Arianna Huffington & Marina Khidekel, YOUR TIME TO THRIVE

Arianna Huffington & Marina Khidekel, YOUR TIME TO THRIVE

Founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington, and Thrive Global’s Head of Content Development, Marina Khidekel, talk with Zibby about their new book, Your Time to Thrive, and the power of microsteps. The three discuss the importance of stacking your habits, starting your day off of your phone, and putting aside distractions to have more meaningful conversations with the ones you love.


Zibby Owens: Hello.

Arianna Huffington: Hi, Zibby.

Zibby: Hi. How are you?

Arianna: I just so love, love, love what you’re doing.

Zibby: Thank you. That means a lot.

Arianna: Nothing is more fun than, honestly, what you’re doing. I feel as having written fifteen books, I think it’s the most wonderful thing to have all the support you’re giving authors.

Zibby: I love it. It’s a joy for me. Even when I get stressed out, it’s like, how can you be stressed about having to read all these amazing books? It’s like getting worried about eating too much ice cream or something. It’s a pleasure. It’s a total pleasure.

Marina Khidekel: I have Zibby’s book here, Moms Don’t Have Time To, the anthology. We share Lori Gottlieb as a blurber. She blurbed both of ours.

Zibby: I love her.

Arianna: We just totally love the whole concept of moms. We’re such big believers for moms to be able to do all the things you are making easier for them.

Zibby: I hope so.

Arianna: How are your babies?

Zibby: How old are they?

Arianna: Yes.

Zibby: They’re not such babies anymore. My twins will be fourteen in June. Then I have a seven-year-old and a six-year-old.

Arianna: Wow. My god, four. Are you done?

Zibby: Oh, yeah. Am I done? I am so done. Yes, I am very much done. I’m actually remarried. I got divorced from the father of all those kids. I got remarried. My husband — now that I’m spilling my life story here. Anyway, he’s a little younger than me. He hadn’t had kids. I was like, “I don’t even think we should start this because I am not having any more children. You should just run. Run away now and never come back.” He was like, “No, no, I’m good.”

Arianna: Are all the children living with you, or do you share custody?

Zibby: They go every other weekend with my ex-husband.

Arianna: All of them? All four?

Zibby: My older son goes to boarding school. Although, now he’s been home for spring break for three weeks with his buddy from boarding school. I’m just like, throw in another kid. I won’t even notice.

Arianna: That’s amazing. That’s an amazing life. I hope you’re going to write your memoirs one day.

Zibby: I was just joking with Marina first that I was reading this book during such a stressful time where I was like, I’ve got to prep all these books for the week. I’m reading this book being like, okay, this book is telling me I have to calm down and take small steps and get some sleep and all these great tips. This book is hitting me at just the right time, so thank you for that.

Arianna: Hopefully, small steps, nothing big.

Zibby: Which is great. Sometimes it’s a step at all, taking any steps. It’s kind of like weight loss. You can’t lose weight until you stop gaining weight. That’s the first step. One thing at a time.

Arianna: I love that.

Zibby: I loved how both of you wrote these great introduction/forwards and really started off the book with sharing from your hearts about what was going on. There’s no better way to get into any type of book, I think, than hearing the experience of the editors of the whole thing. I was hoping you two could talk about your personal vested interest in the microsteps and in getting all of these amazing concepts out there and helping other people have their time to thrive.

Marina: I can start. We actually started this book, Zibby, before the pandemic. We were already in this epidemic of stress and burnout. Things were already bad. We needed to change the way that we worked and lived. Then the pandemic hit. Myself and the other editors working on this book, we went into quarantine. Our lives, like everyone else’s, were turned upside down. It became even more of a mission. During the pandemic year, not very many people were thriving. We had this mission statement. There’s nothing wrong with aiming big, but you can help yourself by starting small. Microsteps became more core to what we were doing than ever because the idea of a big life overhaul during this overwhelming pandemic was pretty laughable. No one had the energy or wherewithal for that. We leaned even harder into the science of microsteps. These are tiny, science-backed actions you can start doing immediately to start seeing benefits to your well-being and form healthier habits. It was hard to thrive during this year, but the small steps really helped us personally.

Zibby: Your step was not picking up your phone for the first minute or so after you’re awake, right?

