Thrive

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington



Overview

People around the world, now more than ever, are hungry to live their lives with more meaning and purpose, with more happiness and joy but with less stress and burnout. Arianna Huffington witnessed this global awakening first hand.

More and more people, of all ages and from all walks of life, are coming to realize that there’s more to life than climbing the ladder, that we are more than our résumés, and that we don’t have to buy into the collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for success.

Thrive shows us all of the ways in which we are overworked including our constant connection to our devices, our poor eating habits, and a general lack of sleep.

Thrive is structured to fix our broken definition of success. And there is no better time to start than today.

Introducing the Third Metric

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In 2007 Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion and a lack of sleep. As she fell, she hit her head on the corner of her desk, cutting her eye and breaking her cheekbone.

Earlier that year she had been chosen as one of Time's 100 Most Influential People, in large part due to the creation and rapid expansion of The Huffington Post.

As she's being carted from one doctor to the next she thinks to herself: "Is this what success looks like? Is this the life I wanted?" She continues,

In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way.

All the way back to ancient Greeks, people have been asking: “What is a good life?” Unfortunately, somewhere along the way our priorities changed. We abandoned that question and "shifted our attention to how much money we can make, how big a house we can buy, and how high we can climb up the career ladder."

Over time, our society’s notion of success has been reduced to money and power. In fact, at this point, success, money, and power have practically become synonymous in the minds of many.

We deserve more than the lives we settle for. This book introduced a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power.

The Third Metric consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. These four pillars make up the four sections of this book.

Our jobs are taking over more and more of our lives and we're told it's the path to success. We think working 80 hours is better than working 40 hours and that being plugged in 24/7 is a requirement for any job worth having.

We're now getting by on less sleep and we're constantly multitasking, hoping that it's the fast track to success. Thrive challenges these assumptions. The price we're paying for that thinking is far too high, and it's ultimately unsustainable.

We often distort the message of those who laud hard work. We think that hard work comes through long hours. In fact, the opposite is true. Shorter, focused bursts are much more effective than a long meandering work day. 

Burnout

Burnout, stress, and depression have become worldwide epidemics. Millions of people around the world are using illegal drugs, antidepressants, and sleep aids. People are feeling more stressed in the workforce than ever before.

The word “stress” was first used in its modern sense in 1936 by physician Hans Selye. It means “the body’s nonspecific response to an external demand.”

What produces stress in our bodies is deeply subjective. It’s as if stress is always floating around looking for something—or someone—to land on. And it often lands on completely trivial and insignificant things.

Unfortunately human beings aren't great at distinguishing between real dangers and imagined ones. As Mark Williams explains, "The brain’s alarm signals start to be triggered not only by the current scare, but by past threats and future worries."

And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’

And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’
— IAIN THOMAS

Meditation

"One of the best—and most easily available—ways we can become healthier and happier is through mindfulness and meditation."

Meditation doesn't necessarily require you to sit cross-legged chanting. Mindfulness is simply about taking yourself out of autopilot and giving your full, undivided attention to whatever task you have at hand.

“The idea, is not to make you feel different, but simply to allow a few more moments moments in the day when you are ‘awake.’ … If you notice your mind wandering, simply notice where it went, then gently escort it back to the present moment.”

Meditation can even be done in very short periods of time. At any time we can take a moment to bring our attention to our breathing. We can notice the rising and falling of our breath without our conscious interference.

Studies of those who have a frequent meditation practice show that mindfulness training profoundly affects every aspect of our lives—our bodies, our minds, our physical health, and our emotional and spiritual well-being.

The relaxation response from meditation or yoga can reduce inflammation, fight arthritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Meditation also physically changes our brains.

One study found that meditation can actually increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain and slow the thinning that occurs there as we age, impacting cognitive functions such as sensory and emotional processing.

Meditation also boosts our creativity. “Ideas are like fish,” wrote director and longtime meditator David Lynch in his book Catching the Big Fish.

“If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills … There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind.… So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.
— MARCUS AURELIUS

If you want the benefits of mindfulness but don't want to start with meditation, you also look at prayer or journaling, which incorporate some of the same aspects. Your meditation can be religion, contemplation, running, skydiving, or gardening.

The point is to find some regular activity that trains your mind to be still, fully present, and connected with yourself.

No longer is meditation seen as some sort of New Age escape from the world. It’s increasingly seen for what it is: a practice that helps us be in the world in a way that is more productive, more engaged, healthier, and less stressful.

