Success shouldn't be defined as being burned out and overwhelmed, and Arianna Huffington's book, "Thrive," shows how people don't have to lose sleep to be successful.
Huffington, originally from Greece, is the chairwoman, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of 14 books.
The media mogul spoke Wednesday at a North San Diego Business Chamber luncheon at Sony headquarters as the first in the organization’s “Leaders of Change” series.
“Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder” is Huffington’s “surprise baby” -- the book she didn’t think she would write. Seven years ago, she collapsed from exhaustion, sleep deprivation and burnout. She hit her head on the way down, breaking her cheekbone and cutting her right eye.
The fall was a wake-up call and made her question the meaning of success and what makes a good life.
“We are much better at taking care of our smartphones than we are about taking care of ourselves,” Huffington said. “You get alerts if you have an iPhone that says ‘20 percent battery remaining,’ ’16 percent battery remaining.’ By 13 percent, you begin to get worried and start to look around for a charging ‘shrine’ so nothing will happen to your precious smartphone. When I collapsed from exhaustion, I must have been below zero percent battery remaining and I didn’t even know it.”
She said too many people believe that sleep deprivation and burnout is the new normal.
“I set out to put forward a new path,” Huffington said.
She discovered that sleep is a “wonder drug.” She went from about four or five hours of sleep per night to seven or eight hours and said it was “transformational,” improving her health, mental clarity and ability to enjoy life.
“In corporate America, people are congratulated for working 24/7. If anyone says that in my presence at the office, I say, ‘This is like congratulating somebody for coming to work drunk,’” Huffington said.
Huffington Post instituted two nap rooms about three years ago, which are perpetually in use because employees learned to stigmatize walking around like a zombie, rather than stigmatizing taking a nap, she said.
She said there’s already a global shift in how people define success and how the good life is measured. She said she’s hoping that “Thrive” will accelerate that shift by reaching a critical mass and spreading everywhere.
Her book has four sections, each of which ends with three life-changing steps. There are 12 steps, and “that’s not accidental, because we are addicted to our current way of living through burnout and hyper-connectivity to our technologies,” Huffington said.
She doesn’t advise giving up smartphones, but setting boundaries.
On airplanes, passengers are told to put on their oxygen masks before helping others, Huffington said. When people take care of themselves, they are more resilient and able to face whatever comes their way.
The first two metrics of success are money and power, and like a two-legged stool, without the third metric, sooner or later it’ll fall over, she said.
“If we begin to value the third metric -- well-being, wonder, wisdom and giving -- then life is suddenly filled with purpose, with meaning, with joy. And we find that center in us, from which you can live life with more compassion, with more gratitude and yes, more sleep,” Huffington said.
She said it’s also important for people to remember that “life is like a dance between making it happen and letting it happen.”
This is especially true for young women who think they have to make everything happen themselves and get so stressed that they never exhale, she said.
Instead of jumping from one goal to the next, Huffington said, enjoy the journey.
One of Huffington’s favorite animals is the gazelle. When faced with danger, such as a predator, they run as fast as they can. The minute the danger passes, they graze and there’s no stress at all, she said.
It’s “stressful and draining” to worry about the future or judge something from the past. She suggests fixing that by starting with five minutes of meditation.
People are drowning themselves in data and are starved for wisdom, she said, causing even smart leaders with high IQs to make bad decisions. Part of the solution is to disconnect: Don’t start and end the day with a cellphone in hand.
Multitasking and the sense that time is running out, or “time famine” -- when people feel perpetually breathless -- and operating while overwhelmed is one of the most stressful things people can do, she said.
To keep from feeling so overwhelmed, Huffington suggested people deal with the voice inside their heads that filibusters their dreams -- she referred to hers as an obnoxious roommate who is sarcastic and judgmental.
That voice doesn’t distinguish between what is real and what is imagined, she said.
Living with a sense of trust doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen, Huffington said, but it can change a person’s attitude toward a negative experience.
She read one of her favorite quotes, “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”
She explained that everything that happens is a hidden blessing in terms of what is learned from it. When people realize that something good can come from something bad, they can have a better reaction.
Huffington told of a time when she had to find the good in the bad -- to think about what she was grateful for: Her daughter was two months from her Yale graduation when she called to say she couldn’t breathe and that she had a drug problem.
Huffington focused on how she was grateful that her daughter was alive, that she wanted to get well, she had a loving family to turn to -- and she has been sober for the past two and a half years.
The last pillar, giving, isn't just giving money or giving time -- it can be doing something creative that couldn’t be an occupation, such as singing at a hospital and bringing joy to those in pain, Huffington said.
It can also be as simple as making a personal connection with someone that one wouldn’t normally talk to, such as a check-out clerk or barista.
“See how it makes you feel more alive and connected in the moment,” Huffington said.
She said she hopes people will share their personal stories on how they thrive so that others can learn from those stories and avoid their own wake-up call.