Helping people build healthy new habits that improve their lives is more important than ever. Arianna Huffington and her team at Thrive Global are on a mission to end the epidemic of stress and burnout and help people unlock their potential. Their latest effort comes in the form of a book called Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps. We sat down with the books’ author Marina Khidekel to ask her what she found out about the science of thriving.
Heather Hurlock: In doing your research for Your Time to Thrive, what did you discover are the biggest drivers of burnout?
Another driver is the belief that a sweeping life overhaul is the only way to make a change. But what the science actually shows is that small, incremental mindset and behavior shifts are more effective and sustainable. We call them microsteps, and they’re at the heart of our behavior change system. As we like to say, they’re too small to fail!
There’s a collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success.
HH: What does the research say about how microsteps can help people can make meaningful, sustainable changes to their behavior?
Marina Khidekel: Research shows that we have tremendous power to build and sustain new habits. But as most of us have found, unlearning bad habits and learning new ones is not so easy. Even the most generous estimates show that half of us fail to keep our New Year’s resolutions. That’s because most of us start off too big. We decide to launch into a whole new lifestyle all at once. Or we think we’re just going to get there by the sheer exercise of willpower.
That’s where microsteps come in. Because the best way to use our willpower to adopt healthier habits is by starting small and creating an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible, like setting an alarm half an hour before your bedtime to you give yourself time to wind down, or keeping a glass of water next to your bed so you make it easy on yourself to drink a glass of water when you wake up each morning.
HH: Can you talk about why sleep habits play such a large role in our well-being as well as some of the most important microsteps that help people sleep better?
Marina Khidekel: Sleep is like a gateway—or, as some experts call it, a “keystone habit.” When we get the sleep we need, it opens the door to other healthy habits, from eating well and exercising to being able to focus and be productive in our work.
And the science on sleep’s importance is really astounding. We may imagine sleep to be a period of idleness, but in reality it’s a time of incredible activity. It’s like bringing in an overnight cleaning crew to clear the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between brain cells. Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says sleep is “like a dishwasher” for the brain.
Many of us know we should get more sleep and start treating it like a priority, but we don’t know where to start. Our book has microsteps for that! Some of my favorites are setting a daily news and social media cutoff time, and taking sixty seconds before you go to sleep to write down your priorities for tomorrow, which research shows can actually help you fall asleep faster.
HH: What is one microstep you’d love to see everyone practice during their workday?
Marina Khidekel: I can’t choose just one — and this book has hundreds of microsteps to try. But here are a few favorites:
The next time you connect with a colleague, swap “How are you?” for a deeper question. Questions like “What’s on your mind?” or “What challenges are you facing now?” can give you the chance to learn about and honor their experiences.
Declare an end to the day, even if you haven’t completed everything. Truly prioritizing means being comfortable with incompletions. When you take time to recharge, you’ll return ready to seize opportunities.
One key to success when it comes to behavior change is to have compassion for yourself.
HH: How can people hold themselves accountable for their habit changes (while not beating themselves up if they don’t meet all of their goals)?
Marina Khidekel: One key to success when it comes to behavior change is to have compassion for yourself. The practice of microsteps isn’t meant to be a sink-or-swim proposition. It’s a journey, and one that you really can’t get wrong. If you start working on a microstep and fall off the wagon (or decide you’d rather prioritize a different one), that is more than okay. The book is a judgment-free zone!
Habit-stacking is another great strategy — it’s about attaching a new healthy habit to an existing habit to make it sustainable. For example, thinking of three things you’re grateful for while brushing your teeth. The benefits of gratitude are countless. It can lower levels of stress and depression, and improve sleep. And adding a gratitude practice onto something routine like brushing your teeth adds value without taking up any more of your time.
Finally, we don’t have to do it alone. Find an accountability buddy to check in with as you practice your microstep and build new habits. You can cheer each other on, share your challenges and small wins, and be there for each other when you need support. There’s something so motivating — and also really fun — about going on a journey of self-improvement with someone else.