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage by considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them; every day begin the task anew.
— FRANCIS DE SALES

Over-Connectivity

Our brains are naturally wired to connect, as Matthew Lieberman discusses in Social. We're using our devices to try and connect with others but the connection we receive is typically superficial and ultimately unfulfilling. Worse, there is evidence that it can begin to actually rewire our brains to make us less adept at real human connection.

Linda Stone has worked on emerging technologies at both Apple and Microsoft and in 1997 she coined the term “continuous partial attention.” This is a way to describe "the state of always being partly tuned into everything while never being completely tuned in to anything."

The best way to get ahead of it: turn off all notifications. You should control when you want information, not the reverse.

Sleep

Over 30% of people in the United States and the United Kingdom are not getting enough sleep and it's have serious consequences in the working world.

As Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic, put it, “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.”

Sleep, or the lack of sleep, has become fetishized in our collective pursuit of success. We brag and boast about how little sleep we get, but this should not be something we admire. The downfalls of too little sleep drastically outweigh any potential benefits. 

Our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep.

Poor sleep habits have also been shown to make people "seven times more likely to feel helpless and five times more likely to feel alone."

At the Huffington Post, the company Arianna Huffington founded, the office has two napping rooms, which are full most of the time. They were met with heavily skepticism as people were afriad their collegues would think they are neglecting their responsibilities. The Huffington Post has made it very clear that "walking around drained and exhausted is what should be looked down on—not taking a break to rest and recharge."

If you're not getting enough sleep then you're not working at your personal best. “Everything you do, you’ll do better with a good night’s sleep,” says Dr. Breus.

Treat Your Bedtime as an Appointment

Approach bedtime with the same importance that you give all our work-related appointments. "It is, in effect, a meeting you’ve scheduled with yourself."

We often think of sleep as a flexible item that can be moved around to accommodate our other priorities. In truth, our sleep should be at a fixed point at the end of the day and everything else should be adjusted as needed so we don’t miss it.

One tip to get started: "set an alarm to go off—in your bedroom—when it’s time to go to bed."

You’ll be forced to enter your bedroom to turn the damn thing off—which at least gets you into the right room at the right time.

Further Reading:

  • For more about learning to meditate and applying it across disciplines, listen to Joshua Waitzkin interviewed by Tim Ferriss. Episode 148 of the Tim Ferriss Show (30:12)
  • For more on the importance of sleep and how to get more of it, read The Sleep Revolution, also by Arianna Huffington.
  • For more on the rewiring of our brains in the constant presence of connected devices, read Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. 
  • For more on "scheduling appointments with yourself," listen to Mike Birbiglia interviewed by Tim Ferriss. Episode 176 of the Tim Ferriss Show (18:56)

Wisdom is about recognizing what we’re really seeking: connection and love. When we focus only only money and power we trap ourselves into a narrow reality. Wisdom can break us free from the lives we settle for.

A Life of Grace

A life of grace does not mean that you must live on the top of a mountain in silence. All of us are able to reach a place of grace, no matter our location, with some practice.

To live a life with grace doesn't mean that the things that annoy you or bother you disappear, they don't. It means those things no longer have the power to control you, to bother you, to annoy you.

Gratitude

Gratitude is an especially powerful emotion. Grace and gratitude have the same Latin root, gratus.

If ever we get caught up in a moment where we're feeling overwhelmed, we can open ourselves up to grace by taking a moment to be grateful. We can take a breath and be thankful for this day, for being alive, for anything.

Mark Williams, an Oxford clinical psychologist, suggests using the “ten finger gratitude exercise,” in which once per day you list ten things you’re grateful, counting them on your fingers. This exercise won't always be easy, but that's the point. We're trying to "intentionally bring into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the day.”

My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me.
— Imam Al-Shafi’i

Slow Down

Our lives can improve greatly if we take the time to slow down.

Our obsession with rushing and packing our schedules full is slowly killing us. Constant rushing is shown to lead to hypertension, increased weight gain, and decreasing overall satisfaction with life.

Our culture is obsessed with time... We always think we’re saving time, and yet we feel like we never have enough of it.

Arianna Huffington writes a poignant paragraph on our time addiction that I've reproduced in full here.

In order to manage time—or what we delude ourselves into thinking of as managing time—we rigidly schedule ourselves, rushing from meeting to meeting, event to event, constantly trying to save a bit of time here, a bit there. We download apps for productivity and eagerly click on articles with time-saving life hacks. We try to shave a few seconds off our daily routine, in hopes that we can create enough space to schedule yet another meeting or appointment that will help us climb the ladder of success. Like airlines, we routinely overbook ourselves, fearful of any unused capacity, confident that we can fit everything in. We fear that if we don’t cram as much as possible into our day, we might miss out on something fabulous, important, special, or career advancing. But there are no rollover minutes in life. We don’t get to keep all that time we “save.” It’s actually a very costly way to live.

In 2008, 68% of Americans said having free time was the most important thing to them. It ranked higher than having children (62%) and a successful career (59%).

We say we want free time but the way many of us choose to live our lives doesn't reflect that. We continue to define success as "who works the longest hours, who goes the longest without a vacation, who sleeps the least, who responds to an email at midnight or five in the morning."

But we can fight back. We can take things slowly. We can enjoy the present moment. Carl Honoré, the author of In Praise of Slowness, summed it up nicely:

“Speed can be fun, productive and powerful, and we would be poorer without it. What the world needs, and what the slow movement offers, is a middle path, a recipe for marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age. The secret is balance: instead of doing everything faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes in between.”

Stoicism

Stoicism is a school of philosophy that teaches that unhappiness and negative emotions are not inflicted on us by external circumstances and events, but rather, are the result of the judgments we make about those events. Said another way, the quality of each of our days is up to us. We can not choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond.

To the Stoics, the most secure kind of happiness could therefore be found in the only thing that we are in control of—our inner world. Everything outside us can be taken away, so how can we entrust our future happiness and well-being to it?

Stoicism is often confused with indifference, but it’s really about freedom.

Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say “so what.” That’s one of my favorite things to say.
— ANDY WARHOL

Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor who watched his wife and children die in concentration camps. In his seminal book, Man's Search for Meaning he wrote: “Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom.”

It's hard to read that paragraph and then get road rage when someone cuts you off. Or when someone is rude to you at the supermarket.

He faced some of those most horrific acts of brutality in modern history and he approached each day with such equanimity and grace that is in sharp contrast to the way we often react to the trivial challenges in our lives that we let disturb us.

Lastly, there is a big difference between stoic acceptance and resignation.

Cultivating the ability to not be disturbed by our lives’ obstacles, disappointments, and setbacks doesn’t mean not trying to change what we can change. 

I believe the best reminder for this, regardless of a person's religion or faith, comes in the form of the Serenity Prayer which goes as follows:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

That "wisdom to know the difference" comes from the ability to step outside our narrow view of the world to gain a larger perspective.

Further Reading

  • For Victor Frankl's story, read Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.
  • For timeless stoic lessons, read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. 

We have choice in every moment to see wonder in the world around us. In the pouring rain we can complain about the inconvenience or we can wonder and marvel at the glisten of the rain on the road and the passing cars. 

Our daily lives are full of chances to experience wonder.. The question is whether we will be present enough to experience them. 

After all, the great lesson is that no special natural sights—not Alps, Niagara, Yosemite or anything else—is more grand or more beautiful than the ordinary sunrise and sunset, earth and sky, the common trees and grass.
— Walt Whitman

Our society has grown to believe that organized religion and spiritual truth are the same thing. This causes millions of people to deny the reality of the latter because they have rejected the former.

Einstein defined wonder as a precondition for life. He wrote,

Whoever lacks the capacity to wonder, "whoever remains unmoved, whoever cannot contemplate or know the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, might just as well be dead for he has already closed his eyes upon life."

Nature and art are two of the best ways to experience wonder. What's making it harder today is our culture's obsession with photographing everything before we’ve even experienced it.

These photos and constant interruptions “make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything.”

By so-obsessively documenting our experiences, we never truly have them.

We live in a hyper-connected world where there are so many things competing for our attention and where multitasking is king. Fully giving our attention to anything or anyone is becoming increasingly rare. 

Of course social media has a role to play in our lives.

It’s when we move social media from the background to the foreground that we undermine the artistic experience.

Too much of the wrong kind of connection can actually disconnect us from an aesthetic experience.
What is success? It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.
— PAULO COELHO

Our Failing Vacations

Holidays were traditionally intended as a time to recharge ourselves both spiritually and physically. We would take a break from the world and tap into our inner selves. But that's not what vacations are anymore:

For far too many of us, vacations often serve only to amplify our stress and busyness and desire to do and accomplish—with our smartphones keeping us fully connected to the world we’ve ostensibly left behind.

Not only are our vacations not serving their original purpose, for many people, they return from vacation feeling more stressed.

58% of workers feel absolutely no reduction in stress from their vacations, and 28% return even more stressed than they were before they left.

Taking a Moment to Build Good Feelings

Dr. Rick Hanson, the author of Hardwiring Happiness, wrote,

“The brain is very good at building brain structure from negative experiences.” But our brains are relatively poor at doing the same thing with positive experiences. To fight this, he explains, we need to “install” the positive experiences, “taking the extra 10, 20 seconds to heighten the installation into neural structure.”

