For many years, media trailblazer and bestselling author Arianna Huffington has been committed to changing the way we work and live in order to reduce stress and improve well-being. After she collapsed at her desk out of exhaustion and sleep deprivation while working as editor-in-chief of Huffington Post, causing her to hit her head and break her cheekbone, she was inspired to reexamine her life. She wrote her book Thrive and founded the behavior change technology company Thrive Global, of which she serves as CEO, whose mission it is to “end the stress and burnout epidemic and unlock human potential.”
Her leadership could not be more important and timely, as due to the transformative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—which have disproportionately impacted women—we have been forced to reexamine and restructure how we live and work, whether as businesses, individuals or families. Huffington sees this time as a unique opportunity to improve upon and re-imagine the unsustainable and unhealthy ways of working that were in existence pre COVID-19 (something she and I also talked about in a piece last year: Interview With Arianna Huffington On New Work-Life Strategies That Boost Resilience And Prioritize Well-Being During COVID And Beyond).
As we begin to emerge from the darkest days of the pandemic, with a hopeful eye toward the future, Huffington has two helpful projects she has just launched. The first is a book co-written by the Thrive Global editors with a foreword by Huffington called Your Time to Thrive. The second project is her popular new podcast called What I’ve Learned, with Arianna Huffington, in which she talks to a range of notable figures across industries, including Jay Shetty, Van Jones, Bozoma Saint John, Lindsey Vonn, and many others, about the lessons they have learned over the the course of this unprecedented past year of pandemic, protests and politics. Each episode also offers microsteps—which Huffington says are “too small to fail”—that we can all use in our own lives to help us manage a range of unaddressed mental health issues many of us have been experiencing during these unusual, stressful times and build back well-being and resilience.
I was fortunate to be able to talk to Huffington during Mental Health Awareness Month—after what has been a particularly difficult and bruising year for so many—about ways to address these challenges, the concept of thriving, strategies to help women and families and much more.
Listen to an audio clip from the podcast interview below:
To listen to the full conversation with Arianna on my podcast ShiftMakers, click here.
Marianne Schnall: I know the concept of thriving is very near and dear to your heart. Thrive Global is the name of the platform you founded, Thrive’s new book is called Your Time to Thrive, and you wrote a book about thriving. People often think that the ultimate goals in life are words like success or happiness, yet your focus is very specifically on the concept of thriving. Can you explain the distinction? What does thrive mean, and how is it different from these other words and concepts?
Arianna Huffington: Thriving goes beyond the two metrics of success the way our culture identifies it—which is money and status/power—and includes what in my book Thrive I call the third metric of success, which is our well-being/health, our capacity to tap into our own wisdom and make good decisions, our capacity to wonder and enjoy the mystery of life and to give back. So these four additional aspects of thriving are missing from the mere simplified concept of succeeding the way our culture has reduced it. Going back to the Greek philosophers, they talked about a good life, and a good life for me is a thriving life, as opposed to a life which is only measured in terms of conventional success.
Schnall: You’ve talked about how thriving can take on many forms—emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually. What is the first step in terms of aspiring to live a life of thriving?
Huffington: The first step is a mindset shift. We need to change the way we look at our lives. So at this stage, post-pandemic—of course we’re not out of it, but we are out of the intensity of the crisis—we need to grab the opportunity, a once-in-a-generation opportunity, to redefine productivity and redefine the way we work and live. Because we’ve been under the collective delusion that in order to succeed, we have to be always “on,” to power through exhaustion. And that has led to an immense number of casualties. It has led to skyrocketing chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. It has led to a mental health crisis. And by understanding that, based on the latest science and the latest data, and of course our knowledge and wisdom, we are much more productive, effective, happy, healthy and joyful when we prioritize our own well-being. And that starts with sleep, times to recharge, even if it’s 60 seconds during the day that at Thrive we call 60-second resets—movement, nutrition, gratitude, giving back—all these elements need to be brought in. But it starts with something foundational, which is sleep, which is not just for our body but also for our brain.
Schnall: It’s May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we are talking in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been this global event that has caused so many different forms of mental confusion and distress for so many people. Where does one begin to manage those symptoms during and after highly stressful moments and events like the ones we’ve been living through in these unprecedented times?
Huffington: Right now, these unprecedented times are an opportunity to prioritize our mental resilience. The expectation is that there’s going to be a dramatic increase in mental health problems as we are coming out of the pandemic, and we need to get ahead of it.
