Dean Ornish Says Having 70,000 Unread Emails Felt ‘Liberating’

The founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California shares his morning routine and his secret life hack.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Dean Ornish: Meditate

TG: What gives you energy?
DO: Love, meaning, and purpose.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
DO: Forgiveness and compassion for myself and others.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
DO: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by T.S. Kuhn.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
DO: No, but we’re friends with benefits….

TG: How do you deal with email?
DO: Once I passed having 70,000 unread emails, it was very liberating to realize that I would never be caught up.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
DO: Call my True Love (Anne).

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
DO: Doing a final edit at 3:00 am for The Lancet of a study showing for the first time that healthy lifestyle changes can lengthen telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes that regulate cell aging, while feeling my own telomeres shortening…. The irony was not lost on me at the time.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
DO: When I got divorced. I made my #1 commitment to work with a therapist to learn why so that I wouldn’t repeat these mistakes again.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
DO: “Be kind whenever possible. It’s always possible.” – The Dalai Lama


Dean Ornish, M.D., is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

For almost 40 years, Dr. Ornish has directed clinical research demonstrating, for the first time, that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even severe coronary heart disease, without drugs or surgery. Medicare agreed to provide coverage for this program, the first time that Medicare has covered a program of comprehensive lifestyle changes. He directed the first randomized controlled trial demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes may slow, stop or reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer. He directed research showing that comprehensive lifestyle changes affect gene expression, “turning on” disease-preventing genes and “turning off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease, as well as the first study showing that these lifestyle changes may begin to reverse aging by lengthening telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes which control aging.

He is the author of 6 books, all national bestsellers. His TED.com talks have been viewed by over 4.5 million people.

His work has been featured in all major media, including cover stories inNewsweek, TIME, and U.S. News & World Report. He has written a monthly column for Newsweek and Reader’s Digest magazines, is currently Medical Editor of The Huffington Post and writes a periodic column for TIME magazine.

Dr. Ornish was appointed by President Clinton to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy and by President Obama to the White House Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. He has been a member of the boards of directors of the San Francisco Food Bank, the J. Craig Venter Institute, and the St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Shelter in SF. He was chaired the Google Health Advisory Council with Marissa Mayer 2007-9.

The “Ornish diet” has been rated “#1 for Heart Health” by U.S. News & World Report every year since 2011.

He has received numerous awards. He was honored as “one of the 125 most extraordinary University of Texas alumni in the past 125 years;” chosen by LIFE magazine as “one of the fifty most influential members of his generation;” recognized by Forbes magazine as “one of the world’s seven most powerful teachers.” For more information: www.ornish.com. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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