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Well-Being, the 3rd Metric

A couple years ago, I recommended Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive. It’s filled with business and life wisdom that she acquired while building her media empire, along with diverse tips from her powerful industry peers. Thrive‘s premise is: along with money and power, many of us are missing a “3rd metric” in our definition of success. This metric is composed of Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder, and Giving.

This week, I’m taking a break and heading to the beach, so well-being is on my mind. Thrive‘s chapter on the subject starts by examining the global Stress Epidemic. We’ve discussed the multiple views on stress before, but Huffington makes the case that there’s no doubt about it: our world is ill.

Stress puts us in competition with each other, and we’re too short-sighted to realize that we’re fighting over a ridiculous prize: sickness, lack of concentration, loss of sleep, and diminished productivity.

Here are some fascinating facts:

A company’s bottom-line health corresponds to its employees’ health. We cannot treat these two things separately; they’re positively intertwined. The next time that you scrutinizing operating expenses in your P&L, think of it this way: sick care costs more than health care.

The typical person checks his or her phone every six and a half minutes, totaling 150 times a day! I also recently heard that every time you check your phone, you’re distracted for at least ten minutes. I’m no mathematician, but this implies that we’re basically accomplishing… nothing.

Way back in 1997, Linda Stone coined the term “continuous partial attention,” meaning that we’re always halfway paying attention to something, but we’re never fully connecting to anything or anyone. If this was true 20 years ago, can you imagine the effects today?

This “halfway-connection” can also be a by-product of filling our schedule to unnecessary capacity – with or without technology. On the topic of being productive, Sheryl Sandberg gives a similar opinion as one of my wise mama-friends:

Having children forced me to treat every minute of my time as precious- did I really need that meeting? Was that trip essential? And not only did I get more productive, but everyone around me did too as I cut out meetings that weren’t essential for them also.

Along with how we relish in bragging about how stressed we are, we also love to small-talk about how little sleep we get. Luckily, it is becoming more widely accepted as fact that not enough sleep takes a toll on our mood, concentration, and higher-level thinking. In 2011, lack of sleep cost U.S. organizations $63 billion. BILLION. Like the show.

After all this despairing news, what is one to do? How do we embrace well-being in the real world?

Huffington describes several practical, bite-sized tips to help our well-being improve. Here are a couple that resonated with me. I’ve practiced them faaaairly successfully 🙂 over the past four years:


Bonus points for trying it with no guilt attached. I simply cannot believe how much better I feel, eat, and work with gas in the tank. I’ve learned that my personal optimal is seven and a half hours. The past month, I admit that I’ve slipped into poor habits; and man, it shows itself. I’m committed to getting back on track asap.

I’m also aware of the effects of alcohol on my sleep. I love my wine, but I’m aware of what 0 vs. 1 vs. 2 glasses is going to do to my sleep. Therefore, I’ve (mostly) cut out drinking on weeknights.

Lastly on this point, pay it forward and don’t contribute to lack of sleep bragging contests. If you’re feeling extra-bold, try this: the next time one of your colleagues strikes proudly volunteers how (s)he only slept four hours last night, respond by saying how great and well-rested you feel. People don’t know how to react when someone doesn’t take the bait; it’s awkward and hysterical.

Take holidays.

Your challenge: leave the phone at home. While I know that this isn’t appropriate for every vacation, I’ve learned about myself that the act of simply holding a phone triggers a physical response. My latest move is removing the email function from my phone (I know, blasphemy) so that I’m only checking it in specified blocks. You would not believe the peace this has given me.

Try on meditation.

As I readily admit, I was not a believer either; but this is encouraging: Richard Davidson argues that we can practice enhancing our well-being through mediation.

As you can see, Huffington believes that well-being is a practice, which we must actively… well, practice. Well-being is not the absence of stress, but it’s a response to how we manage it. There are seemingly small tweaks that we’re all capable of making, which can have deep and lasting effects on our health and work.

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