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Six Microsteps to Improved Wellbeing

Arianna Huffington,  Founder & CEO, Thrive Global 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, we were in the midst of a global mental health crisis. Now studies have confirmed that the pandemic, and the profound disruptions and lockdowns that have gone with it, have only accelerated that crisis.


According to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, rates of depression and anxiety have gone up around the world during the pandemic. And a survey by Asana of 13,000 knowledge workers across eight countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France, found that 71% had experienced burnout in the past year. As a report by United for Global Mental Health put it, “The world was not set up to respond to the growing mental health crisis before COVID-19, and it is not now.”


So clearly, we have a huge problem — one that’s only getting worse, and one which won’t simply go away when the pandemic ends. But, paradoxically, the best way we can address this huge challenge is by starting small. Thrive Global is a behaviour change technology company with the mission to end stress and burnout, and help people improve both their well-being and their productivity. And the science on behaviour change is clear: the best way to change behaviour is by starting with very small steps.


The idea is that if you make the steps small enough, they’ll be too small to fail. At Thrive Global, we call these Microsteps — small, science-backed steps that you can incorporate into your life right away. And by going upstream, and addressing some of the root causes of our stress and burnout, these very small steps can have a profound impact not only on our well-being, but on our ability to be our most focused, creative and productive selves.

"Instead of starting your day by reaching for your phone, instead try taking just 60 seconds to breathe deeply and set your intention for the day."

Here are six of my favorite Microsteps to get you started. And you can find hundreds more in our just-published book Your Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps.


 Step 1 

One of my favourites begins right when you wake up. Instead of starting your day by reaching for your phone, instead try taking just 60 seconds to breathe deeply and set your intention for the day.


​ Step 2 

Gratitude has been shown to have a wide range of benefits, including lowering stress and anxiety. An easy way to add the power of gratitude to our lives is through what researchers call “habit stacking” — attaching a new habit to an existing one. So, every time you brush your teeth, simply think of three things you’re grateful for.


Step 3 

Getting deep, focused work done is harder than ever. So, take a minute to block off time for focused work — ideally in the morning. Then set a calendar reminder and let colleagues know so they’ll be less likely to interrupt you. Even 30 minutes will make a difference.


​ Step 4 

Neuroscience shows that we can course-correct from stress in as little as 60 to 90 seconds. We can do this by focusing on our breath, which activates our parasympathetic nervous system, lowering our levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The Navy SEALS use a stress reduction method called “box breathing.” All you have to do is inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four and exhale for a count of four.


​ Step 5 

Declare an end to the day, even if you haven’t completed your to-do list. Effectively prioritizing means being comfortable with incompletions. Once you’ve handled the day’s essential priorities, recognize that in any challenging job, it’s impossible to do all you could have done in any one day. By taking the time to recharge, you’ll return to work the next day ready to seize opportunities.


​ Step 6 

Sleep is the foundation of every aspect of our well-being, including the strength of our immune system and our ability to manage stress — always valuable qualities, but particularly in the middle of a pandemic. My favourite sleep Microstep is to pick a time at night when I turn off my devices — and gently escort them out of my bedroom. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep — our to-do lists, our inboxes, the never-ending demands of the day. So charging our devices outside of our bedrooms allows us to wake up as recharged as our phones.