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Strive to Thrive: Arianna Huffington on Redefining Success Comments

  • By Marianne Schnall
  • April 05, 2014

Arianna Huffington redefines success

For Arianna Huffington, the dynamic founder behind The Huffington Post, it took a conk to the head to trigger a life-changing wake-up call. After collapsing from total exhaustion one day back in April of 2007, Arianna hit her head on her desk, cutting her eye and breaking her cheekbone, which compelled her to re-examine her priorities.

As one of the world's most influential women, she was, by conventional definitions of success, extremely successful.  But in the days following her traumatic injury, having worked "eighteen hours a day, seven days a week" for years to build Huffington Post, she asked herself, "Was this the life I really wanted? What kind of success was I after?"

After some serious soul-searching and inner reflection, Arianna came to the realization that something needed to change. In her inspiring new book, “THRIVE: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder” she shares her transformative journey in the hopes that her experience will help enlighten others and chart a positive new direction forward in our work and personal lives.

In “THRIVE,” Arianna presents an enlightened vision of an evolutionary shift in our consciousness and culture, and a new paradigm of  what it means to lead a "successful" life, resulting in a deeper connection to our sense of self and the world around us. She spoke with us about the book and about her own challenges managing her time and balancing the demands of a busy career and raising two daughters, the legendary Huffington Post “nap rooms” and the benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and giving. 

DailyWorth: How would you describe the "Third Metric" of success?
Arianna Huffington: Over time our society’s notion of success has been reduced to money and power. In fact, at this point, success, money, and power have practically become synonymous in the minds of many. This idea of success can work — or at least appear to work — in the short term. But over the long term, money and power by themselves are like a two-legged stool — you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. 

More and more people — very successful people — are toppling over. To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.

Why did you decide to direct this book primarily towards women and what do you hope most people will take away from reading it?
If we’re going to redefine what success means, if we are going to include a Third Metric to success, beyond money and power, it’s going to be women who will lead the way — and men, freed of the notion that the only road to success includes taking the Heart Attack Highway to Stress City, will gratefully join both at work and at home.

I hope the book's impact will lie in helping us make room in our definition of success for well-being, wisdom, wonder, compassion and giving, and to help us move from knowing what we need to do to actually doing it.

What advice do you have for women who are often struggling to balance it all, and don't prioritize their own self-care?
The better people are at taking care of themselves, the more effective they’ll be in taking care of others, including their families, co-workers, communities and their fellow citizens. When you’re on an airplane you’re told to “secure your own mask first before helping others,” even your own child. After all, it’s not easy to help somebody else breathe easier if you’re fighting for air yourself. 


What was the philosophy behind the nap rooms at The Huffington Post offices and what guidance would you offer employers on integrating these types of alternative practices into their offices?
The two nap rooms in our newsroom are now full most of the time, even though they were met with skepticism and reluctance when we installed them in the spring of 2011. Many were afraid their colleagues might think they were shirking their duties by taking a nap. We’ve made it very clear, however, that walking around drained and exhausted is what should be looked down on — not taking a break to rest and recharge.

Nap rooms are a part of a larger movement: asking what business leaders can do to change the culture of the workplace for the better. And business leaders around the world are already starting to change the expectation that we need to be plugged in 24/7. At The Huffington Post, since the news never stops and there is the temptation for editors, reporters, and engineers to try to match the 24-hour news cycle, we do a lot to prevent burnout. We make it very clear that no one is expected to check work email and respond after hours or over the weekend (unless, these are their working hours). 

Volkswagen has a special policy for employees who are provided with a smartphone and aren’t part of management: The phone is programmed to switch off work emails automatically from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. so that employees can take care of themselves and their families without feeling they have to stay plugged in to work. A lot of other companies are beginning to innovate to make sure their employees unplug, recharge and have enough time for themselves and their families. 

How can we manage our growing addiction to staying connected through technology all the time?
One of the things that makes it harder and harder to connect with our wisdom is our increasing dependence on technology. Our hyperconnectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden. We can manage our collective addiction by unplugging and recharging in various ways: meditation, long walks, exercise, yoga, reconnecting with family friends. All this will increase some aspect of our well-being and sense of fulfillment. 

You also recommend meditation in the book.  How would you describe its benefits and what advice do you have on getting started?
What study after study shows is that meditation and mindfulness training profoundly affect every aspect of our lives — our bodies, minds, physical health and our emotional and spiritual well- being. It’s not quite the fountain of youth, but it’s pretty close. When you consider all the benefits of meditation — and more are being found every day — it’s not an exaggeration to call meditation a miracle drug.

