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How Redefining Success Can Help You Create a Life of Well-Being

Story at-a-glance -

  • Success has traditionally been defined as money and power. In her book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington redefines success by adding a third metric
  • The four pillars of the third metric are: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving
  • Regularly abstaining from ALL digital distractions can help renew and recharge you. Instead of being connected to your phone or computer, a digital detox can help you connect to your purpose
  • Besides daily meditation or mindfulness training, simply connecting with people face-to-face will allow you to become more present in the moment, and make you feel more connected with the rest of humanity
  • It’s beneficial to take an inventory of everything you’re doing; seriously reflect on your choices, and then eliminate tasks or projects that are unnecessary in order to free up time to do things that are more fulfilling

By Dr. Mercola

Do you often feel stressed or overburdened? Does your life feel like it's too jam-packed with to-dos and not enough purpose? How would you like to thrive, be successful, and create a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder?

To help you do just that, Arianna Huffington, wrote the book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.1

In addition to being a nationally syndicated columnist and author of 14 books, she's also the chairman, president, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.

Arianna is a role model for many, and her Huffington Post site is one of the top 100 websites in the world. Her motivation for writing the book Thrive was a deeply personal one.

"As I was writing and then later starting The Huffington Post, I think I was under the collective delusion that burnout is necessary for success," Arianna says.

"Two years into launching The Huffington Post and having just come back from taking my oldest daughter around colleges to pick the college she wanted to apply to, I collapsed from burnout, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation.

I hit my head on my desk on the way down, broke my cheekbone, and got four stitches on my right eye. That was seven years ago. That was the beginning of the process of learning, understanding, and making changes in my own life that led to the publication of Thrive.

Basically, I started asking myself questions [about] what a good life is and what success is. I saw by looking around at my colleagues, friends, and the world at large that we had defined success simply in terms of two metrics: money and power. That was like trying to sit on a two-legged stool."

The Third Metric of Success: Wellbeing

Her self-reflection resulted in a new definition of success, which includes a third metric; the third leg of the stool. This third metric consists of four pillars:

  • Health and well-being. If you sacrifice your health and well-being in the pursuit of success, you're really paying an insanely high price. The result of this sacrifice includes everything from diabetes to heart disease, and other stress-related afflictions like depression, alcoholism, or drug addiction.
  • Wisdom. As Arianna says: "We have a lot of very smart leaders around making terrible decisions. The problem is not that they don't have a high IQ; the problem is that they are not connected with their inner wisdom. Taking time to connect with the source of our inner wisdom and strength is essential."
  • Joy and childlike wonder. It's also important to bring joy into your everyday life –what Greeks called "enthousiasmos"—and to connect with the sense that you're part of "something larger." This includes appreciating ordinary beauty and small everyday miracles.
  • Giving. No complete life is ever lived just for oneself.

When you integrate giving, wonder, wisdom, and well-being together with the first two metrics of money and power, you can really have a complete life, filled with meaning and purpose.

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Reconnecting with Your Self

Unfortunately, many are so disconnected from themselves and the people around them that connecting with their own inner wisdom sounds like a near impossible task. How do you begin if there's no app for that? To help you connect with and develop sensitivity to you inner wisdom, Arianna included a "12 step program" in her book.

"It's kind of deliberate because I think we are addicted to a life of burnout," she says. "We really have come to think this is the way for us to be important, busy, and successful. At the end of each of these sections - Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder, and Giving - there are three steps, making a total of 12 steps.

In the literature of habits, they talk about the keystone habit that you change, and then it becomes easier to change other habits. In my life, the keystone habit was sleep. I went from four to five hours to seven to eight hours. That was transformational. [Sleep] truly is a miracle drug...

The other thing that connected very much to the wisdom part was meditation. Again, I started with five minutes because everybody has five minutes. It's at least the beginning of reacquainting ourselves with that part of ourselves where our inner wisdom and intuition lie. And then gradually and naturally you can proceed to do longer and longer periods."