Said another way, our brain naturally focuses on the negative things in life. We can train our brain to focus on the good things in life but we need to act deliberately. We need to take the time to wonder at the world around us. We need to feel gratitude for the good in our lives.

In order to train our brains to start focusing on the positive, we need to slow down and let wonder do its job at its own pace.

Embrace Coincidence

One pathway to awakening wonder in our lives is the serendipity of coincidence.

Coincidences, however prosaic, elicit our curiosity about the nature of the universe and all that we don’t yet know or understand. There is something about coincidences that delights us.

We don’t have to know what coincidences mean, or arrive at some grand conclusion when we encounter them. But they serve as sporadic reminders to maintain our sense of wonder, to stop every now and again and allow ourselves to be fully present in the moment and open to life’s mystery.

Memento Mori

The ancient Romans gave us a phrase, "memento mori," it means remember death.

It's a reminder than no matter what our lives held, at some point our lives are going to end.

No matter what we believe happens after we die, whether our souls live on, whether we go to heaven or hell, whether we’re reincarnated or folded back into the energy of the universe or simply cease to exist altogether, our physical existence and our lives as we know them will end.

It's easy to recoil when talking about death. Many people feel as if there's no benefit to talking about death, so why worry about it? But the reality is, there may be no single thing that can teach us more about life than death.

By thinking about death we think about our priorities. If we think about dying next year, for example, we can realign how we spend our time. We can take more time with our family or we can pursue that hobby we've been putting off.

If we want to redefine what it means to live a successful life, we need to integrate into our daily lives the certainty of our death.

Further Reading:

  • For more on how taking photographs are taking us out of the present moment, read Alone Together by Sherry Turkle.
  • For more on Memento Mori, read The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.
  • For more on how embracing death can improve our lives, listen to this NPR segment on the Obituary section of the NYTimes.

Well-being, wisdom, and wonder are all are critical to redefining success and thriving, but they are incomplete without the fourth element: giving.

The only viable answer to the multitude of problems the world is facing is through giving, loving, caring, empathy, and compassion. Going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones to help serve others.

When we hear troubling statistics, about children living in poverty, for example. Too many of us are quick to provide world-weary explanations that offer no answers: “The system is broken,” or “Government has become too polarized to pass meaningful reform.” Yes, of course there is a lot that governments need to do. But we can not just sit idly by on the sidelines complaining that it’s not doing enough.

Humans want to help each other. We see it after every major disaster, whether natural or man-made. After Hurricane Sandy, the Haiti earthquake, and the Newtown shooting, we hear about this collective recovery effort, the "we’re-all-in-this-together spirit."

But it shouldn’t take a natural disaster to make us tap into our natural humanity. After all, we know that there are people desperately in need all the time, in every community, in every country, even when it’s not on the front pages.

"Giving and service mark the path to a world in which we are no longer strangers and alone, but members of a vast yet tightly knit family."

Social Entrepreneurs

Social entrepreneurs, is a term coined by Bill Drayton to describe "individuals who combine the practical gifts of a business entrepreneur with the compassionate goals of a social reformer." 

Only a life lived for others is the life worth while.
— Albert Einstein

Giving to others can have a massive positive impact on our happiness. Also, those who tend to give more than they take end up getting ahead in work. 

Wharton professor Adam Grant cites studies that show that those who give their time and effort to others end up achieving more success than those who don’t. And,

The highest achieving negotiators are those who focus not only on their own goals, but also on helping their counterparts succeed.

There is no faster way to a better, more evolved world than through giving and service.

We know how much good giving can do for others but we sometimes forget all the good it does for ourselves.

It is really true that while we grow physically by what we get, we grow spiritually by what we give.

Transforming our narcissistic habits and awakening our giving nature—which is what both the world and we ourselves need—is the work of a lifetime.

Where to Buy

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Buy the book on AmazonBarnes and NobleBAM, or just Google it. (I receive no kickback or commission for these links or summaries. See my disclosure for more.)

EVEN MORE GREAT STUFF IN THIS BOOK:

  • How meditation helps elite athletes and is impleted in the U.S. Army
  • How to get the benefits of meditation in just a few short minutes
  • Why you should get rid of technology as you're getting ready for sleep
  • The best employers for promoting a healthy life
  • The benefits of taking walks
  • Using social media as tool and not getting caught up pursing virality
  • Breaking and changing bad habits by understanding habit loops
  • The difference between cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy.
  • And much, much more!
Erik Cianci