Arianna Huffington has a message for you: There’s more to life than work.
If you’re among the many who prioritize the pursuit of success, money and the potential power these things can bring above your own well-being, it’s time to slow down before it’s too late.
Huffington shared insights on how to do this at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 27, in conjunction with the release of her book "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder."
Huffington found out the hard way just how damaging overwork can be. After collapsing from work-related exhaustion and lack of sleep in 2007, she fell, broke her cheekbone and injured her eye. “They found that there was nothing medically wrong with me, but just about everything wrong with the way I was living my life,” she told the audience.
The incident got her thinking about what success really is. Though wildly successful by conventional measures – she'd just been named to Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list for her work creating and launching the Huffington Post – she concluded: “If I was lying in a pool of blood on the floor of my office, I was not successful.”
While your own work-life imbalance may not be quite so dramatic, chances are good your systems could use a reboot. After all, we may only go around once, and time lost can’t be recouped down the road. “I think death, the reality of it, puts everything in perspective,” Huffington said. “There’s a great headline from The Onion that I quote that says, ‘Death rate holds steady at 100 percent.’”
She continued by noting that the younger generation is used to being able to DVR their favorite shows to view at a more convenient time. This strategy unfortunately doesn’t work in the real world. “We need to remind people that you cannot DVR your life,” she said. “This is it. You can’t go back to those moments.”
No matter how much you love your work and how driven you may feel, you need strategies to help keep you balanced and centered. That’s where "Thrive" comes in. The book provides powerful ideas about how to approach life differently to get out of mere survival mode in relentless pursuit of a one-track life.
Huffington recommended making micro-changes to lead to larger life transformation. Start by altering just one habit to tip the balance back toward sanity: for example, getting 30 minutes more sleep per night, or introducing five minutes of meditation into your day. In her case, she noticed dramatic changes by boosting her zzz's up to seven to eight hours each night, when before they had languished at four to five hours a night.
“You don’t have to do everything,” Huffington said. “The idea that somehow you have to do everything, even if it means you’re not fully present and you’re not going to enjoy it. I want to bring the joy back into our everyday life. Because somehow, we left it outside the door, thinking that all that mattered was being productive and effective.”
She added that what often gets in the way of doing what we know is good for us is that the world gives us “endless signals” to continue to focus on climbing the ladder, judging our lives only by the first two metrics of success: money and power. So we forget about the third metric, which includes our own well-being, wisdom and wonder. As an antidote, Huffington suggested creating rituals that can give ourselves the “other signals” to stay connected with ourselves.
How can those who are already stretched by work and family hope to fit in anything else, such as meditation or extra time for sleep – especially during exceptionally busy crunch times? What if, due to time constraints, you have to decide between getting to bed a half-hour earlier or meditating on a particular day?
“What study after study shows is that meditation and mindfulness training profoundly affect every aspect of our lives – our bodies, our minds, our physical health and our emotional and spiritual well-being,” Huffington says in an exclusive interview. “Similarly, our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership and decision-making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep. So, there’s no right or wrong answer, and the decision probably will not be the same from day to day. The last thing you want to do is put additional, needless pressure on yourself by overanalyzing the benefits of this versus the benefits of that.”
What’s important, she adds, is that both sleep and meditation have huge, scientifically backed benefits. “When you make room in your busy schedule for them, you’ll see improvements in every aspect of your life. And of course, don’t forget that there is always napping. Researchers have found that even short naps can help us course-correct.”
Can busy multi-taskers count an activity like reading or listening to relaxing music as meditation, or should their set-aside time be completely silent to allow for looking within, unfettered by any outside stimulation, even if it’s enjoyable?
“Reading and listening to music are two of my absolute favorite things to do in my life,” Huffington says. “But the goal of meditation/contemplation is, as you are suggesting, different. In fact, I have friends who have said to me, ‘My meditation is running,’ or ‘sky diving’ or ‘gardening.’ And I ask them, can you create that state of mind at will without having to put on your running shoes, open your parachute, get out your trowel or cast your fishing rod in the water? That’s not because their definition of meditation is wrong, but because the goal is to find some regular activity that trains your mind to be still, fully present and connected with yourself. If you can achieve that stillness while running, or sky diving or gardening, that’s great. For me personally, though, eliminating outside stimulation increases my chances of getting to that place.”
She adds that although she’s known about meditation’s benefits since her teens, finding time for meditation was always challenging. She thought she had to “do” meditation – and she didn’t have time for another burdensome thing to “do.” “Fortunately, a friend pointed out that we don’t ‘do’ meditation; meditation ‘does’ us,” Huffington says. “That opened the door for me. The only thing to ‘do’ in meditation is nothing.”