The Thrive Questionnaire with Celeste Headlee

The award-winning journalist explains the importance of expressing gratitude and unplugging.


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?
Celeste Headlee: Feed the dog, brush my teeth, get dressed and drink about 30 ounces of water.

TG: What gives you energy?
CH: Walking a lot and taking frequent breaks when I’m working. I can focus on my writing for 3-4 hours a day, but I need to get up and take a short walk every hour or so. Getting out of the house, breaking my routine for short periods of time… all of these things can pep me up.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
CH: I use a Best Self Journal, which includes space to record what I’m grateful for every morning and night before I go to bed. I’ve established a practice of gratitude, which helps me in almost all aspects of my life. It reminds me that it’s attitude that makes something an ordeal or an adventure.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
CH: The first one that comes to mind (because there have been many) is The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. It was so full of lively, interesting people, all with their own interests and goals. It whetted my appetite for talking to other people and hearing their stories. 

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
CH: No. My phone stays across the room and I have it scheduled to go into do-not-disturb mode every night between 9pm and 7am. When I take a walk with the dog, I usually leave the phone behind. I’d actually like to get a simple flip phone to carry for emergencies so that I can leave the smartphone at home as much as possible. Also, I deleted Facebook and Twitter and other social media apps from my phone so that, if I want to post something, I have to go to an actual computer. 

TG: How do you deal with email?
CH: I answer email first thing in the morning and then once an hour between 1pm and 7pm. However, Monday is set aside as an Untouchable Day, when I don’t check email or social media and I don’t answer texts. I only answer phone calls. 

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
CH: Usually, I’ll work in the yard or write in my journal. I have lots of little projects around the house that can benefit from 15 minutes here and there. 

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
CH: At the end of April, after three solid months of travel and deadline work. I had over-scheduled myself and pushed for too hard and too long. It was affecting my sleep patterns as well. When I start resenting my work, I know I’ve depleted my tanks and it’s time to take a break. Hopefully, I manage it well enough to never reach that point, but I’m not always perfect at that.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
CH: I am a parent, so failure is pretty familiar to me. In my work, I gave a speech to a corporate group that didn’t really succeed. The reaction was muted, and that’s never what I’m aiming for. So, I asked ask many questions of as many people as I could. I told them that their honesty was what I needed and what would help me most, and I figured out why the speech didn’t connect and how I might tailor my remarks in the future for that kind of group.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
CH: “You may not control all the events that happen to you. But you can decide not to be reduced by them.” — Maya Angelou

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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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