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Arianna Huffington: How to thrive during adversity

How can you build greater resilience?

Why is prioritizing recovery time so important?

How can micro steps and habit stacking make it easier to reach your full potential?

On this special episode of the Reveal podcast, we’re going back to Celebrate Unstoppable, Gong’s virtual event from July of 2020. 

Here are some of the highlights from our conversation with Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global.

Key Points to Remember

  1. You can override your stress response in as little as 60 seconds.
  2. Focusing on steps that are “too small to fail” can help make you more resilient.
  3. Recovery is a critical part of high performance.
  4. You can “habit stack” new and healthy habits onto existing habits.
  5. Conscious breathing is one of the easiest ways to regulate stress.

Why Arianna Founded Thrive

My mission that prompted me to leave the Huffington Post and start Thrive goes back to 2007. I had been building the Huffington Post for two years. I was a divorced mother of two teenage daughters. And I collapsed from burnout and exhaustion, hit my head on my desk, and broke my cheekbone. 

That was the beginning of my recognizing that not only I, but millions of people around the world, were suffering from burnout. And that it has become a global epidemic based on our delusion that in order to succeed, we have to be always on. 

I’m convinced that people don’t have to live lives fueled by burnout. That in fact, we are much more productive and effective when we are able to recharge, and tap into a deeper part of ourselves from which we can deal with challenges much more effectively.

The 60-Second Stress Reset

Neuroscience now tells us that it takes 60 seconds to course correct from stress. The cortisol hormone that floods our bodies when we’re stressed out, in fact can leave our bodies in 60 seconds. The rest of the stress happens in our heads. 

So we’ve built a 60 second reset into our behavior change platform. What the reset is about is asking our users to bring together all the things that are joyful for them. We call them “joy triggers.” It could be pictures of your kids, your flowers, your favorite song at the moment, a piece of poetry, a landscape, anything.

We put it together, and anytime they feel stressed, they can just play it. And suddenly, it literally changes the neural pathways of our brain, moving us from feeling stressed, anxious, fearful, to remembering what we’re grateful for. Remembering what brings us joy. Which makes us much more resilient and much more unstoppable.

I don’t think we can ever expect ourselves not to go through self-doubt, or not to go through fear about the future. The question is, do we let these feelings overwhelm us and be determinative? Or do we experience them, but still move on without getting discouraged to the point of abandoning the project?

Building Resilience Against Rejection

So a lot of it has to do with “what’s the worst thing that can happen?” I think it’s a good mind frame for all of us. Because often, the worst thing might be, “I’m going to be rejected and humiliated.”

Well, that’s fine. It’s not like the end of the world, right? 

So for me, it’s really about a perspective. If you can put the worst thing that can happen in perspective, then it’s much easier to take that step. 

And at Thrive, we base our whole behavior change product on micro steps. These small, incremental, daily steps that we call “too small to fail” actually change behavior and make us more resilient and more able to achieve our projects and our dreams, whatever they are.

Discouragement is really the hardest thing in life. Because when we’re discouraged, we give up. And it means we’re going to make it much harder for ourselves to take a risk next time. 

Prioritize Recharging

The most important thing for me is to recognize that no success is ever linear. The truth is that it’s more like a spiral. You go up, and you go down, and you go up—as long as there is some kind of ascending line.

And that makes us much more resilient and less likely to be discouraged. That depends a lot on how much we prioritize recharging. If you look at athletes, recovery is part of performance. They recognize that before game day, they need to make sure they get enough sleep. That they eat right. That they recover from training. 

And we have quite a few athletes who are investors in Thrive because they really believe in what our mission is. They see it in their own careers. So I think it’s important for those who are corporate athletes, or entrepreneurs, or in sales, to be able to reconnect with their own purpose, and come from the most wise part of themselves.

We are all being judged by the quality of our decisions. And when we’re exhausted and depleted, our decisions are not the best. Even Jeff Bezos—he gets eight hours of sleep because it improves the quality of his decisions. And of course, the quality of our decisions is much more important than the quantity of our decisions.


For the human operating system, downtime is not a bug. It’s a feature.

Urgent vs Important

In our everyday work and life, if we make everything urgent, then we never end the day. So we need a very clear distinction between what is urgent, and what is really important. Because if everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.

There are some people who live in a permanent state of firefighting. We have hundreds of micro steps at Thrive, but one of them is to declare an end to the working day. I bet everybody watching us doesn’t have a natural end to their working day. We could stay up all night, answering emails, handling things.

But we need to declare an end. And that declaration for me is when I turn off my phone and charge it outside my bedroom. If I expect to be down to zero in my email inbox, or have handled absolutely everything, it means I would be up all night and be exhausted the next day, and not be as effective. 

And because we all learn through ritual, I recommend this ritual of separating ourselves from our phone. Because this thing is not a phone, it’s a nuclear weapon. The last thing we do with it is call anybody. It’s really the repository of every project and every problem. So separating ourselves from it so that we can actually transition to our time to recharge is very important.

For me, it’s being clear about “what are the important things I have to do today? What are the crystal balls that I can’t let drop?” Learning to prioritize those things that are essential, and then being comfortable with the incompletions.

It’s very tough, especially because I’m sure you and a lot of people watching are very Type A, very driven. They want to get everything done. But the truth is, we can’t. 

So the most important thing is to make it very clear to ourselves what the priorities are, and wait until the next day to handle what is not a priority.

When they prioritize recharging—when they put their own oxygen mask on first—they’re going to be much more effective as leaders. 

Micro Steps and Habit Stacking

For me, micro steps are really the way to help people change behaviors. New Year’s resolutions don’t work. We know people abandon them after two weeks. But you can break them down and make them easy.

The other thing that we practice is something called habit stacking. How do you add a healthy habit, a healthy micro step or micro action, on top of an existing habit?

So for example, you’re washing your hands. During that time, remember three things you’re grateful for.  I got to dramatically increase the amount of time I spend on my treadmill by making a pact with myself that whatever show I’m bingeing on, I can only binge on it on my treadmill.

The Empathy/Success Connection

I actually believe that when we are empathetic, we can build more robust teams. And that will lead to a more robust business. 

So I don’t think that empathy and business objectives are on opposite sides of the spectrum. On the contrary, I think they’re connected. 

And when we realize that, we see how everything is connected to tap into the best in us. Whether it’s creativity, innovation, empathy—it’s all kind of together. And these qualities are the first to disappear when we’re exhausted.

Breathe Like a Navy Seal

When we’re exhausted or stressed, if we can take 60 seconds and consciously inhale and exhale, it really changes the stress pathways in the brain. 

And what I love about that is that Navy SEALs do it. Some people may say, “Oh my god. Breathing? That sounds warm and fuzzy.”

No! Navy SEALs, when they are in a particular time of danger, practice something called box breathing. Inhale to the count of four, pause to the count of four, exhale to the count of four.

My point is that if it’s good enough for Navy SEALs, it should be good enough for us in the business world.

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