Marina: Yes, that is my favorite microstep. I noticed in the pandemic I was doing the thing where I would roll over in the bed in the morning and grab my phone and look at it even before my eyes were fully open. I think a lot of us do that. I was experiencing this palpable anxiety spike that would take hours to go away. I knew I didn’t like what I was feeling, so I just challenged myself to do the microstep of taking one minute to not look at my phone after I woke up, either drink a glass of water or take a few breaths or even set an intention for the day. It really solidified why it was so bad that I was doing that before. When you start your day on your phone, you are focusing on what other people want from you, like your emails; what other people are inspired by, their social media if you scroll; and stressful headlines of the day rather than focusing on what you want from the day. When I stopped doing it and just took that minute, I flipped how I went into my days. I put myself and my intentions first. That made a huge difference in even how I interacted with people and the energy I brought to my work and to my friends and family. I fall off the wagon. We’re all works in progress. I don’t do it every single day, but I really try to do it every day because I noticed a huge difference.

Zibby: All right, I’m going to try it.

Arianna: In the way Marina’s favorite microstep is how she starts her day, my favorite microstep is how I end my day. The truth is that nobody really has a natural end to their working day. We have to kind of declare it. I like to declare the end to my working day, which is not the same every day, but whenever it is, by turning off my phone and charging it outside my bedroom. That’s basically for me to begin transitioning to sleep. We have all the data that shows that seventy-two percent of people sleep with their phones on their nightstands if not cuddled up with them. Really, they’re on their phone texting, handling things until they can’t keep their eyes open anymore. Then they turn off the light and go to sleep. They haven’t had this transition that helps them slow down their brain even though they’re physically exhausted, so their brain wakes them up in the middle of the night. Then they can’t go back to sleep. That’s the most unproductive time. Then of course, you are frustrated because you can’t sleep, so you go to your phone which is right there in front of you which makes it harder to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.

Really, what we love about our microsteps is that they’re all based on science and on ancient wisdom. You have four children, so you know that when your children are little, you don’t just drop them in bed. You have a whole transition. You give them a bath. You sing them a lullaby. You read them Goodnight Moon. We need a little transition too. Another microstep is, start with a five-minute transition. My transition now, gradually, has gotten from five minutes to thirty minutes. It includes having a hot shower or a hot bath, wash away the day, having dedicated PJs. Normally, I would wear the same T-shirts that I wore to work out, not literally that day, but not having separate sleepwear, which sends another message to your brain. I always loved to read physical books in bed, nothing on Kindle or screens. There is something wonderful and tactile about holding a book and often, even, getting so drowsy that you drop the book to the floor. It doesn’t break.

Zibby: It’s like you have a camera on me in my bed late at night.

Arianna: I love it. Real books, right?

Zibby: Real books, yes. Occasionally, I only get a book via email or something. Even last night, I had my laptop on my lap in bed. I was trying to read. I was like, this is terrible. I am just not doing this. I closed it and picked up a different book. I was like, I’m just going to do this one again.

Arianna: I’m so glad you say that. I love that you have books behind you. It’s the best house decoration too.

Zibby: Thank you. Yes, my new color-coded books here. I love your whole concept of the minimum viable effort because I feel like so often we’re all trying so hard to do everything perfectly. The idea of flipping that on its head and being like, actually, do the worst job — not the worst, but just the least you can do to get it done. Sometimes that’s okay. That’s just such as huge weight off my shoulders. Tell me about that mind shift.

Arianna: It’s also not depending entirely on self-control and discipline. We all think, that’s okay, I’ll put the phone on my nightstand, but I won’t look at it. No, you will look at it. I want to lose weight, but it’s okay my fridge is full of ice cream and bad carbs and sweets. I’m not going to touch them. No, you are going to touch them. We are saying in the book that, organize your environment to make it easy for you to take these microsteps and make better choices. Make it easy for yourself. If you don’t want to eat Doritos, don’t buy Doritos. If you don’t want to go to your phone in the middle of the night, charge it in another room, so minimizing amount of willpower we have to use because willpower is very easily exhausted.

Zibby: That’s true. It sounds so simple when you say it like that. Maybe the hard part is not buying the — I don’t like Doritos, but buying the chocolate chip cookies to begin with. Now we’ve got to go backwards in time here and figure out how to stop the purchasing.

Arianna: Or give them away.

Zibby: Or give them away. I love, also, the notion of how if we had a doorbell that rang every two minutes, you would just disconnect the doorbell. You’d be so annoyed by it. Yet we let our phones ding their way into our lives all the time, and we are all okay with that. I just loved that idea of, disconnect the doorbell. It’s such a great mantra for trying to disconnect in general.

Marina: Exactly. It’s part of setting your environment up to serve you rather than making yourself a slave to that doorbell or that phone.

Zibby: Yes, which so many of us are. I loved, also, as a professional-ish podcaster that one of the chapters was all about listening. I feel like that’s such a big, huge, important, rejuvenating part of what I do every day, is listening to other people. I get so much out of it. To have a whole chapter dedicated to the benefits of connecting and hearing and really active listening was great. I think it’s not talked about enough.

