Interviewer: She is an author, columnist and entrepreneur. She co-founded Huffington Post, then stepped down to focus on her new venture which is Thrive Global, that is dedicated to spreading awareness on health and wellness. It is indeed a pleasure chatting with Arianna Huffington right here on ET Now. So happy New Year (Happy New Year) and it is so good to have you here. Tell us what brings you to India this New Year, some nice photographs that you have posted on Instagram about being in Jaipur but what brings you to India at this point in time?
Huffington:So what brings me to India is the fact that I wanted India to be the first country, we launch Thrive Global after the US, and the reason for that is that, India is the source of a lot of the ancient wisdom, on which Thrive Global is based and this ancient wisdom is now validated by modern science about to how to lead our lives so as to be most productive, healthiest and least stressed and burned out because right now as you know stress and burn out (are our biggest issues) are epidemic ( that’s right) . 80% of people in India have said that they are stressed at work and more and more people are addicted to their phones, over the last year addiction to our phones has increased in India by 75-100%,(that’s right) so the causalities are proliferating in terms of health, in terms of performance, mental health problems are sky rocketing especially among teenagers and millennials, so we wanted to launch in India, not just because that big problem, big problems in every country in the world but because India has a solution . The solution need to be exported also to other countries.
Interviewer: So what sort of solutions are you banking on from India?
Huffington:So the solutions are really going back to the ancient wisdom of India, you know the Bhagavath Gita, the Vedas, that all really have the same essence, that we all have in us this place of wisdom, strength and peace and we need to reconnect with that in order to lead productive and purposeful lives and if you are not connected with that then our lives are fanatic, lived on the surface with huge health consequences, both physical and mental and that’s why Thrive Global is based on these principles and not the science and based on small micro steps of behaviour change because this is our natural state, it is not difficult to return to it.We just need to take small steps that have to do with taking breaks to recharge, meditation has been an age old way to reconnect with ourselves. Adequate sleep, unless you have a genetic mutation which 1.5% of the population does, the majority of the people needs 7-9 hours of sleep and when we don’t get it there are huge consequences. So we are beginning to recognize that the cost in diabetes, in hypertension, in our relationships is profound, so we are working with corporations as well as individuals to bring digital products to support the changes as well as live workshops and then meet their platform (Right) that brings together the latest science demonstrate the connection between well-being and performance and also new role models. You know people who are in the arena, who are succeeding and achieving, who talk about these things like Jeff Bezos, he wrote a piece on (that’s right, Yes) Thrive Global, in which he said that if he doesn’t get enough sleep, his decision making is impaired and he actually titled the piece, “Why am I getting 8 hours of sleep is good for Amazon shareholders”
Interviewer: That’s a very good point and I am going to talk to you about role models in just a bit and sleep a little more, but you know, you took a really big decision, you know, you got out of HuffPo and then you started this whole Thrive Global, the wellness initiative. How have people taken to it because we live in a world and it’s not just India, even in the world, we live in a world where there is hyper competition, we are constantly threatened by the next big thing that could disrupt us. How are people embracing this wellness concept? Will they embrace it, will they warm up to it?
Huffington: People have embraced it in the United States, we have launched a year ago, just a year ago. We have major corporate partners, Accenture (that’s right) JP Morgan, Nestle, The Hilton Hotels. The reason they have embraced it is because they see the impact on the bottom line. If your workplace is stressed out and burned out, it is going to affect your attrition rates, burned out employees are more likely to want to change jobs. It’s going to affect productivity, it’s going to affect healthcare costs. So these are not soft topics, these have a direct impact on business matrix in the bottom line and that’s why they have been embraced. Also, we are at this moment, when our addiction to technology becoming more and more intense, especially among millennials who are more digital natives, (that’s right) and we need to address it right now, and we need to address it right now, we are at this inflection point, where relentless rate of change and disruption, as you alluded to, means we need to be more connected to our own source of wisdom and strength, otherwise how do we deal with disruption. One of the pathways, that we developed is resilience, you know the faster the world is changing, the more competition there is, the more resilient we need to be and also the more necessary it is for us to be able to see around corners, to see what’s coming next. We are not going to be able to do that if we are already (stressed out) worn, exhausted and stressed out. I know from myself and I’m sure you know from yourself, when I’m stressed out and burned out I can do transactional things but I can’t really be creative (that’s right). I am not really at my best.
