An exclusive Q&A with Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington was one of the most highly anticipated speakers at The Exchange Community 2015, and her keynote address on redefining success and prioritizing personal well-being did not disappoint. We were able to sit down with Arianna for an exclusive Q&A, inspired by customer questions, after the event.
Workiva: What does your technology detox entail?
Arianna Huffington: I have a specific time at night when I regularly turn off my devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom. And when I wake up in the morning, I don't start my day by looking at my smartphone. I take a minute to breathe deeply, be grateful, and set my intention for the day. Consciously unplugging and recharging helps me introduce pauses into my daily life, brings me back into the moment, and helps me transcend upsets and setbacks.
A year and a half ago, I decided to do something radical and take a week-long unplugging challenge with Cindi Leive and Mika Brzezinski, which meant no social media and limiting myself to two email check-ins a day with our HuffPost editors. Instead of being constantly connected, I spent Christmas in Hawaii with my daughters, my sister, and my ex-husband—not photographing beautiful sunsets, not tweeting pictures of my dinner, and skipping Throwback Thursday on Instagram—just talking about things that happened in the past, and being immersed in things happening right now.
WK: There's a concept that moments of boredom (being completely unoccupied, not including quiet moments of solitude/meditation) lead to creative bursts and an ease in flow of ideas. Do you ever try to have moments of being purposely "bored" in the spirit of future productivity?
AH: I'm rarely bored, but yes, I do seek moments of quiet and solitude because they are absolutely a gateway to creativity. As Blaise Pascal wrote, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." And of course, technology has made it even harder to find time to unplug and recharge, to tap into our inner creativity and wisdom.
Researchers from Harvard and the University of Virginia did an experiment in which they gave people a choice to be alone in a room, without anything—devices, books, papers, phones—or get an electric shock. 67 percent of men chose an electric shock. I'm very happy to say that only 25 percent of women chose the shock.
Because that capacity to go deep—to be alone with ourselves—is so essential to our creativity, it's become a much more valuable skill, worth far more than a productivity app, a cleared-out in-box, or a rigidly efficient schedule.
As Eric Barker, who studies how human behavior affects creativity, wrote, "Those who can sit in a chair, undistracted for hours, mastering subjects and creating things will rule the world—while the rest of us frantically and futilely try to keep up with texts, tweets, and other incessant interruptions."
WK: Being in your position, do you ever catch yourself going back to old habits? If so, is there one thing that brings you back to center?
AH: Absolutely, and our hyper-connected lives are filled with temptations that pull us away from our center. We actually created an app, GPS for the Soul, for this very reason. The app is based on two truths about human beings.
First: We all have a centered place of wisdom, harmony, and balance within us.
Second: We're all going to veer away from that place, again and again and again. What we need is a great course-correcting mechanism—GPS for the Soul—to help us find our way back to that centered place, from which everything is possible.
Because no one knows better than you what helps you de-stress and tap into that place of peace inside yourself, it's important for you to create your very own GPS guide—a personalized collection of whatever helps you course-correct. Email us at GPS@huffingtonpost.com, and we'll set you up with your own HuffPost blogger account to share your guide on the site.
WK: Have you ever abandoned a professional goal in order to improve your emotional health—or for any other reason? Do you regret not achieving that goal? I am at a crossroad now and am conflicted between my fear of regret of not achieving plus my goal-oriented nature and just my overall happiness.
AH: It's all a matter of perspective, and in fact of my greatest regrets came from my inability to keep my work in perspective. On the day my father died, I was giving a speech in Madison, Wis. I'll always regret not canceling that speech and flying sooner to Athens to see him before he died.
The larger point is that there is no trade-off, or crossroads. For far too long, too many of us—women especially —have been operating under the collective delusion that burning out and sacrificing our emotional health is the necessary price for accomplishment and success.
Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn't be less true. Not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when we understand that we don't need to sacrifice our happiness and well-being at the altar of professional success.
WK: Workiva allows users to work from anywhere and at anytime. What is your view on "face-to-face time" at the office as opposed to getting work done on your own terms?
AH: At The Huffington Post we certainly value face-to-face time, but we also recognize that not every project requires it. So we're very flexible. In addition to the obvious benefits for our employees, that flexibility is just a basic reality of working in a collaborative, 21st century global newsroom.
The danger is that people will end up not just working from anywhere at anytime, but working all the time. So we've always made it very clear that no one is expected to check work email and respond after hours, over the weekend, or while they're on vacation. But how often do we see people (and I've been guilty of this myself) go on vacation and put up an out-of-office message, but still respond to incoming emails—often seconds after the sender receives an out-of-office email! Why? Because we are addicted, and because once we see an email, we feel obligated to answer it.
So, inspired by the German auto company Daimler, we decided to create a tech solution that would eliminate the temptation. With our new vacation email tool, all emails sent to you during your time off will be automatically deleted (or archived, if you prefer). The sender gets an auto response asking them to resend their message when you're back or to contact someone you designate if it is urgent.
To learn more about how Arianna is redefining success, check out her book Thrive.