Using Sleep and 'Down Time' as a Performance Enhancement Tool

The challenge, of course, is if you're going to increase your sleep by two, three, or more hours per night, that means you have to cut down on doing something else. If you're overworked and overburdened already, the idea of leaving things undone because you need to sleep isn't particularly attractive. Many don't do it for fear of having all that extra work pile up. To address such concerns, Arianna says:

"I found that when I'm really rested and recharged, I have the energy to do things more efficiently and more effectively. I also avoid a lot of mistakes that otherwise are made out of exhaustion and burnout. Also, the most important thing that we have to get everything done is energy rather than time.

If getting enough sleep means that we have the energy to get everything done, ultimately, sleep is a performance enhancement tool. It's also a leadership tool. I'm a much better leader here at The Huffington Post because I'm recharged, because I can see the red flags before they become dangers, and because I can see the opportunities of where we need to go in the future. "

Arianna has even created two nap rooms at the Huffington Post, where journalists and engineers can take a nap if they are tired instead of having a candy bar or another cup of coffee. Huffpost also has an email policy that states employees are only expected to answer emails during work hours. Once work is done, they're no longer expected to send or reply to mail.

This may seem challenging, considering Huffington Post is a 24/7 media company, but there are staffers specifically working the night or weekend shift. Having such a policy ensures that when you're off work, you're really off. Meditation, yoga, and breathing classes are also offered to staffers, and healthy free snacks are available just about everywhere. "We try to implement a lot of the things that I write about in Thrive and that I believe make HuffPosters much more effective," she says.

Are You Due for a Digital Detox?

Another recommendation Arianna includes in her book is evaluating your need for a "digital detox." Abstaining completely from ALL digital distractions for a while can help you renew and recharge in a way that's not possible if you're still checking your smartphone multiple times per hour. Instead of being connected to your phone or computer, a digital detox can help you connect to your purpose.

"I now collect role models who do that, including Padmasree Warrior, who is the chief technology officer of CISCO. She oversees tens of thousands of engineers, but she gets eight hours of sleep. She meditates. She writes haikus. She paints. Every Saturday, she does a digital detox," Arianna says. "You can still be very effective and very successful at what you're doing. It's just that we are becoming addicted to being perpetually 'on.' We need to deal with the fact that our devices have become an extension of ourselves. We need to learn to disconnect from them in order to reconnect with ourselves."

One strategy that can be helpful in this process is creating a "support tribe"—people who know what you're aiming to do, and are willing to support you in the process.

"We call them 'thrive buddies,'" Arianna says. "For example, I have a thrive buddy, so if at night I'm tempted to stay on my devices longer, I can call my buddy, or I can email them and communicate with them. It's just the very act of communicating with someone about a problem and having their support that makes a difference. But it also creates an environment that makes it more likely that I'm not going to be tempted. My bedroom is a device-free zone. I know you have advised not to watch television before you go to sleep. I never watch television before I go to sleep. I only have real, old-fashioned books, by my bed... No Kindles. No screens."

Practical Steps to Help You Thrive

Arianna's book, Thrive, offers a number of strategies you can use to bridge the gap between knowing what you could be doing to thrive, and actually doing it rather than just agreeing with but not implementing these principles in your own life. In addition to making sure you're getting sufficient amounts of high-quality sleep, Arianna recommends incorporating the following strategies in your day-to-day life:

  1. Meditation. It can be as short as five minutes to start. Simply allow your thoughts to come and go, returning your focus to your breath without getting caught up in your mind's meanderings. The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to simply be "fully present" in the moment. This is where you can notice how you really feel, and connect with who you really are, deep down.
  2. Sweeping your mental corridors. She also suggests making the conscious decision to drop negative or judgmental thoughts and anxieties at the end of each day. If the thought or feeling does not serve you, let it go.
  3. Practice gratitude. Keeping a daily gratitude list of the many little blessings in your life can help you shift your focus to how good your life is instead of dwelling on the challenges. "If we can redirect our mind to focus on the blessings, I find that I feel much more joyful and much more filled with energy," Arianna says.
  4. Connect with others face-to-face. Start making personal connections with people you come across every day that you might have taken for granted – it could be the cleaning crew in your office, the checkout clerk, or the barista in the coffee shop. Connecting with people face-to-face will allow you to become more present in the moment, and more connected with the rest of humanity. It also helps you tap into empathy and compassion—two emotions that often fall by the wayside when you're too stressed and disconnected to even notice the world around you.
  5. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking is an illusion. Research shows that multitasking is actually task-switching, and it's very stressful. It also promotes anxiety. If you can walk down the street, and really just walk, without texting or talking on the phone, it will connect you with the moment. You will be able to notice the sunset, a flower, the design features of a building, or the smiling face of a baby.

