The Thrive Questionnaire With Lori Gottlieb

The psychotherapist and author reveals how she learned to say 'no' without worrying what people think.

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.

Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist, the voice behind the “Ask a Therapist” column at the Atlantic, and author of the forthcoming book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

In her Thrive Questionnaire, she opens up about letting go of regret, turning her phone off at bedtime, and why she refuses to give a “resentful yes.”

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

LG: I used to check the news but now I find that looking out the window at the trees and the morning sky for a couple of minutes before launching into the routine to get out the door really sets the tone for my day.   

TG: What gives you energy?

LG: Watching my son play with his friends.  Being around them restores that sense of childhood freedom and of letting go and being in the moment.  It reminds me of the value of silliness and spontaneity, where it’s perfectly normal to break into song or laughing fits, or come up with seventeen ideas of what you’re excited to do next.

TG: What’s a daily habit or practice that helps you thrive?

LG: Being very conscious of what I say no to without spending time worrying about what people might think.  A resentful “yes” helps no one.

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

LG: Reading in general changes my life — it reminds me that we’re all more similar than we are different, and when a complete stranger articulates something I’ve felt my entire life in words that capture the experience perfectly, I thrill at the idea of how connected we are at our core.  The books on my shelf are filled with dog-eared pages and asterisks in the margins that mean: Yes, this is who I am, too!

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

LG: I turn off my phone every night at bedtime and turn it back on in the morning, because I love sleep more than I love whatever text might come in. When my lights are out, my phone goes dark, too.  

TG: How do you deal with email?

LG: Not well… I’m probably the wrong person to ask about this!  

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

LG: I go outside for some fresh air.  My work as a therapist and writer both involve long periods of sitting indoors, so I take my breaks by stepping outdoors and lifting my eyes to the world.

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

LG: When my book deadline approached and I no longer had time to connect with others.  Connection is like a breath — we may not notice how vital it is until suddenly it’s not there.

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

LG: I made a decision about a work opportunity that I regretted, and I spent so much time in that regret that I couldn’t see out the other side.  Ultimately, I realized that the real failure would be remaining mired in regret.  Once I let go of the regret, an even better opportunity presented itself. 

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

LG: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”  I think so many of us believe that peace comes from controlling our external circumstances to our liking, but peace actually comes from choosing how we deal with our external circumstances.  There will always be “the daily problems of living” — big and small — to contend with, but we have enormous power to adjust our responses to them.

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