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Your Time to Thrive
End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps
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Live the life you want, not the life you settle for.
- Moving from awareness to action – from knowing what to do to actually doing it
- Embracing solutions that appeal to wisdom, wonder, intuition, reflection, and are steeped in science
- Taking the time to rest and recover in order to fuel and maximize productivity, both personal and professional
- Making the mindset shifts and habit changes that supercharge performance in ways that truly matter to us
After my collapse from sleep deprivation and exhaustion in 2007, I became more and more passionate about the connection between well-being and performance. And as I went around the world speaking about my experience, I saw two things: First, that we’re facing a stress and burnout epidemic. And second, that people deeply want to change the way they work and live.
That’s why I launched Thrive Global—I wanted to go beyond raising awareness and create something real and tangible that would help individuals, companies, and communities improve their well-being and performance and unlock their greatest potential. (And debunk the collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success.)
Thrive Global’s mission is to end the epidemic of stress and burnout by changing the way we work and live. Yes, that’s a big, ambitious goal, but there’s a road map for us all to get there. To borrow from the famous coda of another long journey, it’s less about giant leaps and more about small steps. We call these Microsteps, and they’re at the heart of our behavior change system. Microsteps are small, science-backed actions we can start doing immediately to build healthy habits that significantly improve our lives.
Hold on just a second, you may say. The way to bring about significant, life-altering changes is through… small steps?
That’s right. It’s the idea that if you make the steps small enough, they’ll be too small to fail. And the science is incontrovertible. At Thrive, we’ve taken this science and built a system that works for real people, helping them kickstart real change and start getting results—not weeks or months from now, but immediately.
Our science-backed approach has resonated with a multitude of audiences, from tech workers and new parents to call center workers and executives of multinational companies. We’ve created Microsteps to support mental health, showing people how to identify their individual signs of overstress and take action to recharge their mental batteries. This includes helping people deal with the stress and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic with, you guessed it, Microsteps. We’ve created a series of Microsteps based on what neuroscientists call habit-stacking—attaching a new healthy habit to an existing habit to make it sustainable—for example, thinking of three things you’re grateful for while brushing your teeth. And we’ve crafted Microsteps to include financial well-being, since financial stress isn’t just about how much we have in our bank account but is connected to our overall well-being.
As people in every industry and at every level struggle to meet the demands of a fast-paced, hyperconnected world, Microsteps have emerged as an accessible solution empowering us to realize that the keys to changing our lives are at hand. And as the science makes clear, to improve our well-being, we don’t need to turn our lives upside down and change everything about ourselves and how we live. Making even very small changes in our trajectory can, over time, lead us to a very different destination. By making our Microsteps too small to fail, we can make those first, small changes on which we can begin to build a new and healthier way of living and working. There’s nothing wrong with aiming big—but we can help ourselves by starting small.
We’ve created an inspiring, motivational guide to incorporating Microsteps into your day-to-day activities—so you, too, can see success in every facet of your life. Led by Marina Khidekel, Thrive Global’s head of content development, our team of editors (including Gregory Beyer, Margarita Bertsos, Alexandra Hayes Robinson, Elaine Lipworth, and Stephen Sherrill), together with Thrive’s scientific advisers—neuroscientists, psychologists, and behavior change experts—weave together the science of Microsteps, ancient wisdom, real people’s behavior change success stories, and of course, dozens of the most effective Microsteps. Whatever phase of life you’re in, whatever your goals and circumstances, you’ll find inspiration to take action. Think of it as your guidebook to a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life.
At Thrive, we take a whole human approach to behavior change. You’ll find Microsteps that help you improve your physical health, build your mental resilience, strengthen your relationships with others, and experience the fulfillment that comes from being part of something larger than yourself. We’ve created this book with a focus on the pain points we see over and over again—the ones that most acutely prevent people from living the lives they want. These pain points might be holding you back too. What we also see again and again is that we can transform what’s not working in our lives through small daily changes, which we’ll help you implement throughout this book.