Marina: Absolutely. Us human beings, we are wired to connect. This pandemic has made that a lot tricker for a lot of us. We’re not seeing people the way we used to. We’re not traveling. It’s so important to strengthen the connections that we have in our lives in all the ways that we can. One way is that idea of active listening that you mentioned, Zibby. We are engaged members of the conversation. One microstep is once a day, have a conversation where you mostly listen and don’t speak. To your point, it’s really become hard for people because their phones are always around. There’s actually research showing that when your phone, even if it’s flipped over and not lit up, if you see it within eyesight, you’re a worse listener. You’re a worse connecter. Other people see that you’re distracted. It’s so true that fostering those connections with each other and also listening to ourselves and having that conversation and dialogue with ourselves is super important. I love that you really resonated with that.

Zibby: Totally. I feel personally offended when I’m trying to talk to someone and they have their phone. Even if they’re like, no, but I’m just doing whatever. Meanwhile, I say that all the time. When somebody does it to me, I’m just like, you must not really care about what I’m saying.

Arianna: Our phones have become so addictive that even the people we love the most, our children, our partners, have to compete for our attention. That’s really what’s happening. We always feel the phone is so much more interesting. It’s colorful. It covers everything I care about from politics to entertainment to music to podcasting. It’s so important to, again, make it harder to lose yourself in rabbit holes. If you’re addicted to Instagram, as my daughters have done, they’ve just removed it from their phone. If they ever want to go on Instagram, they have to download the app all over again, which is obviously something they’re not going to do randomly. Whatever our addiction is, let’s make sure we make it harder to engage in. Anybody who has dealt with alcohol or drugs know that if you are trying to kick off the overdrinking habit, you are not going to put a bottle of wine on your nightstand. The same applies to the phone or the food or anything that tempts us. Another thing, Zibby, that we talk a lot about in the book is habit stacking. How can we use existing habits, things that we do automatically like brushing our teeth, washing our hands, to stack a healthy habit on top of it that doesn’t take any more time like remembering three things we’re grateful for? That’s my absolute favorite healthy habit. It has a huge impact on reducing stress and anxiety. Literally, anxiety and gratitude cannot coexist. It takes no extra time. It’s just a matter, again, of building that habit-stacking habit.

Marina: I do that. I love that microstep. I do it in the morning and at night while brushing my teeth. I’ve started challenging myself to think of three new things each time. You always start with, my health and my family, the main things that you’re going to say over and over. You feel guilty if you don’t say them. It’s more fun. I know I’m grateful for my health and my family, but what else? I saw a really cute puppy today. My niece got into the college of her choice. I challenged myself to think of new ones. It snaps me out of whatever funk I’m in instantly.

Zibby: I love that. With my kids at dinner every night, we always go around and say, what was our best today? What was our worst today? What was the time we laughed the hardest? What was our most challenging? I feel like that’s our way of stopping and even thinking about the day and what we are grateful for. Then once a week we do, what are we grateful for this week? I don’t know if I could do it every time I brushed my teeth, but it’s a goal.

Arianna: Little things like my lime in my water. It doesn’t have to be, as Marina said, just the big existential things we are grateful for.

Zibby: That’s true. You had so many people quoted in here like Charles Duhigg who was one of my first guests. We went to school together. I recently interviewed Jen Sincero about her habits. I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time analyzing habits and all of mine and what I can change and what I can’t and what I could add. I liked having that in here as well. It all adds up. I’m listening in some way.

Marina: It’s so interesting to see what other people are doing. At Thrive, we always joke, but it’s true, that we drink our own champagne. In each chapter, you’ll see a microstep diary by somebody who works at Thrive who was challenged to try a microstep themselves. Some had more challenges than others. I always find it so interesting, as you were saying, what’s Charles Duhigg actually doing? To see voyeuristically how other people enact microsteps in their lives, we have plenty of that in the book.

Zibby: You have so much, Tom Brady and Hoda and all these people. Every page, I was like, how do they get all these? It’s amazing. This must have taken a lot of work and time and effort to compile all the different quotes and people and tips and experts. This is a lot of work that goes into this book.

Arianna: We feel it’s really important to bring storytelling into the book. The microsteps are science based. You have all the quotes from the scientists that you mentioned, but we also need people from all walks of life. You may identify with Hoda. My daughter may identify with Selena Gomez. A businessman may identify with Jeff Bezos getting eight hours of sleep. We wanted to cover the waterfront because we found that storytelling is such a big inspiration and motivator.

