One of Forbes’ “Most Powerful Women”, Arianna Huffington is a journalist, an author and entrepreneur, to name a few. She is best known for her news site, The Huffington Post, and for her substantial influence in the media.
180S: Tell us a little bit about your background and how your vision for The Huffington Post came to you.
AH: Here’s an abridged version of my background: My mother was amazingly committed to making sure my sister, Agapi, and I had the best childhoods possible. She did everything to make sure I was educated. We were living in a one-room apartment in Athens, but when I happened to see a photo of Cambridge University in a magazine, and for some reason felt that I wanted to go there, everybody laughed at me — except my mother. And she helped me make it happen!
The vision for The Huffington Post is closely connected to my Greek heritage and my mother’s influence. Bringing together people from different parts of my life and facilitating interesting conversations has always been part of my Greek DNA. From the beginning, the whole point was to take the sort of conversations found at water coolers and around dinner tables — about politics and art and books and food and sex — and open them up and bring them online.
180S: You’ve spoken about how your mother has inspired you. In what ways has your Father provided inspiration for you?
AH: My father was a journalist and I grew up on the romance of the profession. He was always reading, and I inherited his love of books. For that I’m grateful.
180S: What are some of the practices The Huffington Post implements in the workplace to encourage a health-first approach for employees?
AH: At The Huffington Post, since the news never stops, and there is the temptation for editors, reporters, and engineers to try to match the twenty-four-hour news cycle, we do a lot to prevent burnout. First, we make it very clear that no one is expected to check work email and respond after hours or over the weekend (unless, of course, these are their working hours). Everyone has at least three weeks of vacation time, which they are highly encouraged to take. And I have implored HuffPosters— without much success, I must admit— to eat lunch away from their desks. We also have two nap rooms in our newsroom, which are now full most of the time, even though they were met with skepticism and reluctance when we installed them in the spring of 2011. Many were afraid their colleagues might think they were shirking their duties by taking a nap. We’ve made it very clear, however, that walking around drained and exhausted is what should be looked down on— not taking a break to rest and recharge. In our New York offices we host meditation, breathing, and yoga classes throughout the week, while our new D.C. offices have dedicated meditation, yoga, and nap rooms. And the benefits of standing and walking as opposed to sitting all day long led us to provide a standing desk to anyone who requests it. We also have a gym and take part in the Virgin Pulse wellness program, where employees can earn up to $500 a year by engaging in healthy practices. And to facilitate such healthy practices, we have refrigerators stocked with healthy snacks, including yogurt, hummus, fruit, and baby carrots.
180S: You advocate healthy sleeping habits and taking care of your health first, but do you think The Huffington Post would have been successful if you would have started out with this same approach to sleep?
AH: Yes, and I wish I had known much sooner that not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder, giving– and sleep! When you’re on an airplane, you’re told to “secure your own mask first before helping others,” even your own child. After all, it’s not easy to help somebody else breathe easier if you’re fighting for air yourself. I’m convinced that if I had started out with this approach to sleep, HuffPost would be just as much of a success. And most of HuffPost’s successes have been over the past seven years, after my painful wakeup call.
180S: Did you feel a shift in your professional circle when you started to take your health seriously? If so, how did you deal with it and how did you feel about the reactions you got?
AH: I’ve only ever felt support and encouragement. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, napping, and deep breathing once upon a time might have been thought of as New Age-y and part of a counterculture. But in the past few years, we’ve reached a tipping point as more and more people realize that stress-reduction and mindfulness aren’t only about harmonic convergence and universal love— they’re also about increased well-being and better performance.
180S: What are some tips to maintain awareness of our health gauge?
AH: I wanted Thrive to be as practical as possible, and I included many daily practices, tools, and techniques that are easy to incorporate into our lives and help us to increase our awareness. Here are three simple steps each one of us can take that can have dramatic effects on our well-being:
1. Unless you are one of the wise few who already gets all the rest you need, you have an opportunity to immediately improve your health, creativity, productivity, and sense of well-being. Start by getting just thirty minutes more sleep than you are getting now. The easiest way is to go to bed earlier, but you could also take a short nap during the day— or a combination of both.
2. Have a specific time at night when you regularly turn off your devices— and gently escort them out of your bedroom. Disconnecting from the digital world will help you reconnect to your wisdom, intuition, and creativity. And when you wake up in the morning, don’t start your day by looking at your smartphone. Take one minute— trust me, you do have one minute— to breathe deeply, or be grateful, or set your intention for the day.
3. Introduce five minutes of meditation into your day. Eventually, you can build up to fifteen or twenty minutes a day (or more), but even just a few minutes will open the door to creating a new habit— and all the many proven benefits it brings.
180S: What are some details you have observed about businesses that are revolutionizing practices because of all this research on sleep?
AH: We’re living through an incredible time, when modern science is validating a lot of ancient wisdom – and this includes the ways businesses are embracing the many benefits of sleep. More and more companies are rejecting the stubborn – and dangerously wrongheaded – myth that there is a trade-off between high performance at work and taking care of ourselves. When it comes to sleep, we’re nearing a tipping point in our workplace culture where working till all hours and walking around like zombies is stigmatized instead of lauded.
180S: When we get closer and closer to our dreams, we naturally accelerate our pace and zoom past our own needs. What are some words of advice for those who find it hard to slow down?
AH: My words of advice are what I tell myself: life is too amazing and mysterious to shrink it down to our to-do lists and careers, however magnificent they may be. My mother was a towering example of the joys of slowing down. She moved through her days like a child does, living in the present, stopping, literally, to smell the roses. A trip through the farmers’ market might be an all-day affair with little thought of All the Things That Must Be Done. I still often think of the advice she’d give my sister and me when we were faced with a hard decision: “Darling, let it marinate.” In other words, give yourself the time to think about and live with the consequences of the decision. She believed that rushing through life was a sure way to miss the gifts that come only when you give 100 percent of yourself to a task, a conversation, a dinner, a relationship, a moment.
180S: How can our community get in touch with you?
AH: I would love to invite your community to email me at email@example.com and write about the ways they’re redefining success and thriving in their own lives.