Learning to thrive, not just survive: 8 Steps towards a more balanced life
How do you define success? Is it a Wolf of Wolf Street display of drugs, fast cars and bathing in cash? Or the fact that you earn £X per year, can go on a holiday in the sun for the summer and skiing during the winter months? Maybe, it’s being able to look around at your happy and healthy family and friends and bask in the glow of happiness? Before I go on with this post today, I want you to take a moment to pause to ask yourself; ‘How do I define success for myself?’ ‘What does it mean to me?’
Last week I joined The School of Life as they invited Arianna Huffington chair, president and editor in chief of Huffington Post to the stage to share her ideas from her bestselling book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Wellbeing, Wisdom, and Wonder.
The definition of success and power will always mean different things to different people. Arianna, in her own right, can be seen as being successful and powerful; she is named by Time Magazine list of the world’s 100 most influential people, and is in the Forbes Most Powerful Womens list. She’s a formidable woman. She set up Huffington Post in 2005, a media powerhouse, which continues to grow in dominance and popularity around the world. She has also written 14 books.
However, in April 2007 she had a wake up call. Having been working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, she came to one day on the floor of her home office in a pool of blood, having collapsed and hit her head on the corner of her office desk. The reason for her fall was sheer exhaustion. It was following this incident, and the resulting days spent in medical rooms and hospitals getting to the bottom of the fall, that Arianna chose to redefine what success actually means. Yes, she was incredibly successful by the traditional measures of money and power, but by asking herself the simple questions of ‘Is this what success looks like?’ and ‘Is this the life I want?’, she was able to start making important changes in her life to redefine success from a space of self and perspective.
We live in a time where being busy is a badge of honour. We pack more and more on top of our busy lives in order to fill every single crack of time with work, work and more work, meeting friends, socialising, going to the gym, spending time on leisure pursuits, commuting, waiting for buses/ tubes / trains, dodging slow walking people on the busy streets and and and…the real fact is that we have created a time famine which means that we have no time for ourselves, or the true sense of the person or identity we need to be true to. We leave little or no time for us to really connect with who we are, and how we can go about creating a good life.
In order to live a balanced and fulfilled life is more than just existing; Arianna, in her latest book, writes about The Third Metric, which in essence is how we can bring well being, wisdom and wonder into our lives in order to create a world in which we live, breathe, connect and – you’ve guessed it – thrive.
Below are 8 ideas based around things which Arianna talks about in her book to help you bring more balance into your life:
Sleep is a miracle drug. Fact. The average person needs between 7-8 hours per night, some can survive on less, but there are obvious factors of age, which will affect how much sleep is good for you, and conversely, what impact not enough sleep will have. Not getting enough sleep is more than feeling a little out of sorts and sluggish. It can have serious health impacts over time, including increased blood pressure and the likelihood of obesity, an increase of heart disease and diabetes, as well as becoming more prone to the risk of strokes. In fact, studies have shown that one week of getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night can alter up to 700 genes. Not enough sleep can also have a detrimental affect on our motor skills, the ability to use good judgment and make good decisions. It also affects mental health over time. Not good right?
Starting by getting 30 more minutes per night, either by going to bed earlier, or trying to get a much needed nap in the day, if this is possible. If you struggle with getting a decent sleep, you can read more tips on how to get a better quality of sleep here.
Another biggie is to not to use smartphones or pads before you sleep as the blue light emitted from the screens surpasses our melatonin levels, affects our circadian rhythms and upsets our natural body clock, essentially switching it back into ‘awake’ mode.
Also, don’t be fooled that drinking alcohol will help you to sleep better (unless you’re on the last train home). Whilst drinking alcohol does induce an immediate deep sleep, known as slow wave sleep (SWS), it skips the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. What this means is that the body and brain cannot fully repair through sleep. You can read more about the effects on alcohol and sleep here.
Dealing with our addiction to technology
In a world of hyper-connectivity, we are actually much less connected to our true sense of identity and our real communities, whether that community is our friends and family, the people we love, or in a wider sense of the word. As scary as it seems, it’s time to decompress and deal with this modern phenomenon of being addicted to our devices.
Aside from the effects which having our phones and pads is having on our sleep quality, they also distract us from being truly productive, from interacting and connecting to people in front of us, and breaks up our ability to be able to concentrate on a task. Studies have found that the constant interrupt of text messages, notifications and email message which pop up on our phones increasing our stress hormones as we feel we need to find out what the message is about, or respond straight away. It also means that we miss ‘real world’ information. As Arianna says‘Disconnecting from the digital world will help you reconnect to your wisdom, intuition and creativity.’
As for the interruption to our sleep processes and ability to relax, well technology is the antithesis to this (aside from using relaxation tools). So, when you are ready to go to bed, or preparing to go to bed, turn off your devices, yes, actually turn them off, walk them out of the room, and only go to them in the morning when you have had time to wake up and be aware of the world around you each and every day.
Starting your day in the right way
OK, so you have banned your iPhone from the bedroom, you no longer automatically reach for it as the very first thing you do when you wake up, and rightly so. Starting your day by looking at your phone, checking emails, Facebook or Tweeting, means that you are missing so much information that your brain has been processing for you overnight. It also means that you are giving power to your technology to allow it to set the tone for your day.
