The Thrive Questionnaire With Christina Ochoa

The star of A Million Little Things shares why her phone is almost always on “Do Not Disturb” mode and why she’s obsessed with the ocean.

Courtesy of Getty Images
Courtesy of Getty Images

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.

You don’t often combine acting and science, but for Christina Ochoa, they go hand-in-hand. Best known for her current roles on ABC’s A Million Little Things and TNT’s Animal Kingdom, Ochoa also earned degrees in Oceanographic Engineering and Advanced Marine Biology from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and James Cook University, respectively. Fun fact: She is the grand-niece of Severo Ochoa — a physician and  biochemist who won the 1959 Nobel Prize for his work on the synthesis of RNA. When she’s not working on set, the Los Angeles based Ochoa makes sure to stay true to her love of the ocean as a dive-master, clocking over 2,000 dives to date.

In her Thrive Questionnaire, she shares why setting routines doesn’t work for her, how she handles burnout, and what brings her optimism.

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

Christina Ochoa: Stretch, wash my face, and walk my dog.

TG: What gives you energy?

CO: Movement. I try to do yoga or exercise first thing, especially when I’m shooting long days. It helps me stay energized all day and gives me more stamina. Music is also always a big energizer.

TG: You refer to yourself as a “science communicator.” What does that mean?

CO: It’s a bit of a hybrid between a journalist and a scientist. Science communication is really about translating and spreading scientific concepts and making them readily available to different audiences — breaking it down or using metaphors to explain complex concepts. My job doesn’t allow much time for work in that field lately, but if I can be an asset to help promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) literacy, I’ll take it.

TG: How has science impacted your life?

CO: Carl Sagan has a quote I love that says: “Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility.” [Science is] the lens with which I understand my realities, experiences, and world.

TG: What is one lesson your family taught you that helps you in your career today?

CO: Work ethic. Both my parents (and countless members in my family) seem to have the “work-horse” gene, and I’ve certainly inherited it. I love to work and can often forget to tend to other aspects in my life if I allow it to take over, so I’ve been working on that balance. [My parents] also have been such a huge source of inspiration.

TG: What daily habit or practice helps you thrive?

CO: Morning rituals help, but I’m not consistent and I’ve started to realize not everyone has to tend to a “routine,” nor is that the most productive format for me. I like to dive deep into things – experiences, work, books, new skills or workouts—and I’ve learned to give myself permission to not follow a routine if it’s getting in the way of my current inspiration. Whatever “pulls” me, is prioritized, especially creatively. Routine is almost used for times of “lull.” The snorkeling depth between those deep dives, if you will.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

CO: The Power Of Full Engagement, Sea Change, Tools of Titans, Mario Benedetti’s poetry, The Old Man And The Sea, Siddhartha…. take your pick. Don’t most books, if they are good, change your life perspective in some way?

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

CO: Ugh…no comment.

TG: How do you deal with email?

CO: I warn everyone about my bad phone etiquette ahead of time. If it’s work, it usually gets an immediate response. My team is in my Favorites along with my family and five closest friends. They all get instant responses for the most part. Ninety percent of the time, my phone is on Do Not Disturb so I only see notifications from them; I try my best to get back to everything else when I can, but unfortunately it may be days or weeks if I’m shooting or traveling.

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

CO: I try to say No more often. I try to take on less and work smarter, not harder. It’s also in those moments when I think you need to stay grounded, so I will try to add in some time in nature or do some volunteering, beach cleanup, etc. Perspective is the best antidote for when you’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t prioritize. Everything will suddenly seem less dire and you can focus on grounding yourself.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

CO: Probably play with my dog or get back to those unreplied messages.

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

CO: A few months ago, probably. I was being pulled in a lot of different directions, none of my own choosing, and just got very emotionally drained because I didn’t set boundaries properly to begin with. That was a lesson for sure.

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

CO: Letting people down is my big trigger. Guilt. I think many people battle with this, and the sense of what you “should” be doing. I started asking the right questions with the help of therapy — I’m a huge proponent of an objective, experienced voice of reason in helping you question your own beliefs, and I credit my therapist with helping me navigate some pretty tricky situations and lowering that stress.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self?

CO: Follow the things that pull and inspire you. Do things your way, and learn to enjoy the small accomplishments without immediately finding a new “goal” to work towards.

TG: What brings you optimism? Why and how?

CO: I love seeing people mobilize and actively try and make the world a better place. Environmentalism, LGBTQ issues, wildlife protection, political and social movements for equality…I find more and more people are unhappy with “the way things are” and they are willing to join forces and make changes. Some attempts will succeed and some will fail, but ALL efforts are inspiring others to do the same, especially the younger generations watching us. That makes me feel very optimistic.

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

CO: “Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin

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