THE NEW SCIENCE OF MICROSTEPS
We are, as the saying goes, creatures of habit. According to a study from Duke University, around 45 percent of our everyday actions are made up of habits. Our habits, then, are a fundamental reflection of who we are. “Habit is but a long practice,” Aristotle wrote, which “becomes men’s nature in the end.”
So our lifestyle is, in essence, the sum total of our habits. Change your habits and you change your life. But as most of us have learned, unlearning bad habits and learning new ones are not so easy. Even the most generous estimates show that half of us fail to keep our New Year’s resolutions. That’s because most of us start off too big. We decide to launch into a whole new lifestyle all at once. Or we think we’re just going to get there by the sheer exercise of willpower. But that ignores the science of how willpower works. In their book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister, a leading expert in the subject, and coauthor John Tierney show that willpower isn’t a fixed, genetic trait—it’s a muscle, and one that can be strengthened.
And the best way to use our willpower to adopt healthier habits is by starting small. It’s a common element of every successful behavior change program. “Make it easy” is how James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, puts it: “The central idea is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits.”
For BJ Fogg, director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford, it’s about making the minimum viable effort—going as small as you can. “To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behavior,” he says. “Make it tiny, even ridiculous. A good tiny behavior is easy to do—and fast.”
The benefit of even one small win goes beyond just the new healthy behavior you’ve created—it actually builds that willpower muscle to create even more wins and good habits. “The more you succeed, the more capable you get at succeeding in the future,” Fogg says. “So you don’t start with the hardest behaviors first, you start with the ones you want to do and you can do and you persist.”
In one of my favorite passages of Fogg’s book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, he shows how our tiny habits can spark a positive impact beyond just ourselves:
Habits may be the smallest units of transformation, but they’re also the most fundamental. They are the first concentric circles of change that will spiral out. Think about it. One person starts one habit that builds to two habits that builds to three habits that changes an identity that inspires a loved one who influences their peer group and changes their mindset, which spreads like wildfire and disrupts a culture of helplessness, empowering everyone and slowly changing the world. By starting small with yourself and your family, you set off a chain reaction that creates an explosion of change.
In my conversations with Fogg and Clear, I have been inspired by how they have pushed our understanding forward and helped establish the scientific foundation for the power of taking small steps. Your Time to Thrive builds on this foundation of behavior change, sharing a practical system for exactly how to implement Microsteps into each facet of our life. When it comes to leading a healthier, more fulfilling life, most of us know what we should do. And yet, all too often, we fail to act on this knowledge. We need a little help moving from knowing what to do to actually doing it. That’s what our system is here for.
MORE ACTION, MORE MEANING
When we take Microsteps, we are not only moving forward, we’re going inward. By creating rituals in our day, we allow ourselves to get into the metaphorical eye of the hurricane—that centered place of strength, wisdom, and peace that we all have inside ourselves. We all veer away from that place again and again—that’s the nature of life. And it’s a place that we are too distracted to access when we are living life breathlessly and always “on.” But from that place we can tap into the inner reserves of resilience and wisdom that make behavior change possible.
Neuroscience shows, for example, that we can course-correct from stress in just sixty to ninety seconds. It’s why one of my favorite Microsteps is focusing on the rising and falling of our breath, even for sixty seconds, which activates our parasympathetic nervous system, lowering our levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
This process ensures, in the simplest sense, that Microsteps work. But it doesn’t just matter that they work—it also matters how they work. Creating meaningful, sustainable behavior change isn’t just about helping people move from A to B in a mechanical way—getting in more steps every day, for instance, or managing our email inbox. It’s about tapping into fundamental human needs and desires we all share—to live a better life, to unlock our greatest potential, to tap into what is best, wisest, and most creative and empathetic in us. In other words, tapping into our heart.
So you’ll find this heart—heartfulness? heart-itude?—generously sprinkled throughout the book. It’s there in the stories of people committed to improving themselves. It’s in the notes of ancient wisdom woven throughout the book, connecting us to timeless truths. And it’s in the Microsteps themselves. You can see it in this Microstep, which happens to be one of my favorites:
Pick a time at night when you turn off your devices—and gently escort them out of your bedroom. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep—our to-do lists, our inboxes, multiple projects, and problems. Disconnecting from the digital world will help you sleep better, deeply recharge, and reconnect to your wisdom and creativity.
