Back in 2014, I happened to catch Arianna Huffington on The Ellen Show in an interview that changed my life.
Before the segment ended, I had already ordered Thrive, Arianna’s then-latest book.
When it arrived, I couldn’t put it down. The more I read, the more I realized that I needed to make big changes. I immediately ordered more to give a copy to everyone I knew.
At the time, I felt overextended in most aspects of my life. Like many of us, I have multiple freelance jobs in addition to my fulltime job. At the time this included my role as weekly nutrition columnist for The Times-Picayune newspaper and weekly wellness TV segments on our local news station, along with my fulltime job running the nutrition department at a large 20,000+ member fitness center in New Orleans and founder of Eat Fit, our nonprofit restaurant + wellness initiative that was growing like crazy without any other paid staff, aside from me.
And our social life was go-go-go. My husband and I had dinner out at least six nights a week, almost always with friends and almost always with ample wine and cocktails.
Sleep was the wild card, because, well, there was just so much to do, so much to experience. And quite frankly, sleep was often the first thing to get edged out.
I didn’t realize just how much of a spiral I was in. On the surface, it seemed fine: I was following my passion of nutrition and wellness. We were surrounded by fun, supportive people. I was working out daily, meeting my work deadlines, and building new programs. Feeling chronically overwhelmed and just-on-the-verge-of-too much was part of the deal, part of what I’d signed up for, right?
In retrospect, however, I had started to experience symptoms of anxiety. It was happening during public appearances, even those that I had done hundreds of times before: a racing heart, roaring ears, dizziness and shakiness would take over. I wasn’t sleeping well so I would wake up feeling tired, turning to caffeine far more than I should have, just to power through the day – which of course only heightened the issue. A ruthless, whirling, spinning cycle, one that I didn’t know quite how to stop.
As I read Arianna’s words, I realized that I had been sacrificing my own well-being, my own sense of peace and tranquility, as I pressed on to keep up with what I thought was the obligatory pace of professional and social demands.
I now know that the feelings I was experiencing were a direct result of sleeping too little, drinking too often, and squeezing out every spare minute of my day to be as productive as possible.
Something needed to change, and fast.
The first big change we made was to stop over-committing ourselves on weeknights. Instead of racing from the office to a restaurant or event, my husband and I started meeting at home. And instead of opening a bottle of wine to relax and unwind, we started going for a walk in the evenings, using the time outdoors to clear our heads and catch up on our days.
The fact that I wasn’t always dashing out to meet someone, to be somewhere at a specific time, also meant that I could use the end of my day to collect my thoughts and organize for the next day.
Which brings me to the second big change: I keep a running to-do list (I use an online calendar, but for my daily projects, I like the old-school pen and paper approach). By the end of each day it’s often marked up with notes of more to-do’s and follow ups, accompanied by stacks of whatever content I’ve accumulated from that day’s meetings and events. So now, before I wrap up for the evening, I run through “the list” to assess what’s needed. I write a fresh new list for tomorrow. It may seem repetitive to some, but for me, writing a list at the end of each day allows me to reflect on what I’ve accomplished, what’s pending for tomorrow and coming weeks, and also identify any barriers that may be hindering progress.
The result: I’m transitioning from my workday with a clear head and positive outlook, leaving the running to-do list behind.
My copy of Thrive is well-worn, filled with underlines, highlights and notes. I have read and re-read it multiple times, gleaning new insight each time. And in the five years since I first read it, I’ve incorporated many, many more changes into my life: Sleep with my phone in the other room. Incorporate breathing techniques on a regular basis. Strive to live in the present, not worrying about what’s in the future, especially when I have no control over it. Above all, I have made it a conscious priority to just. slow. down.
I don’t think that I can adequately convey just how much Thrive has impacted my life and how I define success. Thrive encourages us to find harmony in our lives by focusing on well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving, core values that go hand-in-hand with leading our strongest, healthiest, and truly balanced lives.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s columns + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.