Interviewer: So let me ask you this question, why do you think Indians are astressed lot?We are very stressed, there is no denying that. Is this a workplace issue? Is this internally how we are, because you say we are the land of the Gita, the Vedas, sothere was a time when we were not so stressed out, the you know of course there is technology or whether its catching up with the West, whether it’s our desire to be a developed country. Why do you believe we are stressed? Because when you look at the happiness, the satisfaction, quotient, we score pretty low, we score lower than our neighbours in Bhutan, who seem to be a very happy lot. Why do you think Indians are a stressed lot, and I’m including myself in that completely.
Huffington: I think it’s a critical mass of different things coming together, you know, you are developing incredibly fast which has its own stress factors involved and at the same time the explosion of the knowledge in our lives has meant that people are always on and they are also fascinated by all these new toys including social media and so this is the moment to realise that the knowledge is great servant and a terrible master (that’s so true) we need to put it its place. We need to set boundaries. We are launching an app in partnership with Samsung that turns your smart phone into a dumb phone for specified periods of time and you can’t overwrite it because we all need helps. So if you are having a dinner with your family say, or doing deep work and you text me having dinner with my daughters, you will get a text back, Arianna is in Thrive mode until, and give you the time so its bidirectional, so we can shift the culture away from celebrating people who are always on, who text you back in two minutes, to celebrating people who know how to prioritise what matters in their lives.
Interviewer: How do you sell wellness as a concept in a country where a lot of people are still struggling to survive, to make ends meet. You know there is large population in India that is not so well of (Absolutely) how you sell the wellness concept to those kind of people because their, the stress levels are very different, it’s a very different sort of a stress.
Huffington: Yea, it’s a stress of survival (That right) and I would say that at every level, whether you are struggling to put food on the table or whether you are at the top of the world struggling with multiple demands on your time, the more resilient you are , the more effective you are going to be. So if you are, let’s say, dealing with major problems of survival and many people in India are, you need to be resilient, you need to be able to be creative, you need to be able to find solutions where you only see obstacles and you are not likely to be able to do that when you are completely burned out and exhausted that’s when you feel most emotional, most reactive and most incapable of coping.
Interviewer:But do you believe at one level, and I am going to come back to the stressed lot in the corporate world or the stressed lot for people like us. Do you believe in a lot of ways and you are right, you know there is explosion of technology, we are developing very fast, but we still have our challenges our infrastructure is gaping, you know our infrastructure is just not good enough and we yet have caught up with the West in terms of knowing about it all. Are we a developing nation with very developed aspirations? Is there a mismatch in reality and perhaps destination where we need to be?
Huffington: No, I think you are an unbelievably developed nation, more developed than many nations in the West, if you bring back a lot of the ancient wisdom that is the foundation of this nation. I think a lot of people have forgotten it or put it aside, for the sake of modernity and bringing it back is going to be much easy because it is in your DNA, you know you just need to go back to the old texts. I came to India first when I was seventeen years old, 3000 years ago and studied outside Calcutta at the University founded by Rabindranath Tagore in Santhi Niketan (That’s right) and I fell in love with India and with Indian philosophy because it really tell us everything we want to know, about how to live life and now its validated by modern science. So if you look at the Bhagavath Gita, you know the three lives, the midlife is where we are now , it is the life of frantic activity, having your finger in multiple pies, being always on. The Gita describes our modern life but that’s not the best life, the life of light, of purpose, of taking care of ourselves is really the next life that we need to evolve to, but you already know about it and when you talk to people about Gita, even if they have never read it, they resonate with it (That’s right) because it’s in your blood.
Interviewer:Because somewhere internally, that’s what you relate with (Exactly) but you know when you talk about the Gita, the Bhagavath Gita or when you talk about the Rig Vedas, Will your India strategy and the fine tuning of it, also entail things like Yoga , Pranayama and things like that?
