Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Dana Perino: Brush my teeth. Nothing else matters until I do. Ready to take on the day after that.
TG: What gives you energy?
DP: I’ve started to work on turning any anxiety or worry into fuel – it’s the same kind of kinetic energy. I came to this idea during the lockdown as I wrote Everything Will Be Okay. I was trying to explain what I meant that you can find a way to overcome the anxiety that tries to hold us back. Run that nervous energy through a filter and convert into productive energy and suddenly accomplishing tasks becomes a lot more doable.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
DP: A relentless focus on perspective – remembering that everything will be okay – that everyone is going through something, everyone is stressed, many people are dealing with life and death problems – typically whatever is in front of me is NOT as big a deal as I’m making it out to be. I call it Perspective (with a capital P).
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
DP: I have a long list of books that really helped me throughout my life – my children’s Bible when I was a kid, Les Miserables, The Grapes of Wrath, and later, in college, A Return to Love. Recently, I read Think Again – The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. I got an early copy in January 2021, and I thought it was just the right book at the right time for me. Adam talks about being willing to be unsure and to rethink your opinions. It was so refreshing and helpful. In particular, he writes about the “confident humility zone” and that’s exactly where I want to be in my thinking and in my work as a news anchor and political analyst. Being willing to change my mind, to admit I was wrong, and to find joy in the discovery of a new idea or opinion – that’s what I learned from Adam’s new book. I highly recommend it.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
DP: I wish I had a better answer because I know I should leave it in the other room. Alas, my phone is on my nightstand in case there’s breaking news in the night and I am called into work; I learned this lesson the night that President George H. W. Bush died. I had left my phone on silent, as I have no notifications on my phone whatsoever (I can’t stand them), and I was deep in sleep when my husband’s phone rang. It was the producers asking me to get on the phone with them to express my condolences and to reflect on his life. I’ve only been woken to work four times in my life – so it isn’t like I am ever really urgently needed – but I learned a lesson that night.
TG: How do you deal with email?
DP: I’m obsessed with keeping my inbox to under 20 emails at any one time. Once a month, I’ll get it to zero and take a screenshot of it. Years ago there was a “one touch” paper suggestion – that whatever paper came to you, you’d only touch it once. That meant you couldn’t just set it aside in a pile planning to get to it when you had time. I try to do that with email – do I need to respond, forward, file, or delete. Some of my colleagues are comfortable with 22,457 emails, and I just cringe thinking about that.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
DP: Peloton barre video or guided meditation. Oh, and I’ll call my mom or my sister!
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
DP: I was crawling to the finish line at the end of 2020. From the pandemic to the election and the aftermath of that – I just felt absolutely like I had nothing left to give. I had the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I slept and exercised and read. After a few days, I felt fully restored and nearly ready to do it again for another 365 days.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
DP: Working in live television, there are so many little failures that are magnified for millions. I’ve learned to laugh at myself, to be open about that, and I found that takes the sting out of a mistake.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
DP: I found this on a card of zen sayings, and I’ve committed it to memory, “Say Little. But when you speak, utter gentle words that touch the heart. Be truthful. Express kindness. Abstain from vanity. That is the way.”
TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?
DP: I’m a big fan of making lists, but also being realistic. I don’t list everything that I need to do – that could go on for pages. I have tried to narrow down a daily to do list to about 3-5 items – things that I really need to do and that I can realistically get done that day. I also will make a list of things that I’m worried about and then mark then as things that I can change and things I have no control over; for the items within my control to deal with, I make an action plan for how I’ll tackle it. For those things that aren’t in my control, I accept that I can’t do anything about it. That’s my way of acting on the Serenity Prayer.
TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?
DP: Making a plan will not make your dreams come true. Dreaming itself can help set you on the path of achieving what you want – and that could include things you never knew you wanted!
TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?
DP: If I get a pimple on the right side of my chin, I know I’ve pushed my body way too far. It’s an ugly way to be reminded to rest and relax!
TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?
DP: Early to bed. Sleep is the best remedy for me, hands down. I’ve learned not to apologize for needing to leave a dinner party early, even if the fun is just starting. I am no longer susceptible to peer pressure to stay up late. I know I’ll be better off, and a better friend, if I hit the hay when my body says “Enough!”
TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
DP: A few years ago, I started a practice of silently wishing well anyone I walked by on the street or sat next to on the subway – I’ll say a little prayer like, “Lord please make his work safe for him today… Please bless her with patience as she gets through this busy day.” It gets me out of thinking about myself and sending good thoughts to others.
TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?
DP: I am intolerant of negativity, perhaps to a fault. I should probably let my husband vent a little more about the wifi that went out or the poor customer service he experienced. I know that those things happen. But I constantly want to move on from it – to say well, everything is okay, so what do we need to do to make things better.
TG: What brings you optimism?
DP: I think I am naturally optimistic and hopeful. Though I am also practical – what is the best outcome possible in these circumstances… or how do we improve the circumstances? I spent a lot of time growing up on my grandparents’ ranch in Wyoming – and ranchers have to be optimistic – that the cattle will survive the winter, the hay will grow in the summer… maybe that’s where it comes from. Besides, the alternative is awful. Who wants to be a pessimist?!
TG: Fill in the blanks: People think I/I’m _______, but really I/I’m ______.
DP: An extrovert but I’m really an introvert. It takes me a lot to gear up to go out to a social event, and more time than I’d like to regroup after a week at work.
TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?
DP: Meeting my husband on an airplane. We were assigned seats on a flight from Denver to Chicago in August 1997. I call it “love at first flight.” I moved to England nine months later – it was the best decision I ever made. Though I really was just following my heart. He’s my best friend, my best asset, and the best maker of English Breakfast Tea living in America today.
TG: What’s your secret time-saver in the morning?
DP: I listen to every podcast at 1.5 speed. Some people think it sounds like gibberish that way, but I can keep up.
TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?
DP: I always read a devotional before I start reading whatever novel I’m into at that time. As soon as I feel my eyes start to close, it’s lights out!