It’s one of my favorites because, for me, it is impossible to separate this Microstep from a very specific moment in my life—a moment when behavior change wasn’t just something I aspired to, but something I desperately needed.
On April 6, 2007, I woke up in a pool of my own blood. I was two years into building the Huffington Post. A divorced mother of two teenage daughters, I had just returned from a week of taking my eldest daughter on a tour of prospective colleges. And since she had insisted that I not use my Blackberry during the day (the Blackberry, if you’re not familiar, was a communication device used in ancient times), I would stay up each night working. And so, the morning after we returned home, I woke up burned out and exhausted—and then I collapsed. The result was a broken cheekbone, several stitches over my eye, and the beginning of a long journey.
In the days that followed, I found myself in a lot of doctors’ waiting rooms, which, it turns out, are great places to think about life. And that’s what I did. I asked myself a lot of questions, like Is this what success really looks like? Is this the life I want to lead?
The answer was no. And the diagnosis I got from all the doctors was that I had a severe case of burnout. So I decided to make a lot of changes to my life. I started meditating again, which I had learned to do as a child. I changed the way I worked so I could be more productive, more focused, more energetic, and less tired and stressed. I started sleeping more. I knew my sleep deprivation was directly connected to my addiction to my phone—it was an addiction—and to my flawed definition of success. I got deep into the growing body of science on the connection between well-being and performance, and how we can actually be more productive when we prioritize our well-being and take time to unplug and recharge. And—eureka!—a Microstep was born.
My seventieth birthday, in July 2020, was a powerful reminder to me that we don’t need to wait to begin living our best life. At the time I was sheltering in place with my daughters and sister at our family home in LA, and while cleaning out the garage I came across dozens of old journals and notebooks filled with pages and pages of my thoughts and goals and worries and dreams from my twenties on!
And as I read back through half a century of notes, I was struck by four things. First, by how early I knew what really mattered in life. Second, how badly I was at acting on that knowledge. Third, how draining and depleting all my worries and fears were. And fourth, how little those worries and fears turned out to matter.
As I paged through my old notebooks, I wanted to shout advice at myself across the years—telling the younger me not to worry or doubt so much, or to just go ahead and take that risk. And that is one of my biggest hopes for this book: that instead of looking at those fearless and wise elders among us and thinking, “I want to be that way when I’m old,” we can use Microsteps to tap into what is wisest, boldest, and most authentic within us and live each day from that place right now, however young or old we may be.
HOW YOU CAN THRIVE
This book explores many aspects of the way we work and live in our modern world, but it’s really about one thing: giving you the tools and support you need to change your life for the better. Our system begins with foundational aspects of well-being, starting with sleep, and builds to address topics that deepen our understanding of what it means to live a thriving life—both for ourselves and in connection with others. There’s a reason why airline attendants always instruct us that, in the case of emergency, we’ll be most able to help others if we secure our own oxygen masks first. Not because we’re selfish, but because that is how we’re going to be at our best and most effective.
Another thing the science tells us: a successful behavior change journey begins with a mindset shift. Think of your mindset as the story you tell yourself—about yourself. If you think of yourself as someone who can’t or won’t improve your life, it’s time to shift that belief. If past attempts at behavior change have failed or stalled, no matter. By starting with just one Microstep—and perhaps habit-stacking it on top of something you already do every day—you’ll build a foundation for positive change. Armed with the science in these pages and inspired by ancient wisdom and the stories of others who have discovered the life-changing power of Microsteps, you’ll be on your way to making small changes that lead to big results—immediately.
So pick an area you want to focus on and commit to a Microstep—just one!—that resonates with you. If you miss a day here and there or veer off course, don’t judge yourself. Simply start again. And remember, you have the power to change your life—one Microstep at a time.
—Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO, Thrive Global
THE CASE FOR TAKING SMALL STEPS IN OVERWHELMING TIMES (OR, WHY SHOULD YOU BOTHER WITH THIS BOOK?)
