NYX Cosmetics Founder Toni Ko Shares the Mindset Shifts That Lead to a Thriving Life

“Our need for materialistic things prevents us from living the best and being the happiest.”

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.

No isn’t a word Toni Ko takes lightly. Impossible isn’t a term that sits well with her either. “I was born an optimist,” she tells Thrive. That’s the kind of optimism and resilience that led her to a booming beauty career. Ko first disrupted the beauty industry in 1999 with the introduction of her first company, NYX Cosmetics. Once L’Oreal acquired the multi-million dollar operation in 2014, Ko took her determined spirit right to the next entrepreneurial endeavor. Shortly after selling NYX, she opened a sunglass company called Thomas James LA. Most recently, Ko launched Bespoke Beauty Brands, an incubator that partners with influencers to launch niche beauty businesses. 

Out of the many role models Ko has met along the way, she admits that the most influential was her dog, Sir Bruce Barkalot. “He thrives in life by embracing every moment with joy and excitement,” Ko tells Thrive. In her Thrive Questionnaire, Ko shares other tips she’s learned along the way that support her well-being and productivity, including a simple solution for sleeping soundly.

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

Toni Ko: Drink a glass of room-temperature water. 

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

TK: I hide my toothbrush when I stay in hotels. I’m not sure if that’s a life hack, but it gives me peace of mind knowing that my toothbrush is not being used to clean the toilet. 

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

TK: Good to Great by Jim Collins for business, and Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck for personal. 

TG: How do you deal with email?

TK: I tackle the easy-to-reply ones first, then I go into emails that require more in-depth responses.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

TK: In 2017, I was up against all odds with my second company. I had worked for about 40 days straight without any days off because I was trying to juggle wholesale, e-commerce, and retail operations.  

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

TK: This was also with the second company I launched. I ended up scrapping the entire business plan and rebranded and relaunched the business. 

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 

TK: “Good is the enemy of Great.” It gives me drive.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

TK: I was actually less stressed when I was younger, simply because I had fewer responsibilities. Having a larger company with more employees means more work, and way more responsibility.  Your employees may have a family to take care of and your daily decisions may affect their livelihood. This is a huge responsibility that I did not have when I was younger. 

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life? 

TK: My dog, Sir Bruce Barkalot. He truly lives life to its fullest! He thrives in life by embracing every moment with joy and excitement. All he needs is food in his belly and love. If we could all be happy and satisfied having those two basics in life, what a wonderful life it would be. Our need for materialistic things prevents us from living the best and being the happiest. I wish I were as enlightened as Sir Bruce Barkalot.  I’m far from getting there, but trying each day to better myself.  

TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?

TK: When I can’t make snap decisions and I become indecisive. 

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct it?

TK: Sleep! I won’t nap during the daytime, but I do try to go to bed much earlier than normal. Relax your mind, forget about what’s happened that caused the stress, and get a good night’s sleep.  Almost always, I wake up the next morning refreshed and with an answer to the issue that caused me stress. This is about giving your brain a break from being fatigued. Just like how your body can’t perform its best when your body is fatigued, your brain can’t function at its highest capacity when you’re mentally fatigued. So, don’t focus on what’s happened—give your brain a break by going to sleep. 

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?

TK: I take a big, deep breath. 

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?

TK: First, I acknowledge that the thought is a negative thought, and then I tell myself to “stop it right now.” 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep. TK: The most significant change I made that improved my sleep was that I stopped counting the number of hours.  I sleep when I’m sleepy and wake up when I open my eyes.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. 

TK: I became more chatty.  I have always hated small talk and my life mottos were to “close your mouth and open your ears” and “you are only repeating what you already know when you are speaking, but you are learning something new when you are listening”. I thought it was a noble thing to listen and not speak, but then I realized how selfish it was to only soak in information from others and not have any output. It was truly a revelation. I went to therapy in order to overcome this and change this about me, and it took about a year and a lot of practice. I’m still practicing and going through my own journey of self-discoveries. 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. 

TK: Less alcohol and more yoga.  I put away the glass and grabbed a yoga mat!  

TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?

TK: It seems like my life is one long chain of events, but the biggest turning point has to be the year my family immigrated to the US when I was 13 years old. It was by my own choice, but I don’t know what my life would have been if I remained and lived in South Korea. 

TG: What’s your secret time-saver in the morning?

TK: I pick out my outfit the night before, so I don’t have to think about what to wear the morning of.

TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?

TK: I always read a book before turning the lights out, even if it’s just a few pages.

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