Adapted from Everyday Vitality by Dr. Samantha Boardman
In a previous blog,  we discussed Dr. Samantha Boardman’s uplifting book, Everyday Vitality, and explained the book’s premise that vitality, rather than happiness, is the opposite of depression. To refresh your memory, vitality is the positive feeling of aliveness and energy that lies at the core of our well-being.
In the book, Dr. Samantha Boardman distills vitality down to three essential ingredients: meaningfully connecting with others, engaging in experiences that challenge us, and contributing to something beyond ourselves. Today, we’ll explore the idea of challenge.
Dr. Boardman frequently reminds us that vitality doesn’t mean being happy all the time. Feeling bad is part of being human and negative emotions can prompt us to change our behavior and help guide us in new directions, which she calls constructive negativity. Furthermore, a study concluded that people who experience a wide mix of emotions – emodiversity – had better physical health and were less likely to become depressed than those who are upbeat all the time.
In another study, “Emotions Know Best,” participants were asked to perform a task to win a prize. While performing the task, one group was told to focus on their emotions afterward. The other group was told to rationalize why they didn’t succeed if they failed. They all failed, but the those in the group that focused on their emotions tried 25% harder when asked to complete the next task.
The lesson here? Challenge yourself to re-frame the experience of discomfort as data. Self-reflection and pinpointing an emotion to identify what is upsetting you can help you to tailor a response. A general feeling of negativity might manifest as irritable behavior or reactions that cause new problems, while “a clearly demarcated problem is less likely to become an emotional boomerang.”
Uncertainty is another challenge and, boy oh boy, we have all had to figure out how to cope with high and persistent levels of uncertainty over the last 20 months. It’s human nature to want to be “in the know.” The world feels safer when we believe we can predict what will happen next. But a relentless need for certitude can interfere with the possibility of expanding beyond the invisible cages in which we confine ourselves. How do we increase our tolerance for ambiguity? One way offered by Dr. Boardman is to use a scientific method called the Null Hypothesis. When facing a challenge or uncertainty, create a hypothesis about what may happen. Then take it a step further and ask yourself: What if the opposite were true?
This is just a snippet of the insight Dr. Boardman provides on the subject of challenging ourselves. If you found any of it interesting, we highly recommend a full reading of her work. In the meantime, some questions to get you started:
Most of us have a go to strategy for coping with discomfort and uncertainty. Take a moment to reflect on the following: Do you suppress your feelings? Distract yourself? Rationalize? Reframe? Do you ruminate? When do your strategies work, and when do you come to a dead end?