As I worked with Thrive Global’s editors to bring this book to life, we had a guiding principle, which became a refrain: there’s nothing wrong with aiming big, but we can help ourselves by starting small.
That was true when we started writing Your Time to Thrive, when we were already facing an epidemic of stress and burnout. And it became really true when COVID-19 hit. In a world reshaped by the pandemic, so many of us are simply trying to stay physically and mentally healthy and be the best people, partners, and parents we can be in a historically difficult time. The idea of making big, dramatic life changes doesn’t just feel hopelessly daunting. It’s unrealistic. Maybe even ridiculous.
That’s why this book is all about small, incremental mindset and behavior shifts. It’s why the unit of change at the heart of our approach is the Microstep, not the giant leap. And it’s why we’ve created a science-backed behavior change system that helps you move from merely surviving to thriving.
Only it doesn’t feel like a system. (We’re sneaky like that.) Your Time to Thrive is broken down into small, manageable actions you can adapt to your life in ways that work for you. There’s a reason we say they’re “too small to fail”: the science shows that it’s precisely these tiny steps that help us build habits, which over time lead to big, meaningful improvements in our lives.
As you begin to explore the Microsteps within these pages, you may think to yourself, “These don’t seem like such a big deal.” Correct! That’s exactly the idea. With minimal time and effort, you can seamlessly integrate Microsteps into your days, with immediate benefits for your well-being, resilience, focus, relationships, and sense of purpose. And over time, the results can add up to a very big deal indeed.
That’s what happened with my own favorite Microstep. Like most of us, I would start my mornings by checking my phone as soon as I woke up. I never liked the feeling I got when I did this, but when the pandemic hit, I realized I was experiencing a palpable spike of anxiety each morning—a shortness of breath that took hours to go away. So I vowed to try the Microstep of not checking my phone for at least one minute after waking. Instead I decided I would first take a few deep breaths and set my intentions for the day. I would sometimes even wait until I’d taken a shower to unlock my phone.
Breaking my old habit took a few tries, but I stuck with it, and this tiny shift made a huge impact on my stress levels. I had known that checking my phone before even brushing my teeth wasn’t a good idea, but until I stopped doing it, I didn’t realize why it was so bad. When you check your phone first thing, what you’re doing is starting your day focused on what other people expect from you (email, Slack threads, texts), what others prioritize in their lives (social media), and all the instability going on in the world (headlines) instead of focusing on what you want from your day. Since incorporating this change into my mornings, I’ve realized the value of taking a couple minutes (and sometimes a hot shower) for ourselves, and letting our thoughts assemble themselves before turning our attention to the outside world. In fact, those quiet moments have become a calm respite for me (no more daily anxiety spike), and have even created an opening for some creative ideas to bubble to the surface. And the benefits carry over into the rest of my day, in the way I interact with others and what I choose to prioritize.
Of course, I’m far from alone in seeing the impact a single Microstep can have. At Thrive, we don’t just create Microsteps and share them with the world, we practice them in our own lives. (We also have a big, colorful Microstep wall in our New York office, complete with magnetic Microstep stickers that visitors can choose and take home with them for inspiration!) Throughout the book, we share the stories of many of our Thrive colleagues as they challenged themselves to test a Microstep for thirty-two days. The resulting Microstep Diaries are honest and encouraging, and they will give you a sense of how Microsteps can fit into a busy life. At the end of each chapter you’ll find a page where you can take a moment to think about how to incorporate those Microsteps into your own life.
