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
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT