. Understand that it is a skill and that you have to build. So sometimes you can't because you're not used to it. Spending 15 minutes on one task might be really difficult for you. So set a timer, go slow, start at five minutes, and focus on a task, and then maybe take a short break. And then, you know, over time, move up to 1015 minutes. I learned monotasking and time blocking in medical school because I had to consume vast amounts of information all at once, and I didn't know how to do it. So I practiced time blocking. Now even writing the five resets, it was all written with time blocking. So what I would do is I would give myself. I can now go about 40 to 45 minutes before needing a break. Sometimes I can work all the way to 50 minutes before needing a break. But at the start, I was only doing five or seven minute increments. And the key thing about this monotasking or time blocking are these brain breaks, you know, again, because of toxic resilience and hustle culture, we are taught that you don't need a break. You can just keep going. You're resilient. Come on. The truth is that your brain and your body both need a break, because when you take these breaks, and there was a beautiful Microsoft study that was done recently which showed brain scans of people who took breaks, short breaks, ten minute breaks, and a group of people who didn't take any breaks and worked straight through those 8 hours like most people. And what they found at the end of the study was that the brain scans of those two groups differed vastly. Those that took those short, frequent breaks, in fact, had decreased cumulative stress, better attention, cognition, and engagement than the other people. The other group that didn't take breaks. So brain breaks aren't a nice to have necessary for your brain. And then the other thing I will say about brain breaks, because this was research that I found fascinating, is that, you know, I'm like a lifelong learner. That's why I writing this book. It was fascinating reading all of these studies. What was fascinating, this particular study, that even a ten second break can make a difference, because the researchers found that it's not during the act of whatever task you're doing that you're learning and retaining information. In fact, that break is when it is happening. You're going through. Your brain is going through something called neural consolidation, another fancy scientific word. It simply means that that information in your brain, new information. Let's say you had a meeting or you're working on something, that new information, when you take that break, that information cements down into knowledge. And so neural consolidation is really important for us. It's why, like, when you were a college student and you pulled late nights, like, I pulled many all nighters, I'm not proud of it, but I did it in my freshman year when I was pre med, and I didn't retain a thing right afterwards. You take the test, you regurgitate it all out, and it's very difficult to retain it because of this idea of, like, you didn't give your brain a break. And so multitasking is a myth. And I can't wait for people to read the five resets and then proudly share that they are monotaskers and recovered multitaskers like me. 

00:39:45 - Paul Sullivan 
You know, I want to pick up on that point there and talk about one thing you say toward the end of the book, about living a lifetime each day, and you break it down, and it's childhood, it's work, it's planned retirement. But the stories you tell about patients of yours who, you really get them to go back to things that they loved during childhood, I think there's one man or woman, one patient who really enjoyed making things out of clay, things with her hands, and she went back to doing that. And you think, like, back we watch our own children. You think back when you're a child, you can focus on that thing that you like for so long, and it brings you so much joy. But then, you know, as life gets more complex, you know, some of those more enjoyable things fall by the wayside. You try to jam more things in. Maybe you could walk the listeners through how they should think about living a lifetime each day and what it will mean for their ultimate reduction of stress in their lives. 

