If you were ever going to be convinced to believe in fairy tales (or even fairies for that matter), Signe Pike would be the person to do it. The bestselling author has made a career of finding the magical among the mundane. Her first book, Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World, took readers on a journey to England, Scotland and Ireland, where she tells the true story of how she left a successful career as an editor at Random House to rediscover her sense of enchantment. “My father had died and I just wasn’t thriving. I realized I had to make a change,” Pike tells Thrive. “The journey absolutely changed my life, and still influences the way I think and react to life today.”
Continuing her passion of uncovering secrets from history, Pike has been researching Celtic history, myth, folklore and tradition for the past 10 years. Her love of history, the great outdoors, medieval archeology, and her dedication to historical accuracy led her to write The Lost Queen, the untold story of Languoreth — a powerful and tragically forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland who also happens to be the twin sister of Merlin. The saga continues with the second book in the trilogy, The Forgotten Kingdom (out September 15, 2020).
We sat down with Pike to learn more about how she’s learned to ask for what she needs, her genius trick to destress and a simple way to make strong connections.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Signe Pike: I do have a time saving trick! Before bed, my son and I lay out our clothes for the next morning on my dresser. You’d be amazed how speedy this can make the morning process, especially for little boys and girls who are particular about their clothing choices. (There was a time when, if it wasn’t Spiderman, he wasn’t wearing it.)
TG: What gives you energy?
SP: Recently I’ve discovered that workouts give me energy, whether it’s walking, yoga, barre or strength training. Even on days I feel like I’m dragging and might have to go a little slower, I always feel better and more energized afterward.
What’s your secret life hack?
SP: Meditation. Even for five minutes, at any point in the day. So many of us are carrying around a pretty substantial mental load these days, and the anxiety of our to-do lists can feel so overwhelming. When I start to feel stressed, when my brain is racing with all the things that need doing, I know this means I need to stop, put my phone on “Do Not Disturb,” and focus on my breathing. It’s such a relief to feel the anxiety lift. I don’t meditate as much as I should, but when I do, it does wonders for the rest of my day.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
SP: I put my phone on “Do Not Disturb” at bedtime. This way I’m not jerked out of hard-won bedtime calm by the constant pinging of emails and texts, but my family members are able to ring through in case of emergencies.
TG: How do you deal with email?
SP: Not that I always do this, but if I answer right away, that’s the best approach, even if I just need to ask for time to get back to that person. When I let emails sit because I don’t yet have an answer or I put off responding until later, I forget about the note entirely and it falls into some bizarre mental black hole where neglected requests and hair rubber bands live, invisible to human sight.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
SP: Finishing my upcoming novel, The Forgotten Kingdom. Historical fiction demands a lot of research, but this book was a special sort of beast. I was already late on delivering the manuscript when Covid hit. Now I had to tackle distance learning for a pre-kindergartner as a single mother on deadline with no child care. When my son was with his father, I would work 24 hours, taking two or three hours to sleep. I was living on protein shakes and curbside takeout. I couldn’t exercise. I barely left my house. I didn’t feel I had time to take care of myself. Afterward, I couldn’t even look at my writing chair without feeling sick to my stomach. It was a really difficult time, but I knew that much of the world was in the same boat. It’s been a hard time for everyone. When I wrote the last line, I sat back and felt such a rush of pride — I’d done it. I asked for more time to deliver the next book in the series and my publisher has been incredibly supportive. I learned that we have to ask for what we need. Creating boundaries and allowing time for self-care so that we can live in a balanced way is absolutely vital.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
SP: When something upsets me, and I don’t react in the “perfect” way, I really beat myself up over it. That always feels like a failure. I can be incredibly hard on myself. I’m trying to learn to be as gentle with myself as I am with the people I love. We should all try to extend that courtesy to ourselves.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
SP: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” —Coco Chanel
TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?
SP: I look at my mental list and identify the thing that is creating the most anxiety or stress in me. Then I tackle that first. Once I address that, everything else feels easier.
TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?
SP: My mother once told me, “Don’t pile things up.” Just because you’ve dropped your coffee then burned the toast then gotten a flat tire on the way to work — it’s easy to say, Ugh! I’m having a terrible day because these three things happened to me. What’s going to be next? Collecting grievances only leads to a bad day and an even worse attitude. Just take things one at a time. Get through it, then move on to the next.
TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?
SP: I’m inspired by people across time who have stayed true to themselves and followed their passions with spirit, grit, and dedication, offering their wisdom to help lift others up.
TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?
SP: My mood. I’m generally a pretty happy person, so when I start feeling down or gloomy, I know it’s time to take a step back and recharge.
TG: With so many distractions and interruptions coming at us throughout the day. What are your tips to stay focused?
SP: If you’re able, disconnect your Wi-Fi until you finish whatever it is you need to do. When I write, I unplug my router so I won’t be tempted by the millions of distractions the internet brings. If I need to research something, I make a note to look it up later, or ideally, I try to find it in a book.
TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?
SP: I try to do some deep breathing and reconnect with the present moment. So much of stress and anxiety happens when our minds are racing away into the future. When we stop and reconnect to the present moment in time, RIGHT where we are, usually all is well. There’s nothing to worry about RIGHT here, RIGHT now. Let it go. Focus on what’s in front of you, I tell myself.
TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
SP: Taking my dog for walks. It helps me feel rooted in the real world when I’m connecting to nature.
TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?
SP: I love what Brene Brown has said about the stories we tell ourselves. When I hear myself being negative, I think, “What is the story I’m telling myself right now?” When I examine it, I realize “Hey, that’s not exactly true. What’s the truth beneath this?”
TG: What brings you optimism?
SP: Young people who are engaged, impassioned, and determined to make a difference.
TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others.
SP: I try to make eye contact with people, whatever I’m doing, especially in the smallest interactions. Those little moments make the biggest difference. I want people to know they are acknowledged, they are seen. The connection that creates can shift the mood of your entire day.