I first learned about Arianna's book from watching her presentation at Google (see below). I was particularly intrigued by how she handles all her email correspondence, while still maintaining balance in her life.

"I think what is very important for me is not to try and complete my emails by the end of the day," she says. "[In the past] I would sometimes be up until the middle of the night answering emails. It's also a very unsatisfying thing because it's like trying to bail water out of a leaky boat. You clear emails and then more keep coming in. For me, it's picking the time to do it. I actually like doing it over weekends because I can lie in bed."

Perform Regular 'Life Audits' to Keep Thriving

We all live with the limitation of 24-hour days, and a major part of the equation of how to thrive is being selective about how you spend your time. To this end, it's beneficial to take an inventory of everything you're doing; seriously reflect and meditate on that, and then bail on or eliminate tasks or projects that are unnecessary in order to free up time to do things that are more fulfilling. Arianna calls this process a "life audit," and she does it regularly.

"I started with projects that I wanted to do, but then realized I didn't really have the time and they were not high enough on my priority list to invest the time in completing them... You can complete a project by dropping it... It's important not to have incomplete projects even if we never do anything about them because they drain energy subconsciously."

As a highly accomplished woman running a major media organization, Arianna has one tip aimed specifically at women. As she mentions in the interview, data shows that women in stressful jobs are paying a particularly high price. They have a 40 percent greater risk of heart disease, and a 50 percent greater risk of diabetes, due to the way women tend to internalize stress and take things more personally. In many ways, female CEOs are faced with the "glass cliff" rather than the "glass ceiling" these days.

"I actually recommend in Thrive a third women's revolution," she says. "The first was giving us the vote. The second was giving us access to all jobs at the top of every field. It's still incomplete – there are a lot of glass ceilings still to be broken.

But I don't think we're ever going to complete the second revolution if we don't launch the third, which is about changing the workplace; changing the way so many workplaces are fueled by burnout, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation, because a lot of women end up leaving instead of staying in this environment. Forty-three percent of women leave after they have children. Only 40 percent of those will return full-time. For the sake of everyone – women and men – at companies, we need to rethink and reimagine our workplaces."

I couldn't agree more. Without health and well-being, how successful can you really consider yourself to be? At the very least, your success will be more short-lived than someone who is healthier and therefore lives longer. There's also something to be said for feeling joy in life, regardless of how long or short your life ends up being. If not to experience joy, what's the purpose of living?

Transforming Society from Valuing Go Getters to Go Givers

We have more data than wisdom these days. The way to succeed is not to amass more data; we need to unplug now and then to integrate what we've learned and put that which has value into practice. With computers performing more of our work load, creativity in all its forms is at a premium, and creativity is destroyed by fatigue and anxiety. The world as we know it is rapidly shifting. As noted by Arianna in another interview, we're at the edge of a "global shift" in attitudes similar to the shift from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

We're now starting to really notice and acknowledge the drawbacks and pitfalls of the technological society we've created. For all its benefits—and there are many—there are also significant challenges that must be addressed if we want to be truly successful in this world. Stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation are just a few examples of the toll our addiction to technology can take. In summary, some of the strategies that can help you maintain balance and reconnect with what's really important in your life include:

  • Making your bedroom a device-free zone (no TV, cell phones, computers, or technological gadgets of any kind)
  • Setting aside specific timeslots for answering emails, and not allowing such correspondence to spill over into your family or sleep time
  • Setting aside at least five minutes each day for quiet meditation, where you simply maintain focus on being present in the now

Last but not least, as Arianna says, our Go Getter society needs to transform into a Go Giver society. This is the short-cut to happiness.

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