Instead, start each morning by taking a moment to focus on you; where you are and who you are. Setting a positive intention for the day starts it in the right way, whether that’s by reminding yourself of positive affirmations, listening to the messages your dreams were bringing you, thinking about the things you are most grateful for, or reminding yourself of your goals; take some time to breathe, to focus and to enter into your consciousness in a positive way.
Reconnecting to yourself
Reconnection means taking some time to connect with our inner strength and resilience. Allowing more time for introspection and reflection provides us with the ability to accept our own pace of being on our life journey. Taking time for meaningful pauses throughout the day are performance enhancers. Time to connect, rest and rebalance. And they don’t have to take long, as it’s not the amount of time, but the quality of the energy. Giving yourself back some time in your day will improve your focus, increase your energy levels, help with sleep and clarity and will, ultimately, put you back in control.
Try substituting your usual Facebook fix with some connective mindfulness meditation. You can start with 5-10 minutes per day of mindfulness mediation practice working up to 15-20 minutes per day. It can be done anytime and anywhere. You can make an introduction to mindfulness mediation with apps, such as Headspace, founded by a former Buddhist monk, which provides guided mediation practice, or Digipill, which gives psychoacoustic hypnotic exercises based around subjects such as resilience, confidence, motivation and relaxation.
Certain neuro linguistic programming (NLP) exercises can also help are designed to reconnect us to our true sense of self and bringing ourselves back to us.
Live life with a sense of abundance
Reframing is a simple way of looking at life through a different lens. What would it be like to life with a sense that you already have enough, rather than the constant strive to have more, to compare with others, to do yourself out of what you already have right there in front of you? There is a shift in perspectives taking place throughout the ‘developed’ world, which is moving us away from this sense that success needs to be measured by power, money and material things.
You can start creating a life full of abundance by asking yourself;
What is a good life?
What does it mean to have enough?
What are the things (not material) which make me happy? What’s important to me in my life?
If I could strip my life down to the absolute bare essentials, what would I actually need, not want, but need?
Again, thinking back to those things that you are grateful for in life; the simple things that make life worth living, and working on getting a plan to spend getting those things which fill your soul. In turn, this will give you that abundance which goes past the throwaway things in life.
Leave your desk at lunchtime
How many days out of the week do you take a lunch break? How often are you guilty of sitting in front of your screen with sushi or soup dripping all over your keyboard? What are you actually doing when you sit at your desk and eat? Are you continuing to work? Or are you taking your ‘break’ by checking in with what’s going on over in Facebook or Twitter world? Maybe you don’t even stop to take in any kind of fuel throughout your day other that endless cups of coffee and tea?
Not taking some proper time out throughout the day has a negative impact on our ability to be productive; it increases stress levels, causes issues with our digestive system, and puts an increased strain on our bodies. In the same sense in which I talked about the importance of taking holidays, taking a break from your day, whether it’s stressful and busy, or whether it’s a day where everything is flowing, is simply too important to skip.
Even if you can’t get a full hour, just 30 minutes to get up and away from your desk can reap rewards. Why not take a visit to somewhere you’ve never been before around your area? Try taking a walk and chatting with one of your colleagues, or a friend. When the weather’s good, there’s nothing better than finding a patch of sun in the park and taking some time out to read or meditate. Finally, take some time to practice mindful eating, by simply appreciating every bite of the food and the fuel you are putting into yourself.
What you will find when you get back to your desk is that you are much more relaxed and able to focus on the rest of the day. And your keyboard will be a lot more hygienic!
Wake up calls
I’m not talking the sound of your alarm clock each morning, or the call that your cab is outside waiting to take you off to your work assignment. I’m talking about those obvious, but often ignored, signals telling us when we are taking out too many deposits from our health and emotional well-being bank. Arianna’s wake-up call to take more time to focus on her health and well-being was pretty dramatic, but I can guarantee that there were probably 100s of smaller signs which were going on for her around that time which were trying to raise her awareness to the fact that she was on the way to burn out.
What signals are your receiving which could be a result of overdoing it? Do you have constant aches and niggles? Where are they in your body? Your neck, your back, your shoulders? Are you getting constant colds, ear aches and sore throats? Are you constantly tired? Are you lacking energy and feeling like you’re running on empty? How do you react to things when they don’t go how you expected them to? Are you going off the Richter scale in your response when someone overcharges you for a coffee? Are you feeling much more emotional than you normally would do with a tendency to cry whenever you feel tasked or challenged?
All of these things are your body and mind’s way of shouting out to you to pay attention to what’s going on for you, so pay bloody attention, listen out and take some time to reflect on what you need to change.
So, to summarise this chunky old post (you can tell I am passionate about it, right?) In order to live a life where we thrive rather than survive, you can make a start by using the 8 key steps covered in the article:
Get more 30 minutes – an hour’s more sleep a night
Deal with technology addiction
Start your day the right way
Find ways to take pauses and reconnect with yourself
Live life with a sense of abundance
Leave your desk at lunchtime
Look out for your wake up calls.