00:40:44 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
So when you hear this notion of live a lifetime in a day, initially it might feel like, oh, my God, she's asking us to do so much. It's so stressful. Why do you ask me to do more stuff? She's supposed to help me decrease my stress, and it's totally contributing to my stress. Like, there's no way I can live a lifetime in a day. In fact, it is the antidote to that. So what does it mean to live a lifetime in a day? It is the antithesis of hustle culture. It means that spend a few minutes every day in these six elements that make up a day, and they actually make up the arc of a long and meaningful life. So, like you say, Paul, spend a few minutes in childhood. That doesn't mean that you have to do, you know, hours and hours of time, but spend a few minutes every day focusing on something that brings you joy and wonder. For joy and wonder's sake, let your brain feel that sense of. Of enjoyment simply because it is something you enjoy. Then spend a little bit of time and work. In our case, you know, eight full hours for many people or more, 12 hours, 10 hours, 16 hours for medical residents. Spend time and work. That's an easy one. No need to explain that further. Spend a little bit of time in vacation. What does that mean, every day? Spend a few minutes, again, two, three minutes a day doing something that just brings you joy that feels like levity and joy and fun. You know, get some fresh air on your face. Feel the sun. If you are near a body of water, even better, take a walk outside and just, like, get that vibe of, oh, I'm on vacation. Of course you're not on vacation. You are very much in your working day and the grind of it all, but feeling, you know, cultivating that sense of vacation. Then spend a few minutes in solitude. The science has shown that that is very important for our brain. Conversely, it's also important to spend sometime in community in a sense of family life, if you don't have a family, then your chosen family, your friends, your colleagues, anyone where you feel a greater sense of connection to others, we know that that has lots of brain benefits. And then finally, every day, spend a few minutes in retirement. What does that mean? Taking stock of your day, taking stock of what you've achieved. Looking back, having a sense of reflection. At the end of the day, the reason you want to live a lifetime in a day is because when your head hits the pillow at night, night, you want to feel like, oh, I lived a good day, and I lived a lifetime in a day. Rather than our frenetic culture, which is like work, from the minute you get up all the way until you go to bed, and then you're parenting somewhere in there, and then you're trying to focus on your fitness and your mental health. And it's just so much the reason, you know this. Live a lifetime in a day. I specifically, I'm not sure I forget if I talked about, oh, I talked about Carmen in the book, one of my most favorite patients with live a lifetime in a day. But two very simple examples. They both have to do with the guitar, which I didn't talk about. One was a colleague of mine, another was a patient. Both guitar players. I don't know if there's a connection between this guitar thing and live a lifetime in a day. Excellent. Guitar players didn't play the guitar. Feeling a great sense of stress and burnout. And I was having a conversation with my colleague once. It was like Tuesday, and we were in between patients, and he said, God, I can't wait for Saturday. I can't wait to play the guitar. And I said, oh, you play the guitar. How cool. Wait, why are you waiting till Saturday? He said, what do you mean? I'm working. I can't play during the week. I have to wait till the weekend. And I thought, oh, no, that's. No, you can just. You have a guitar in your house. Why don't you just pick it up for five minutes? It hadn't even occurred to him. My patient was the same way. She said, what do you mean? I said, what? Just bring it into your life. They both said, it's Tuesday. Like, I can't play the guitar. It's like, absolutely ludicrous. What a suggestion. And I think my patient, I was seeing her on Wednesday or Thursday, and she said, oh, only one more day until I get to play the guitar. So this idea that we must suffer Monday through Friday and then only enjoy and relax and do something on the weekends is absurd. And so both that colleague and the patient, based on live a lifetime in a day, I gave them that prescription, and they started infinitely. They felt a greater sense of well being and connection, because it is like a lever for your stress, right? It's like a tea kettle. We're all holding up, holding all of that stress within us, and then you open up the lever to blow off some therapeutic steam. And so then he started. My colleague started practicing guitar and did it for five minutes every day. He would do it first thing in the morning. You would wake up and play guitar, play a song. Then he would do it at the end of the day. And he was like, I would see him in clinic, and his face was. He was radiant. He's like, I can't believe this. I can't believe I never even thought about playing guitar during the week. I had to save it for the weekends. And so really, the live a lifetime in a day, it's about bringing in these elements of your life, you know, debunking this idea that you must toil and grind and suffer Monday through Friday, only then to enjoy yourself, because that is a recipe for burnout. It's about. And it's, you know, it's the manifestation of toxic hustle culture. It's about bringing these moments into your everyday. And, you know, these are not nice to have all of these. These six elements actively influence your brain. For example, playing the guitar for this colleague of mine and this patient, it got them into a sense of flow, and it was joy for joy's sake, because so often we do things for others, right? Like, we're doing something that is going to bring joy to someone else, but we're not. Or we do it for like, like an award or something, but we're not doing it just to purely bring joy for ourselves for no other reason, but just, you know, no recognition, just because it makes us happy. And when you are doing something, like you say, Paul, that, like, childhood thing that you did, that you lost track of time, what happens to your brain when you are doing a task that is enjoyable, that you feel a sense of command over, and that you are deeply engrossed in, you do lose track of time. And what happens is that is called a flow state. And the flow state is an actual brain state that is deeply therapeutic for your brain. And because we are so frenetic day in and day out, we don't allow ourselves to get in that flow state. So live a lifetime in a day is a way for you to really cultivate that flow state a little bit every day because it has huge benefits for your stress and burnout and overall health and well being. 

00:46:59 - Priya Krishnan 
Thank you. You know, we can be here and talk to you through the course of the day, completely nerd out for the next 4 hours asking you questions. But we do a section with all of our guests on the show, Dr. Aditi. And one of them is if we really ask three questions which are consistent across all of our guests. And the first question is, in your own words, define what is work life balance? 

