Strive to Thrive: Arianna Huffington on Redefining Success

  • By Marianne Schnall
  • April 05, 2014

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.”