Toby Barlow is the founder of Lafayette American, a marketing agency in Detroit Michigan. He is the author of two award-winning novels (Sharp Teeth, Babayaga) and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, and The Paris Review. In his Thrive Questionnaire, he shares his go-to strategies for building healthy habits, staying mindful, and maintaining perspective.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Toby Barlow: Make my bed. As bad as any day is, at least I come home to a made bed. Also, I have a very mordant thought every morning that if I do happen to die that day then at least they will see that I made my bed.
TG: What gives you energy?
TB: Ashford and Simpson’s “Bourgie Bourgie” And exercise. And, if I need a lot of energy, exercising to “Bourgie Bourgie”.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
TB: The Book of Gossage, a book Jeff Goodby helped publish about Howard Gossage.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
TB: I try to never take it in the bedroom. It sleeps in the kitchen.
TG: How do you deal with email?
TB: Sloppily. Email is my social media.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
TB: A crossword puzzle.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
TB: It’s all a blur.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
TB: There are so many varieties of failure. My thoughts literally range from “I feel like I’ve failed every day” or “I don’t think I’ve ever really failed.” But the ol’ Beckett quote “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” usually does the trick.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
TB: “Every change leaves the toothing for another” Machiavelli.
TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?
TB: I write lists, a habit I learned from my father.
TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?
TB: Exercise is better than self-medication.
TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?
TB: My friend Jonathan Keeton, a painter in Santa Fe.
TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?
TB: Whenever I’m mindlessly flipping through social media.
TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?
TB: Grab a book.
TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
TB: I’m a Quaker, mindfulness is what we do.
TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?
TB: I actively try to flood my system with feelings of empathy and humility.
TG: What brings you optimism?
TB: Recognizing that I’m surrounded by friends and coworkers who are all extremely excellent.
TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
TB: I need to read until I see an impactful thought, scene, story, something I can mull over as I go to sleep. I started doing this a decade or so ago.
TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
TB: I work through most conflict now by focusing on what I’m doing wrong vs focusing on what the other person is doing wrong. It helps tremendously and it takes some patience to sustain, but not that much. Also, I stay away from Facebook.
TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
TB: A lot less coffee, a lot less alcohol. It’s taken too many years and I sustain it carefully. And I stay away from Facebook.
TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?
TB: Moving to Detroit, it was like discovering a secret sun.
TG: What’s your secret time-saver in the morning?
TB: If anything I’ve added steps in the morning. I go slower, more methodically taking care of myself. It helps me face the rest of the day more confidently.
TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?
TB: I do need a routine before I go to bed, it’s more like a different kind of car wreck into bed at the end of every day. But after that, reading. That’s the key. The dream before the dream.