There’s just one more thing I want to add before you dive into the book. It’s become clear that one key value we need to prioritize if we are to thrive in our Next Normal is compassion—both for others and for ourselves. The practice of Microsteps isn’t meant to be a sink-or-swim proposition. It’s a journey, and one that you really can’t get wrong. If you start working on a Microstep and fall off the wagon (or decide you’d rather prioritize a different one), that is more than okay. This idea of self-compassion came into sharp relief for me during the making of this book. As I was working on the chapter about focus and prioritization, I found myself attempting to multitask—check emails, reply to Slacks, prep for my next Zoom meeting—no fewer than ten times. The irony wasn’t lost on me that as I was editing a section about how multitasking helps no one, there I was trying to do it anyway. And of course, meanwhile, I was failing miserably in being productive or creative. I finally made myself stop everything, took a few deep breaths, blocked off twenty minutes of “heads-down” time on my calendar, and came back to the work. I wanted to practice what we preached, but I also wanted to stop mentally punishing myself when I stumbled. Any time my mind wandered after that, I would do the “block off a small chunk of focused time” Microstep again. It took a few tries (and I was kinder to myself on subsequent slipups), but I’m happy to report I’ve made it a habit.
The point is, we can do this! And I’m so excited to go on this journey with you. As you begin to make small changes in the areas of life that matter most to you, you’ll see—as I did—just how powerful Microsteps can be.
—Marina Khidekel, Thrive Global’s head of content development
If we’re going to truly thrive, we must begin with sleep. It is one of humanity’s great unifiers. It binds us to one another, to our ancestors, to our past, and to the future. No matter who we are or where we are in the world and in our lives, we share a common need for sleep. But in our fast-paced, hyperconnected world, a good night’s sleep has never been harder to come by.
As I shared in the Foreword, for much of my life I bought into a definition of success marked by sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and a frenetic, breathless way of living. It worked well for me—until it didn’t. But after my painful wake-up call, I began to rekindle my relationship with sleep. Getting seven or eight hours of sleep became a nonnegotiable for me, and Microsteps helped me get there. The benefits were immediately apparent. Not only did I wake up feeling refreshed, it became easier to meditate and exercise, make wiser decisions, and connect more deeply with myself and others.
Now I get asked all the time how much sleep I get. That’s what happens when you write a book called The Sleep Revolution, travel around the world talking about it, and found a company committed to ending our global burnout crisis. So when the question comes, I’m ready: I reply that 95 percent of the time I get eight hours per night.
What about the other 5 percent? When I don’t get the sleep I need, I instead get a glimpse of my old life of burnout, feeling exhausted and underslept, and begging for a third Starbucks to stay awake. Every now and then lack of sleep happens, and I get irritable, my mind is cloudy, I’m looking for toothpicks to keep my eyes open, and there isn’t a lot of joy in what I’m doing.
That’s how I know that maintaining my eight hours habit is well worth it. And why I’ve repeatedly renewed my vows in my love affair with sleep.
I learned the hard way what happens when I don’t get sufficient sleep. Here we share the latest science, role models, and actionable Microsteps to help you get the sleep you need—so you can be your best, most rested, most fulfilled self. Whatever your current relationship with sleep, you’ll find inspiration and advice to make immediate changes and improve every aspect of your life.
WHILE EVERY TOPIC covered in this book is essential, with potential to improve key aspects of our lives, there is one that lies at the core of the connection between our well-being and performance: sleep.
Sleep is like a gateway—or, as some experts call it, a “keystone habit.” “Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything,” writes Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. “Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.”
When we think of sleep as a luxury we can’t afford, we pay a price—in terms of our physical and mental health, relationships, performance, focus, and more. But when we make sleep a priority, it becomes a powerful lever, making other important habits and decisions easier. In fact, getting even just a little more sleep enhances your ability to make meaningful changes in all the areas we explore throughout this book.
Of course, when it comes to making sleep a priority, we’re up against some harsh realities: the accelerated pace and “always on” nature of modern life. Our modern society’s definition of success, which tells us that sleep is idle or even wasted time. And perhaps most of all, the delusion that we can either get the sleep we need or we can succeed at work—but we can’t do both.
We can’t undo or even ignore these realities. But as we’ll see, we can make small changes in our routines that allow us to get the sleep we need—with big, immediate results for the rest of our lives.
ENDING OUR COLLECTIVE DELUSION
Throughout history, until our modern era, sleep was respected and even revered. Sleep and dreams have played a singular role in virtually every religion and spiritual tradition. The Greeks and the Romans each had their gods of sleep: Hypnos for the Greeks, Somnus for the Romans.
- On Sale
- Mar 23, 2021
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Hachette Go