00:47:24 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
Work life balance. I have thought about this with inordinate amounts of time because I have really tried to cultivate that sense of work life balance. Personally, I think it's a myth. I don't believe that balance ever exists. Rather, people externally will say, oh, you're so successful at work life and balancing it all. I think it's very much like that. You know, dinner party we talked about, you focus on one thing and then you. You focus on the other thing. And, you know, so to me, work life balance is mastering monotasking. It's really thinking about your well-being and health in a way where once you. Once your cup is full, only then can you serve others. We often put ourselves last, particularly working mothers. And really understanding that when you are doing any of these resets and putting in, you know, 510 minutes every day to your own health and well-being, it just. Just infinitely, exponentially can help your family, your colleagues, your community, because you feel a greater sense of health and well-being and less stress and burnout. It is not selfish to do that. It is what your brain and body need and deserve. 

00:48:34 - Paul Sullivan 
So the second question is, forget about your family, forget about your patients, forget about yourself. Guitar playing colleagues. What is the one go to thing that you do just for yourself to unwind? 

00:48:52 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
There are so many things, and I do have a formula of, like, what I need. I was just telling this to my husband yesterday. Personally, I meditate. It's not for everyone, but something that I practice. Minimum 20 minutes a day. I protect my sleep like the vital resource. It is 10:00 p.m. bedtime. And man, I've noticed such a difference. And I engage in some form of physical movement every day. That means a simple. Sometimes it's only like a small walk, but I try to do something every day to get out of my head and into my body. Those three things for me have worked really well. But again, if you're listening to this and thinking, there's no way I'm going to do all those three things, forget it. Just do one, one, one simple thing every day. That's just you. And then I will also say, Paul, I started learning French recently, which is something new. And I used to speak French. I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, and then I had just stopped speaking. And I was in Paris last month with my family visiting, and I was speaking so much French. And, you know, my family was so impressed because they had never really heard me speak French before. And so I started taking classes again because I felt like during this book journey and the book tour and many decades, I was tired of being an expert. I was tired of people asking me all of the questions and me being like, the buck stops here with me. And I wanted to be a beginner again and feel that sense of inspiration. So I'm taking French classes, failing miserably, loving every minute of it. And so, if possible, get out of your comfort zone and do something just for you. I have no work in Paris at the moment. There's nothing happening. I'm not learning for any reason. It's simply because I just really adore the city and the language, and I just want to learn it because it makes me feel like maybe I can be Parisian one day. 

00:50:49 - Priya Krishnan 
What empowering advice would you give to our mothers who are listening to this show, who are constantly trying to get excel in their careers while balancing their families and the supports they provide? 

00:51:02 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
If I could give every working mother in America right now a virtual hug, that is what I would want to do and say, you know, it is a sisterhood. In solidarity with the sisterhood, we have placed impossible demands on working mothers, particularly in this country, though, all over the world. And really just. Just making sure that people understand that you are doing an incredible job, even though society or your community or your family or your work says otherwise. Just know that you have the power to make a change in your stress and burnout without, you know, checking out and going to Bali for six months for a surf vacation, though, sign me up for that plan. That you can have the power to make change with your stress and burnout and that it is okay. That it is. If you're feeling like it's difficult and you can't do it, that is a normal feeling to feel you are managing your emotions. This is an abnormal time, and you are having a normal response to an abnormal situation. 

00:52:06 - Paul Sullivan 
Doctor, thank you so much for joining us today on the Bright Horizons Work-Life Equation podcast. It's been such a thrill for both Priya and myself to talk to you this afternoon. 

00:52:18 - Priya Krishnan 
Thank you so much. 

00:52:20 - Dr. Aditi Nerurkar 
Such a pleasure to join you both. Thank you for your thoughtful, insightful questions. I really had a lovely time. 

00:52:26 - Commercial 
I got in. When it comes to college admissions, those three words are the ultimate goal. Our podcast getting in a college coach conversation helps you reach that goal. You'll hear from former admissions and financial aid officers on techniques to help your student navigate the admissions process. Our experts provide actionable tips, the latest trends in admissions, and a monthly Q&A. Take advantage of all this insider knowledge, all from bright horizons. Visit the college Coach website at getintocolllege.com. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the Work Life Equation. For more parenting resources, visit brighthorizons.com and be sure to follow us on social media.  
Priya Krishnan, Senior Vice President, Client Relations and Growth Operations
About the Author
Chief Digital and Transformation Officer
Priya Krishnan comes to Bright Horizons after founding and running India's largest childcare business. She is the winner of many awards for her work in the space, including Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Young Turk, FT1000 for Asia, and Red Herring Asia.
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