Here are some simple steps to get you started meditating:

  1. Choose a reasonably quiet place to begin your practice, and select a time when you will not be interrupted.
  2. Relax your body. If you would like to close your eyes, do so. Allow yourself to take deep, comfortable breaths, gently noticing the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation.
  3. Let your breathing be full, bring your attention to the air coming in your nostrils, filling up your abdomen, and then releasing. Gently and without effort, observe your breath flowing in and out.
  4. When thoughts come in, simply observe them and gently nudge your attention back to the breath. Meditation is not about stopping thoughts, but recognizing that we are more than our thoughts and our feelings. You can imagine the thoughts as clouds passing through the sky. If you find yourself judging your thoughts or feelings, simply bring yourself back to the awareness of the breath.
  5. Some people find it helpful to have a special or sacred word or phrase that they use to bring their awareness back to the breath. Examples include “om,” “hu,” “peace,” “thank you,” “grace,” “love,” and “calm.” You can think of that word each time you inhale, or use it as your reminder word if your mind starts to wander.
  6. It is really important not to make your meditation practice one more thing you stress about. In fact, reducing stress is one of the major benefits of meditation together with increased intuition, creativity, compassion, and peace.

You write about the harsh inner voice that many women aren't even aware of that propagates our insecurities and doubts. How do you see this inner voice and what can we do about it?
I call that harsh inner voice the obnoxious roommate living in our head. It feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts. Educating our obnoxious roommate requires redefining success and what it means to live a life that matters, which will be different for each of us, according to our own values and goals (and not those imposed upon us by society). Humor helps. 

What also worked was sending myself a consistent and coherent alternative message. Since my roommate fed on my fears and negative fantasies, the message that resonated with me the most was the message with which John-Roger ends all his seminars: “The blessings already are.” Or as Julian of Norwich, the fifteenth-century English mystic, put it, “And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”


What is your definition of mindfulness and its importance to our lives?
When I first heard about mindfulness, I was confused. My mind was already full enough, I thought. I needed to empty it, not focus on it. My conception of the mind was sort of like the household junk drawer — just keep cramming things in and hope it doesn’t jam. Then I read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s writings on mindfulness and it all made sense. “In Asian languages,” he wrote, “the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are the same word. So when we hear the word ‘mindfulness,’ we have to inwardly also hear ‘heartfulness’ in order to grasp it even as a concept, and especially as a way of being.” In other words, mindfulness is not just about our minds but our whole beings. 

When we are all mind, things can get rigid. When we are all heart, things can get chaotic. Both lead to stress. But when they work together, the heart leading through empathy, the mind guiding us with focus and attention, we become a harmonious human being. Through mindfulness, I found a practice that helped bring me fully present and in the moment, even in the most hectic of circumstances.

How do you see giving and cultivating qualities like compassion as connected to the Third Metric?
Giving, loving, caring, empathy and compassion, going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones to help serve others — this is the only viable answer to the multitude of problems the world is facing. If well-being, wisdom, and wonder are our response to a personal wake-up call, service naturally follows as the response to the wake-up call for humanity.

A lot of the conversations about women achieving parity in the workplace and in leadership have been about the need for women to "lean in" and be more ambitious. How do you balance this with the strategies you promote in “Thrive”?
Our current notion of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave — in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor — was put in place by men, in a workplace culture dominated by men. But it’s a model of success that’s not working for women, and, really, it’s not working for men, either. 

Women are paying an even higher price than men for their participation in a work culture fueled by stress, sleep deprivation and burnout. That is one reason why so many talented women, with impressive degrees working in high-powered jobs, end up abandoning their careers when they can afford to. Women in highly stressful jobs have a nearly 40 percent increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks compared with their less-stressed colleagues and a 60 percent greater risk for type two diabetes (a link that does not exist for men, by the way).

For far too long, we have equated success with working around the clock, driving yourself into the ground, sleep deprivation and burnout. Women need to lead the way to change that — both for their sake and for the sake of successful men who desperately need to learn how to lean back.

How can young women be taught to integrate these “Thrive” principles early? What advice would you want to instill in young women today?
When I gave the commencement speech to the Smith College class of 2013, I urged the women graduates not just to go out there and climb the ladder of success, but to redefine success. Because the world desperately needs it. And remember that while there will be plenty of signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no sign posts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to take care of yourself along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible. As Archimedes said, "Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world."

What personal practices do you integrate into your own very busy life?
I have worked to integrate certain practices into my day — meditation, walking, exercise — but the connection that conscious breathing gives me is something I can return to hundreds of times during the day in an instant. A conscious focus on breathing helps me introduce pauses into my daily life, brings me back into the moment and helps me transcend upsets and setbacks. It has also helped me become much more aware when I hold or constrict my breath, not just when dealing with a problem, but sometimes even when I’m doing something as mundane as putting a key in the door, texting, reading an email or going over my schedule. When I use my breath to relax the contracted core of my body, I can follow this thread back to my center. And, of course, getting enough sleep.
 
Marianne Schnall is the founder and executive director of Feminist.com, a leading women’s website and nonprofit organization. She is also the author of “What Will It Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power” and ”Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness.”

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