Huffington: Absolutely. I think our India strategy is to, remind people of the ancient wisdom, of the ancient texts and bring together the latest science that validate it, the data, so bring together data, modern data, ancient wisdom and new role models and also behaviour change micro steps. So we give you all the information you need to increase awareness and then we give you the micro steps which are going to be digital. We also have live workshops but that can’t scale, so in order to be able to scale and reach hundreds of millions of people, our behaviour change micro steps on productivity, on wellness, on purpose, on gratitude, all the things you need to have a full life are going to be available digitally. (So there is going to be some amount of technology that is going to) Yes, that’s the paradox, absolutely. Technology is amazing, we just need to use technology the right way. So we are going to use technology to help us control technology. I know it sounds like a paradox but the truth is often paradoxical, right?
Interviewer:It is and I like the fact that you initially said that technology is a great servant, it’s a terrible master (Yes) what sort of a role will the Times Bridge be playing in this, If I may ask.
Huffington: Well the Times Bridge is an incredible partner and as you know, the Times of India was also my partner (that’s right) when we launched the Huffington post. The Times Bridge is great, has amazing resources and also the Jain family is very aligned with these values (that’s right, yes) and they have already been, if you go to their speaking tree, there have been a lot of articles on these themes. How we wanted to do now, is to move beyond just simply writing and speaking and give people the tools, to bring about the small changes in their lives that can have a huge impact.
Interviewer:You mentioned, you know, you mentioned the need to sleep and you mentioned the small micro steps one needs to take, so for someone who is constantly checking their phones, in the middle of the night you wake up and you want to just reach out to your phone. How would life be different if one were to take those micro steps? I mean what are those micro steps that help people identify?
Huffington: Great, let me just give you one, we have a pathway called, “Unplug and recharge” the first micro step sounds very simple but it’s incredibly essential and that’s pick a time before you are going to turn of the light, turn off your phone and charge it outside your bedroom, essential. Our phones are the repositories of every problem, every project, every social media temptation in our lives, so we need to separate ourselves from our phones in order to have a recharging night sleep because it exactly as you said, if you wake up in the middle of the night, you go to the bathroom for whatever reason, you are going to be tempted to look at your phone and the science show that if you look at your phone, your sleep, even when you back to sleep which will be harder is not going to be as recharging because you have allowed your days problems and projects (to creep into your sleep) to creep into your nights time for recharging and don’t you want to wake up and be fully recharged and grateful to be alive and face the day with all its challenges .
Interviewer:But is it easy to do that? I mean for instance in television, we work for television, it’s a real time medium, you have to be constantly connected.
Huffington: You don’t. This is just a delusion. You don’t have to be constantly connected, first of all in our modern world, we need to learn to work in teams. Whether you are in television, whether you are in customer service or whether you have branches around the world, for multiple reasons somebody needs to be always on it, it just can’t be the same person. So you take turns there may be a night when you are on and then you sleep during the day but you can’t be the person who is expected to be on 24×7. This is not sustainable and again we are living in a pre-scientific way.
Interviewer:Does hyper competition, the kind of hyper competition that the valley sees, the Silicon Valley and we are kind of imbibing it, you know, we like it, we wanna grow, so we, does competition have a lot to do with the stress factors because you feel insecure if you are trying to recharge. You feel you should be doing the job that, you have taken a break from. You feel, I don’t know I just think, stress is a function of competition as well. Are we hyper competitive?
Huffington:But if we look at the result, you see (it’s not good if you are stressed out). Basically software in many ways, including in business terms, I mean look at Uber, I’m on the board of Uber (that’s right). And you know Uber is a hyper successful company, hyper growth company but burned out people have learned to acting out, you know when you are burned out you are more likely to act out. The culture is affected and we all talk about culture eat strategy for breakfast meaning culture is incredibly important (true). Burned out culture has huge business consequences.
Interviewer:You know, because you spoke about Uber I’m going to take some time off from Thrive and talk about Uber. You were a part of a very successful transition that the board did steer at Uber. How are things at Uber without Travis Kalanick, I mean he was this, you know this, mad energy that was driving the company, I think you elude into it as it how it distorted the culture in some ways, you know you said acting out, when people are stressed out, they act out. So a) how has the transition been and b) where does India stand in the scheme of things because Travis himself was very bullish in India. Is India going to be as important a market going ahead?
