July 9, 2020

Book notes: Thrive or what I learned about managing your life from Arianna Huffington

Back when I was working at Deloitte, I remember having a conversation with a senior manager who was talking about careers and what millenials were interested in. I told the senior manager that I didn’t think millenials were after that ‘carrot’ of partnership. A lot of people hustle and grind their way to the very top. They work long hours, weekends and evenings. They sell millions of dollars of projects. They attend events with clients. And this is all so that they can make it to that coveted partner level. But here’s the thing that a partner told me, once you reach the partner level, there’s another ladder to climb. The grind doesn’t really stop. It’s not that millenials do not care about getting promoted and rising up in the company but it’s more that they want that balance at the same time. Take it from me, people want it all – they want the work life balance, they want the challenge of work, they want to grow and they want to get promoted all the while. I also think that millenials and many more people these days are being given the option of choosing between work and family, and although it’s not quite that dichotomy all the time, people are choosing family over work.

Arianna Huffington led that life while writing best selling books, running a huge media company (Huffington Post) and supporting three daughters. Therefore, I was quite interested in hearing how she dealt with all this success and the ways that she managed and coped with this success:

Meditation is an incredibly beneficial exercise

Meditation helps increase your focus. Increases your productivity. Lowers stress. Increases memory. It takes only a few minutes every day. You can do it for free (or supported through an app – which may also be free or at a very low cost) and while I don’t do it on a regular basis, every day that I do the meditation, I feel different – a good different.

Disconnect from technology

While I haven’t read it, Cal Newport’s new book on Digital Minimalism is all about being cognizant of whether you are using your phone or your phone is using you. Arianna’s advice is to disconnect from technology – pick a day, pick the earliest and latest hours and do not use your smartphone, tablet or computer. And when you do disconnect from technology, I think you will find that your focus and attention will increase. I probably look at my smartphone over a hundred times a day and I spend at least an hour or two on my smartphone every day – whether it’s looking at pings and text messages or checking e-mails.

Get enough sleep

Gone are the days where I would work until the late hours of the night and then wake up super early in the morning, to work again. When I was younger, I found that I had an enormous amount of energy to do work. I worked evenings. I worked weekends. I worked all the time. Even now, I still feel the urge to work but I just cannot sacrifice sleep any more. Working for an extra hour compared to getting an extra hour of sleep is a no brainer – I choose sleep all the time. So Arianna definitely has something here. One tip that I really enjoy is to not just set an alarm to wake up but to also set an alarm for sleeping at night and to commit to the alarm.

Sleep can also help with solving problems. Before going to bed, make sure that you have a problem in the back of your mind that you want to solve. And then when you wake up in the morning, see if you have any new ideas.

Walk

If you are working, you are most likely sitting all the time. There was a period of time where sitting was called the new smoking (and maybe they still say that today). But you work for a few hours and then “bing”, you get a notification for a meeting. Great, you get some exercise. But you get to the meeting and then you sit for a few more hours.

A while ago, I remember there was a rage about having more walking meetings. But in the years that I’ve been in the corporate environment, I don’t think I’ve seen that as a trend. But what I have tried to do myself is to walk more. Whenever I’m thinking. Whenever I am talking on the phone. Whenever I am watching TV. I try to walk (I’ve got a treadmill conveniently located in front of the TV).

Another connection here – in Tony Robbin’s Book Awaken the Giant, he talks about how your movement can influence how you feel. If you are feeling really tired or down, start to dance and then tell me if your mood is not better after doing some funky dance moves. And it’s the same with walking and trying to solve problems – not just creativity but any problems that you can ruminate on.

Practice gratitude

I’ve gone through two Five Minute Journals and one of the items in the journal is to list a few things that you are grateful for. Practicing gratitude in this way helps you to feel more satisfied with how things are going. It helps to ground you so that you’re not always seeking that next step on the ladder or that next Porsche.

Listen to your instincts

Have you ever walked down an alley and just felt that it wasn’t right? This happened to me once – I once, after finishing dinner with my family, got into a car and felt that something was just wrong. It was a weird feeling. My Dad tried to start the car and found that it couldn’t start. We ended up calling a tow truck who helped us to boost our car. What I’m saying (and what Arianna is saying here) is to listen to your intuition. Everybody has this little voice in their gut that pipes up whenever something doesn’t feel right. Although you may not listen to that voice all the time, the fact that that voice pipes up should be a sign to you.

Practice the slow movement

I eat really fast. My friends around me say that I eat really fast. But not only from this book but from different articles I read, I’m hearing that sometimes it’s better to do things slow. Like for example, taking the long way to work. It’s more scenic, it’ll throw you out of your regular habit, you will notice things that you didn’t notice before.

Whenever I’m thinking about whether to do something fast or slow, I think about a story from Derek Sivers. He told this story about biking to work and he did it at a very leisurely pace. Going at the leisurely pace, he got to work in about 28 minutes. Then one day, he decided that he wanted to see how quickly he could get to work. He went all out, as fast as he could, but still being safe. He found that he got to work in 24 minutes (times are not exact – I’m guessing here). He found that by going all out, he shaved off a few minutes from his leisurely pace. So when I think about for example, speeding in my car, even going say from Edmonton to Calgary (which is about 300 km), going 120 from 110 may save you twenty minutes but you also increase the risk that you get a speeding ticket – whereas if you stick with 110, you have almost no chance of getting a speeding ticket (except in construction zones mind you).

Stoicism

Recently, say in the past two years, I’ve been hearing a lot about stoicism. It’s the philosophy that we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control how we react to the situation. Ryan lays it out in The Obstacle is the Way and there are numerous books on the stoic philosophy (which I intend to dive into more deeply). Every day, you have an opportunity to make a decision on whether you let life throw you curve balls and you accepting them or whether you catch these and throw them back out. People can’t make you feel bad without your permission. And while a lot of my friends think that I am a robot and that I have no emotion, it’s more so that I’ve tried to practice stoicism (although maybe I’m a little bit on the extreme side).

Practice silence

I certainly have this problem – I can’t help but feel like I am not being productive whenever I am doing something without listening to say a podcast or an audiobook. In some cases, I can’t because I’m doing deep work and need to concentrate. But a lot of other times (ironing, doing the laundry, cleaning the toilets), I like to put on a podcast or an audiobook and listen while I work away. But Arianna is advocating for more silence in your life – and not just to things like podcasts or audiobooks. She says that stepping away from the news can be enlightening – you miss a few days and then you find that you haven’t missed very much at all. It seems like we are always on the go and so silence is such a foreign concept to go-getters that we should be revisiting it from time to time – in a way this is a form of meditation but it does not have to be.

Memento mori

Ryan Holiday has a coin with ‘memento mori’ inscribed on it. The inscription translates into “Remember that you are mortal”. It is honestly the one phrase that I think about whenever I need some perspective thrown into my life. Why am I procrastinating? I’m not getting any younger? Should I go on this trip with some sketchy people? Do I have to stay mad at the friends in my life? When you put your life into perspective, I think you will find that your perspective will change for a lot of things. Why stay mad when you can forgive and forget and move on to better things? If you are traveling and have an opportunity for a once in a lifetime experience, will you really pass it up in the hopes that you will come across the opportunity in the future? (Be realistic!).


Well I’ll be honest, I don’t think I learned anything new but this book did help to reaffirm a lot about how I should think about success. It’s not just about reaching the carrot at the top. If you reach the top and have no one to enjoy it with, will you really be happy and successful?

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