This article was originally published here on May 5, 2014
Along with writing for Forbes and other outlets, I’m a regular Huffington Post contributor, and have long admired Arianna Huffington for what she’s developed, launched and created in the world. The President and Editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, Arianna is a nationally syndicated columnist, and author of fourteen books. Since her 2005 launch of The Huffington Post, it has become one of the most widely-read, linked to, and cited media brands online. In 2012, the site won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, and Arianna has been named to Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people and the Forbes Most Powerful Women list.
I’ve been drawn to Arianna’s current passion for helping people shift focus away from striving desperately to attain the traditional and often empty societal measures of success (money and power), and instead, focus on thriving – a process of building a rewarding, stimulating and healthy life that opens the door for more meaning, purpose, joy, peace and well-being. Her new bestselling book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder draws on the latest groundbreaking scientific research in the fields of psychology, sports, sleep, and physiology that show the profound and transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging, and giving back. Through her book, and new Thrive events, she hopes to catalyze a revolution towards thriving, in our culture, our thinking, our workplace, and our lives.
When I learned of the special Thrive event in New York City, I knew I wanted to attend, and learn more from this female dynamo who has experienced tremendous “success” yet found herself lying on her office floor in a pool of blood from a fall she took stemming from utter exhaustion.
Of everything I learned from the event, there were four key takeaways that made enough of an impact on me that I decided to make changes immediately in my life:
1. We treat our smart phones like Gods, while we ignore the health of our minds, bodies, spirits.
Arianna and Mika began the day Saturday discussing how we revere and treasure our smartphones (even with “altars” for them – cradles that ensure they are replenished and restored) yet we focus very little energy on how we treat and nourish our minds, bodies and spirits.
Being constantly attached to our phones (as if they’re new appendages), unable to disconnect from working 24/7, makes us stressed, agitated, fearful, exhausted and ill. We evolved from a work culture years ago that could unplug after 5pm and spend time resting, reading, being connected in an uninterrupted way with our families, to being driven to be “on” 100% of the time we’re awake.
I realized too at the event (as I was intensely connected to my iPhone) that our smartphones have become a social crutch that keep us from meaningful personal connection – they distract and prevent us from deeper social engagement, from conversing at length rather than abbreviated texting, from looking deeply into the eyes of the one we’re with for an extended period.
The point – if we spent just one tiny fraction of the time and energy on our minds, bodies, and spirits that we do honoring and obeying our smartphones, our lives would change dramatically for the better.
Tips: Actively disengage from your smartphone. Make it a point each day to shut off the phone completely, and don’t check it. Tell your colleagues that you won’t be working on your phone after 9pm, and adhere to this rule as a non-negotiable. Additionally, make your bedroom a device-free zone. Stop the insanity.
2. Sugar is absolutely killing us.
The terrible truth is that this is the first generation EVER of children expected to lead shorter lives than their parents.
Katie Couric and Laurie David shared their new documentary film Fed Up that posits that there is an enormous fundamental problem in society that has gone unaddressed and worse, that our government is actively supporting – the obesity epidemic.
The documentary reports that this health epidemic is far worse than previously estimated. The sobering reality: over 95% of all Americans will be overweight or obese in two decades and by 2050, one of every three Americans will have diabetes. At the root of this staggering problem is not lack of exercise and inactivity of our children – it’s rampant sugar in the majority of food items in stores today that triggers an addictive reaction that we are powerless to overcome because we remain unaware of the cause.
The documentary reveals that there are 600,000 food items available to us today in America and 80% of them have added sugar. It’s a substance that “lights up our brains just as cocaine and heroin do. You’re going to become an addict. We’re blaming willpower and it’s a crime.”
Katie shared in her discussion at the Thrive event that even food product labels today don’t indicate the sugar content as a percentage of a daily limit or acceptable amount, so we have no idea if the level of sugar we’re consuming is ok or unhealthy. We’re kept in the dark purposely, and the sugar industry and our government are to blame.
I’m anxious to see the film, and to understand the problem on a deeper level, and take action to address it. But what can we do now?
Tips: Gain greater awareness of the sugar you and your children are consuming. Cleanse your kitchen of as many products as possible with significant added sugar. Start cooking more of your own food, so you can know exactly what’s in it. Understand the dramatic negative effects of sugar on our bodies and our health, and take back control.
3. Stress and burnout are extreme health problems today, and sleep, meditation and relaxation dramatically help.
As Arianna shared recently in the Huffington Post, according to the World Health Organization, the cost of stress to American businesses is as high as $300 billion. And unless we change course, this will only get worse. Over the last 30 years, self-reported levels of stress have increased 18% for women and 25% for men.
This has tremendous consequences because of the role stress plays in a wide array of illnesses. Like high blood pressure, which afflicts nearly 70 million, and which costs $130 billion a year to treat. Or diabetes, which 25 million Americans have.
Research has revealed that one of the best — and cheapest — ways to become healthier and happier is through mindfulness exercises like meditation. Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, an expert in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and the co-author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, shares that after nine weeks of training, participants in a mindfulness program had “an increased sense of purpose and had fewer feelings of isolation and alienation, along with decreased symptoms of illness as diverse as headaches, chest pain, congestion and weakness.”
Arianna explains, “There is more and more scientific evidence about the impact of mindfulness and meditation in our lives. The list of all the conditions that these practices impact for the better—depression, anxiety, heart disease, memory, aging, creativity—sounds like a label on snake oil from the 19th century! Except this cure-all is real, and there are no toxic side effects. Indeed, 2013 was the year when meditation and mindfulness finally and overwhelmingly stopped being seen as something vaguely flaky, vaguely New Age-y, definitely California, and fully entered the mainstream.”
Incorporating meditation in your life, and committing to getting the rest you need to thrive, are proven to have life-altering and health-boosting effects and are critical steps to changing the course of your life for the better.
In fact, the health effects of meditation can be a matter of life and death. In a National Institutes of Health study, meditation brought about a 23% decrease in mortality, a 30% decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems and a big decrease in cancer mortality as well. “This effect is equivalent to discovering an entirely new class of drugs (but without the inevitable side effects).”
Tips: Find a way to disengage from being “on” constantly, and focusing on “me, me, me” and on striving to achieve and attain outer things.
Sleep one hour per day more as a start. Embrace meditation and yoga in your life. Evict the “obnoxious roommate” in your head who is driving and criticizing you, telling you you can’t stop or rest, and just “be.”
For just 10 minutes a day as a start, focus inward, become more present with yourself, your thoughts and your feelings, strengthening your inner resources so they may sustain you in a deeper way.
Also, make the commitment to build your life not just as an endless pursuit of activities that feel disconnected to your heart. You are bigger than your job or your professional role. Shift your life to focus on something purposeful, inspiring and meaningful to you. Connect in a deeper way to the world around you that you love.
4. We can change the world
One final realization I had from the Thrive event. I was reminded that we (all of us) can move mountains and change the world when we:
– Stop complaining and blaming, and start engaging ourselves in addressing a critical challenge we and our world face
– Build a powerful support community of like-minded friends and colleagues who also are passionate about this challenge
– Embark on learning all we need to know to transform the problem
– Commit our body and soul to making life better for ourselves and others.
What will you do today to address your exhaustion, stress and strain, and move toward a new way of operating in the world that allows you to thrive?
For more information, see Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.
To build a more satisfying and rewarding career, visit kathycaprino.com.