Huffington: Absolutely India is an incredibly important market. As you may know Soft Bank is coming into Uber, investing billions of dollars (That’s right) Rajeev Mishra who runs the vision fund, that’s investing Uber, is Indian of course, he is going to be joining the Uber board and I’m delighted to say he is also joining the board of Thrive Global because he is a big believer in these ideas and absolutely the transition has been really great. Dara Khosrowshahi, is a great CEO. The board is now operating in a healthy functioning way, so we are very optimistic about the future and would love to see more women drivers here. We are talking to the royal family in Jaipur and the princess there is looking at how can you give woman in areas where they don’t have a productive way to earn the living at the moment (that’s right), more ways to earn a living and being able to drive, is one of these ways.
Interviewer:You know because you spoke about stress and you spoke about women in workforce. Do you believe this world is safer place, I mean in terms of corporate world I’m talking about, for women than it was a year back, I mean this whole bro culture, this whole thing. It is kind of put in perspective that how vulnerable women have been at work places? Do you believe exposes like this make it a safer place for women?
Huffington: Absolutely, I think this has been an amazing year, the “me too” movement exposing the behaviour of many powerful men, showing the zero tolerance for that behaviour. I think it has empowered a lot of woman to come out and find their voices. I have two daughters who are in their 20s and I feel really incredibly happy that we are at this moment, when young woman are empowered to speak out and powerful men they are no longer going to be protected.
Interviewer:I’m gonna end this interview and I will ask you five tips from Arianna Huffington on living a more healthy and a better life in 2018 . What would those be?
Huffington: I love that and this is a great time, because this is a time of new year resolutions, so first of all micros steps, micro steps, micro steps. I don’t want to think of anything overwhelming, huge, I don’t want you to leave your jobs, leave your husbands, your wives, No, just little steps. The first one is to pick a time at the end of each day to turn off your phone and charge it outside your bedroom. Remember you may do it for 5 days and then fall off the wagon, don’t judge yourself, get back on the wagon, you know judgements are not a good way to bring about change . The second thing is to have time, when you are with your family, when you are doing deep important work, do not allow distractions. Turn your phone off, put it in another room, get the thrive app, its free and put it in thrive mode, whatever works for you but recognise that multi-tasking is an illusion, it’s one of the most stressful thing you can do and it stops you from being in the present and being in the present is what’s really the most powerful way to live. The third thing that is a huge counter to stress and depression and anxiety which as you know are on the rise (that’s right) is to remember every morning what you are grateful for and at the end of each day , just three things that you are grateful for, that can super simple. I am very grateful that we are having this really important (conversation) conversation. Whatever it is, you may be grateful that you have a great whatever you like, I like Masala tea, I am an expert on Masala tea now, I have had great cups of Masala tea, did you make a good one? (No, not really) ah! Okay, whatever it is. Fourth, four is when you wake up in the morning, take at least one minute to take deep breaths set your intention for the day before you go to your phone because if you think of it, what’s on your phone. If you what? (I’m saying if I check my phone before, that will decide my day) exactly, if you start by checking your phone, your phone is everybody else’s agenda for you. What’s your agenda for you? Start with that (true) and the fifth point is to really recognise the ancient truth, that we all have that place in us, of peace strength and wisdom, even in the middle of the greatest chaos, the eye in the hurricane, so no human being is ever there all the time, maybe there are a few saints that I haven’t met but all of us, average human beings are constantly falling off that centre, that’s life. The question is how quickly can you cause correct and get back to it and I think it’s just an amazing recognition that we are so blessed to be alive and we are so blessed to have this sacred place in us that we can tap into anytime we give ourselves, the opportunity to do so.
Interviewer:Can I ask you a personal question (yes). When did you come to terms with the whole concept and philosophy around thrive? Were you always cognizant of your inner self or always cognizant of the fact that you need to switch off from technology, you need to sleep well, I mean how did this transition happen?
Huffington:No, No, No so here this is a book and the book starts with my collapse. I collapsed from exhaustion, sleep deprivation and burn out. I hit my head on my desk, I broke my cheek bone, that was 10 years ago, in 2007 and that was the beginning of my change. So I actually hit rock bottom before I started changing, and I know a lot of people, who had similar or worse experience. Some people ended up with heart attacks, some people ended up in falling in ways that broke something and never fully recovered. So I think I want to really help people learn from my experience instead of having to go through a bad experience themselves before they cause correct.
Interviewer:Arianna this has been a fascinating conversation and I hope I can make some of those micro changes on myself (and that’s for you) Thank you so much.