Zibby: Very true. There’s nothing quite like it. Best way. Tell me, what’s going on with Thrive Global? How are you guys doing throughout this pandemic? How do you individually thrive? What’s going on with the whole business? Kind of a big question.

Arianna: It’s been an amazing year for Thrive because everything we founded the company to do — the stress and burnout every day, you can recognize the connection between well-being and productivity. Prioritize mental health and resilience, all these issues for many of the companies that we are working with were no longer just nice-to-haves. They became imperative and essential. We’ve grown really fast. One of the things we’re very excited about is that we are not just working with people who, like us, have the privilege to be able to work from home, but with frontline workers. We work, for example, with the 2.2 million associates at Walmart, most of whom work from the stores. They have to show up at work. That, of course, can be incredibly stressful during a pandemic. With these microsteps, or as we call them also, one better choice, around food, sleep, breathing, movement, family, finances, we’ve had amazing success. In fact, we track it on our Instagram and Facebook accounts that we call Thrive ZP. You’re going to be so moved by the stories of people who even during the pandemic have made so many better choices that they reversed diabetes, got closer to their families, etc.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. What’s next? You must have a whole list of books that you want to write, or is this it for now?

Marina: No, we’ve got two more books coming. We are talking about, down the line, doing children’s books. Who needs tiny steps more and who could use them more than kids?

Zibby: Aw. Talk about microsteps, micro-micro-micro.

Arianna: We love the idea of getting on this journey with your children, even your young children. One of the concepts in the book is what we call having an accountability buddy, somebody who has your back and helps you on the journey and you help them. I love the idea of a mom and her child picking, let’s say, an affirmation, something that they say every day that connects them to their strength and resilience and the child picking up an affirmation and reminding each other to do that affirmation, so reminding each other to repeat what they are grateful for. I think it brings families together. We see also when it comes to our relationship with our phones how important it is to teach phone hygiene to our children early. A lot of the microsteps we have in the book you can start using with your children around not sleeping with your phone, not taking your phone to the dinner table. All these little things, the sooner you start your children with, the faster they will become part of their lives.

Marina: It gives you all something to celebrate. Yes, I did my microstep today, one tiny win that you can celebrate every single day with each other. You strengthen that muscle. Then you continue to do it and do more and more and form better habits. I love that idea, too, of holding each other accountable. Who’s better than kids at holding you accountable for something?

Zibby: Totally. I feel like Apple must not like you guys very much. You’re like the anti-phones over here. No, I’m kidding.

Marina: No, we’re not anti-technology at all. We believe in tech for good and being intentional about how we use our tech. Tech can foster a lot of great things. It can foster connection. It can also make us addicted and stressed out.

Zibby: Yes, some things that are great can very easily become addictions, but at their core, they used to be good things, one glass of wine or something. What advice would both of you have for aspiring authors?

Arianna: The most important thing for aspiring authors is to start, not to feel that you have to have it all figured out in your mind, but to start somewhere and to make sure that you don’t expect the first draft to be the final draft. That frees you up. That was something I had to learn the hard way because I’m such a perfectionistic that I could literally agonize for hours over a sentence. Then I started tricking myself and putting question marks on the margin, meaning, maybe I’ll change that word, but I’ll keep going. Then when you go back, you either realize, okay, that was the right word or you know exactly how to replace it. You have to allow the flow to happen. If this is not your primary job, you start with ten minutes while you’re having your morning coffee. You put something on paper. There’s nothing easier than writing once you have already written something so it’s not the confrontation with a blank page.

Marina: Absolutely. I can say for me — it’s so funny, it came into focus when I was working on the focus chapter. I was multitasking like crazy. Multitasking is terrible for us. We get into this in the book. Irony of ironies, here I was texting and answering emails while working on this chapter about focus. For me, what really helped was just blocking off twenty minutes at a time to work and then stopping and taking a break, but being intentional about that time.

Zibby: I love it. I feel like some of the mission of what I’m trying to do is so aligned with what you guys are trying to do. Yours is much more specific and professional. I’m trying so hard to help moms and just busy people in general not forget all of the important things in life. We only get to do this once. We should try to do it the best way we can. Here are some of the things. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously in the meantime. I just love your whole message. It’s so important. The book in particular, ending burnout, increasing well-being, unlocking your potential, this is great. Who doesn’t need this? This is perfect. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss it. Maybe there’s some way we can do more stuff in the future. That would be fun.

Arianna: We would love that. Thank you so much, Zibby, for what you are doing. We absolutely love it. Thank you. Thank you. We look forward to much more together.

Zibby: Thank you. Me too.

Marina: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Buh-bye. Thank you.

Arianna: Bye.

Marina: Bye.

Your Time To Thrive by Ariana Huffington & Marina Khidekel

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