Skip to main content

Success is about more than money and power

By Arianna Huffington
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Arianna Huffington says we need to thrive, not just succeed.
Arianna Huffington says we need to thrive, not just succeed.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Arianna Huffington: On April 6, 2007, I woke up in the morning in a pool of blood
  • Huffington: I realized that my life was out of control; I was working 18 hours a day
  • She says we need to redefine success so that it's not just about money and power
  • Huffington: In my new book, I discuss ways for how we can thrive, not just succeed

Editor's note: Arianna Huffington is president and editor in chief of The Huffington Post Media Group and author of "Thrive." Parts of this essay are adapted from her book.

(CNN) -- On April 6, 2007, I woke up in the morning in a pool of blood. I had collapsed from exhaustion and hit my head on the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone.

In the weeks after, as I waited to get test results from various doctors on my health, I kept asking myself what kind of life was I living? What kind of success was I after?

Even though I had founded Huffington Post two years before, I was still working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. By conventional definition of success, I was very successful.

But by any sane definition, I was not living a successful life.

I was on my way up in the ways that don't matter. And on my way down -- literally -- in many ways that do. My life, I realized, was out of control. I was not thriving. I realized that we need to redefine success so that it's not just about money and power.

When I decided to write a book about our collective need to redefine success, I wanted it to be as practical as possible, filled with daily tips, tools and techniques that are easy to incorporate into our lives.

This is no simple matter. Changing deeply ingrained habits is difficult. And when many of these habits are the product of deeply ingrained cultural norms, it is even harder. The challenge in redefining success has to do with slaying old habits and liberating ourselves from our complacency.

Huffington: Success on your terms
Arianna Huffington on dreaming big

We also have to find our individual thread. When we do that, no matter what life throws our way, we can use the thread to help us navigate the labyrinth of daily life and come back to our center.

For me, the thread is something as simple as my breath. I have worked to integrate certain practices into my day -- meditation, walking, exercise -- but the connection that conscious breathing gives me is something I can return to in an instant during many times of the day.

A conscious focus on breathing helps me introduce pauses into my daily life, brings me back into the moment, and helps me transcend upsets and setbacks. It has also helped me become much more aware of when I hold or constrict my breath, not just when dealing with a problem, but sometimes even when I'm doing something as mundane as putting a key in the door or reading an e-mail. When I use my breath to relax the contractions in my body, I can follow this thread back to my center.

Humans lead complex lives, and one of the traits we've developed that has allowed us to be such productive creatures is the ability to make many learned traits and responses an automatic part of our lives, buried so deeply in the inner workings of our subconscious that they no longer require conscious thought.

We might think we're in charge of our thoughts and behavior -- captains of our ship, turning the wheel this way and that -- but so often it's actually our autopilot that's in control.

I'm reminded of the time when a friend took a family trip on a cruise ship. Her 10-year-old son kept pestering the crew, begging for a chance to drive the massive ocean liner. The captain finally invited the family up to the bridge, whereupon the boy grabbed hold of the wheel and began vigorously turning it. The boy's mother panicked until the captain leaned over and whispered to her not to worry because the ship was on autopilot; her son's maneuvers would have no effect.

In the same way, if we're not able to reprogram our autopilot, all our protestations of wanting to change will be as pointless as the little boy furiously turning the wheel on the cruise ship. Reprogramming the autopilot takes different amounts of time for each of us.

What makes it easier is focusing on "keystone habits"; when you change one of them, it makes changing other habits easier. "Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything," Charles Duhigg says in his book, "The Power of Habit."

For me, the most powerful keystone habit has been sleep. Once I changed the amount of sleep I was getting, and started regularly getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, other habits, such as meditation and exercise, became easier.

One of the best ways to create positive keystone habits is to use our social support. Given that we're social creatures, it's much easier to create and reinforce new, positive habits in a social network, with a group of friends or colleagues who can band together for mutual encouragement.

Even if the culture of your workplace still operates with the traditional definition of success, you can gather around you a group of like-minded people who want to not just succeed but thrive.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arianna Huffington.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT