I don’t use the word ‘life-changing’ lightly, but Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive really has transformed how I regard work, downtime – and sleep. (And don’t we all need more of that in our lives?) From the creator of Huffington Post, it’s an in-depth look at how the information age is putting us on – yes – information overload, and how we can reclaim some balance.
I realise that Arianna’s hugely wealthy (she sold her HuffPost for squillions), surrounded by a team of helpers, and no doubt always travels at the point-y end of the plane. But nevertheless, there are some seriously good ‘nuggets’ at the heart of Thrive which all of us can learn from. (Which is why I’ve started buying it in bulk and giving it to friends and colleagues – and it’s working a bit like a chain letter, frankly.)
First, though, you have to put aside the baffling subtitle: ‘The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating A Happier Life’. I mean, we’re all for happier lives, but what’s the ‘third metric’ when it’s at home? Well, imagine that life’s represented by a three-legged stool. Two legs stand for the pursuit of power and money, which is what so much of modern life is about. But in order not to fall over, we need that third ‘leg’: what we actually need to be fulfilled and stable. And that’s family, friends, and savouring the moment rather than hurtling through life. And it’s not so much about ‘leaning in’ as ‘sleeping in’. (Yay!)
Now, three times recently I’ve been lucky enough to hear Arianna herself speak. Once, to a packed audience of what must have been 3,000 women (and they were mostly women), in a large hall in Westminster. But the other two times were in more intimate settings, organised by big banks and financial institutions in London who’ve suddenly realised that having it all isn’t everything, and are looking to the wellbeing of their workers – by offering, for instance, mindfulness in the workplace. Certainly Arianna’s a hugely inspiring speaker – but it’s partly because she’s speaking from the heart. Working crazy-busy, round-the-clock hours as editor-in-chief of HuffPost, the mother-of-two grown-up daughters collapsed from exhaustion one day in the office, breaking her cheekbone on the corner of her desk. ‘I had to slow down and reevaluate the choices I was making,’ she said. ‘The reality was I couldn’t do it all.’
At the core of Thrive is good ‘smartphone’ wisdom, which I’ve been taking on board. My iPhone was getting to outstrip even my gorgeous husband on the seduction front. Before Thrive, I’d regularly be Tweeting and Facebooking from bed (partly in the line of duty) – and lo and behold would then find myself lying there in the wee small hours, mind whirring, unable to get to sleep. It wasn’t until I read Arianna’s book that I realised the secret of good sleep isn’t just This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray (fab as it is); it’s switching off my devices so that the light doesn’t hit my pineal gland and keep me wide-awake. So I forbade myself from working beyond 8.30 p.m. I didn’t quite go so far as to ‘banish devices from the bedroom’ (Arianna apparently escorts hers out of the room each night) – but I now switch off my phone at 9 p.m. latest – ideally, earlier. No Instagramming at 11.30 for me, any more. (Anyone’s dinner picture can surely wait till breakfast-time, after all.)
And I saw the link, within days. No more tossing and turning. Out like the proverbial bedside light – and feeling so much better for it. What’s more, I also feel I now have Arianna’s permission to catnap during the day, if I need to (this is a woman who installed ‘sleep pods’ at her HQ, to encourage sleeping on the job).
So I’m actually going to share a list of her sleep secrets here, because they all bear repeating. And repeating. And if – as has happened twice in the last four months – I’ve found myself slipping back into my ‘bad sleep habits’ to catch up with friends’ FB posts in bed, I re-read the relevant chapter of the book and start over. It’s like a diet (um, not that I believe in those, but that’s another story): if you ‘fall off the wagon’, you just start over next day. Or, more precisely, next night.
So here’s what Arianna (and I) suggest…
- Get a new pillow. And a new pillowcase.
- Make your bedroom darker and keep it cool. (A tip from me: when I’m travelling, I now have a roll of black gaffer tape in my bag, and have used it to black out those annoying red lights on the TV/phone but also, in a couple of cases, to tape the curtains to the wall where there’s light pouring through at the sides!)
- Practice deep breathing before bed.
- Take a warm bath before bed. (To which I would add: pour a capful of Aromatherapy Associates Relax Deep Bath & Shower Oil into the waters – and ideally, a slug of Magnesium Gel, too.)
- Exercise or at least walk every day.
- Banish all LCD screens (laptops, tablets, smartphones, TV) at night.
- Cut down on coffee after 2 p.m. and avoid alcohol right before bedtime to give the body time to metabolise it.
None of it’s rocket science. But the simple fact is that our electronic lives are making such a takeover bid for our entire lives, we need constant reminding about priorities, and making time for the important things. And what also really made me think, listening to Arianna last time, was that apparently Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t sleep with a smartphone beside his bed. If he can do it, I figured…
There’s masses more good stuff in Thrive – about meditation and mindfulness, how to focus and stop being so distracted, some terrific websites (I’m loving Donothingfor2minutes.com), and reminders that friends and family are at the end of the day what really count, in this life.
Personally, I’m getting to think that e-mail’s a broken tool (not trying to boast, but I got 347 e-mails the other day and have given up completely on even opening most of them). I’ve realised that Twitter may be all well and good – but with 4,600 followers, only two of them are probably watching your feed, so what’s the urgency? We’re definitely going to have to rethink how we work and live, in the age of the smartphone and computer. But meanwhile? Thrive’s a voice of sanity in a crazy-busy world.
So thanks, Arianna.