We’ve launched a program with Stanford called Thriving Mind to identify the stress triggers that, if left unattended, become depression and anxiety. We have identified eight biotypes. Mine is rumination: when you tend to go over a mistake or a problem again and again, which depletes your brain battery and leaves you more prone to anxiety or depression. Others may have a biotype of negative bias, which is a tendency to look at the future in dark terms, as though everything is going to go wrong. So whatever it is, once we know it—going back to the Greeks’ “Know thyself”—it’s going to be much easier to be able to address it and take microsteps to prevent it from overwhelming us.
Schnall: You’ve written a lot about issues that specifically impact women, so I wanted to talk to you about women and work and mental health. It has been reported that most of the job loss in 2020 and 2021 has been women both losing and leaving their jobs due to various factors related to the pandemic. As a result, women are experiencing high anxiety, overwhelm, feelings of inadequacy and other emotions that are wreaking havoc on their daily lives. And, as we know, when these issues impact women, they also impact families and so many people that women are connected to. What do you think the long-term effects will be? And what can we do about it?
Huffington: I want us to be optimistic about that by taking this opportunity to use this crisis around women to change things that were not working even before the pandemic. Because the truth is that even pre-pandemic, women were carrying the majority of the mental load at home, even when they had partners who were helping, who were supportive. The mental load is the key here. So at Thrive, we’ve worked on a program that we call Thriving Families that creates a more equitable distribution of tasks and chores based on the ownership model, as opposed to a “Can I help you, Dear?” model, bringing basically best practices from the office to the home so that partners can divide tasks.
Let’s say if your partner takes lunch as a responsibility, they own it from conception to execution to completion, and that means you don’t have the mental load of that. If you take birthday parties for your children, you own it from beginning to end. And we actually have developed digital cards that you can share once a year. We recommend literally having a quick meeting—what worked, what didn’t work, what do we want to change, what cards do we want to shuffle. From all the data and from all the research that was done, if we don’t do something that is really rigorous like this, women will continue to carry the mental load and will continue to leave the workplace or downsize their commitment the way we have seen happening during the pandemic.
Schnall: I agree. This is definitely an opportunity to look at and address these things. And I’m also very grateful that Thrive does offer all these resources that people should definitely check out. In thinking about Mental Health Awareness month and thinking about mental health generally, how would you define ideal mental health? In the sense that, unless we’re meditating on a mountaintop somewhere, nobody is going to feel total mental well-being at all times, just because of how life works and various stressors. So how would you define an ideal sense of mental health, and what do you personally do to stay mentally healthy?
Huffington: Absolutely, Marianne. We’re not talking about living in a perpetual state of bliss; we’re talking about course correcting faster. And this is based on our belief that—as every spiritual tradition and every philosopher agrees—everybody has a center of peace, wisdom and strength in them. It’s almost like a birthright. Nobody lives there all the time, as you said, but we all have the power in us to course correct quickly and move back to that center. That’s why we wrote this book that we just published on microsteps. We believe microsteps too small to fail are the way to return to that center quickly.
Let me give you an example: Stress is unavoidable. Cumulative stress is avoidable. And all we need to do is take these 60-second breaks—that we have a lot of examples of in the book—whenever we’re stressed, between Zooms or between meetings. And Microsoft actually just published some new research that shows very clearly that these little breaks reduce the stress beta waves in our brain and make us more focused and less depleted. So everything benefits from this—our health, our productivity and our focus. We just need to get into the habit of ending this delusion that in order to be successful, in order to be amazing, we need to be always on.
Schnall: Congratulations on your amazing new podcast that is doing so well. The podcast is called “What I’ve Learned,” which is not just what you’ve discovered but also what all of these other well-known figures that you admire have learned during these past very transformative twelve months. Was there any particular lesson shared with you by others that stands out to you or was particularly meaningful?
Huffington: Yes, I loved what Dan Harris said, which was, as he put it, “Embrace the cheese.” And I love that, because we’re dealing with a lot of skeptics, and often the solutions to a lot of the problems people are facing may sound almost cheesy, like “Breathe,” “Remember what you’re grateful for,” “Take a minute break,” but they are based on science; they’re based on data. So we need to embrace the fact that they may sound basic and start practicing them. And that’s why we call our microsteps too small to fail. As we practice them, we develop these muscles of success, and 45% of our lives is made up of habits, so through these microsteps, we change our habits, and therefore we change our lives.
Schnall: Thank you so much for joining me today and for everything that you’re doing to improve everyone’s life and well-being.
To listen to the full podcast of my conversation with Arianna on my podcast ShiftMakers, click here.
For more information on Thrive Global, click here.
Marianne Schnall is a widely-published interviewer and journalist and author of What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?, Leading the Way, and Dare to Be You. She is also the founder of Feminist.com and What Will It Take Movements.