Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is a jack of all trades, and a master of them all.
The modern Renaissance man has written multiple books, on topics ranging from food to music. He's won an Oscar and Grammy for his documentary "Summer of Soul." He leads the house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He was named one of TIME's 100 most influential people this year. He's currently working on a new album with his band "The Roots."
And and on Monday, June 13, Questlove launched a campaign with the New York Times regarding the news that has shaped him the most and what anchors him during life's whirlwinds.
Questlove said in an interview with TODAY that the pandemic prompted him to develop ways to stay balanced — and amend his former schedule, which had him going to sleep at 6 a.m. and waking up at 8 a.m. "It wasn't healthy at all," Questlove told TODAY.
His new focus on self-care practices seems to be working.
Questlove was meditating during one of the most controversial Oscars moments in years: Will Smith assaulting Chris Rock on stage after the comedian made a joke directed at Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Minutes later, Questlove was named as the winner for the Oscar for Best Documentary, the category Rock was presenting when the altercation occurred.
Speaking to TODAY, Questlove said he heard noises happening, but didn't think they amounted to anything. “I thought maybe a bad sketch was happening or something,” he recalled.
Aside from meditating during the Oscars, Questlove told TODAY that wellness habits have helped him in all aspects of his career and well-being. Below, Questlove shared seven of the habits he relies on — and they might help you, too.
1. Staying disconnected before bed and after waking up
Before the pandemic, Questlove used to fall asleep to the news and wake up to the news because he felt obligated to keep up with everything happening all the time. But, as he learned, this "is not good for your sleeping patterns."
"It's a wake-up in trauma," he said. "I've learned the benefits of sleeping."
Along with staying disconnected before bed and after waking up, Questlove overhauled his work-to-sleep ratio.
He used to work 12 hours a day, and now caps his working time to eight hours. "The Tonight Show" ends around midnight. By 1 a.m., he's asleep, drifting off to ambient room noise or a playlist he curated to help him sleep.
Questlove rises at 6 a.m. to the same environment. “The hardest part of my day is getting out of bed,” he said to TODAY. “I have one of the softest rug pieces on my floor to the left of my bed, because getting out of bed is like ‘ughhhh.’ So I at least wanted something pleasurable to put on my foot when I get out."
2. Keeping a dream diary
When Questlove wakes up in the morning, he writes down what he remembers from his dreams in a "dream pad."
"I started keeping record of this in 2020 during the pandemic. Previous to that, I used to only have two dreams. And they were kind of nightmares,” Questlove said.
In the first recurring dream, Questlove imagined himself as a high school senior who needed to pass his chemistry final in order to graduate.
“I’ll say that for 30 some odd years, that was the only dream I had —like I’ve been stuck in that dream forever,” he said. “As of 2020, I started having different dreams."
Questlove credits this to the "trauma work" he did in 2020, while using the pause to work on self-reflection. "In 2020, none of us were going to be the same again. So the time that we took off was really the time that we should have taken to better ourselves or improve ourselves or really work on the weak areas. I definitely took advantage of that time period,” he said.
Questlove usually remembers his dreams for this first 20 minutes after he awakes.
"It always has the same theme. A lot of my dreams involve traveling. I’m always on a train. I’ve been told this means that my life is moving forward,” he said.
3. Meditating, meditating, meditating
Today, Questlove relies on meditation — but it was a journey. "In the very beginning, it was very hard to do," he said.
He said meditation became easier when he started humming while meditating because it helps block out outside noises and distracting thoughts.
"When you're humming like that, it's hard for you to think about anything else. It's not like you can do 'hmmmm' and also think, 'oh, man, I forgot to cut the oven off. What do I have to do for today? Oh, I have to work. I gotta go to Target and pick up some blankets.' When you're humming, your mind goes blank," he said.
Questlove also uses meditation to calm himself during high-anxiety. moments — like the seconds before his category at the 2022 Oscars was called, during which Smith slapped Rock.
“I really was heavily into my chanting thing because it was such an anxiety moment. Like, we got this far with this film — now what’s about to happen?” he recalled. Questlove went on to win his first Oscar.
Questlove recommends trying out sketch meditation, in which you sketch out what you're mentally processing as you meditate.
"When I do it, it always winds up being a self portrait, I don't know if I draw anything else," he said. "But I just mindlessly doodle, just being in a state of silence, of boredom, is the way into it."
4. Talking to himself in the mirror
After meditating and luring himself out of bed with his soft rug, Questlove spends at least 15 minutes talking to himself in the mirror every morning.
"The reason why you do this: oftentimes we listen to the voice of self doubt, and we'll say the meanest stuff to ourselves that we wouldn't allow anyone else to say to us. So I had to get in the habit of being nice to myself," Questlove said.
"I had to get in the habit of being nice to myself."
When he started this practice in 2020, Questlove admits it "felt very silly." But the affirmations began to replace destructive thoughts — including ones that told him, as a first-time film director, he didn't deserve an Oscar.
"How is me, a non filmmaker, gonna win an Oscar my first time out the gate?" he recalled thinking. "I was making excuses why I didn't deserve it."
Winning the Oscar, and then a Grammy the following week, brought his two years of meditating, writing in his dream pad and hyping himself up in the mirror full circle. The day after winning his Grammy, Questlove famously tweeted, "I’m not halfway to an EGOT. I’m goin to the GETO."
Questlove said he reframed the moniker for artists who've won a Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Oscar as a reminder for how far he's come in life, and to inspire others.
"I'm trying to be a living example," he said. "I come from a place of fight or flight, and people who look like me really aren't encouraged to dream or really listen to what they want in life or anything like that. So that's why I reframed it."
5. Playing a word game every day
But Questlove has the most bragging rights: He paid tribute to Josh Wardle, the creator of Wordle, at TIME's event honoring the 100 most influential people of the year, for which both Questlove and Wardle were selected.
"One of the most fun projects, probably even more fun than the movie I did, was I decided to write a poem only using five letter words to describe what it is to do Wordle," Questlove said.
Now that his morning routine is complete, the rest of his day unfolds pretty seamlessly, Questlove said.
6. Doing only 4 things per day
Questlove said he used to cram all of his responsibilities into one day — or try to. Then, he started prioritizing.
"I try to limit my day to just four major things," he said. "I think a human being can only do four things in a day. I used to be one of those people who try to cram in seven things a day — like seven major things, not like go to the store. I mean, 'Score this film, take a meeting, sign this deal, work on 'The Tonight Show.' So I look at my schedule, and then I prepare accordingly."
Doing these four things takes until 11 at night, and then he has "The Tonight Show."
7. Setting intentions for the week every Sunday
Questlove's strategy with setting intentions has changed. He used to write intentions for each day the night before.
"I've tapered that off to the more reasonable thing. On Sunday nights, I'll set my intentions of the week," Questlove said.
If you're interested in setting your intentions to guide your path, Questlove has a suggestion. "A good exercise to do is to write down 50 things," he said. "People say 50 is rather excessive, like they might have 10 or 20 things. But I used to be in the habit of wanting things for other people but not myself. So you don't even start to get to what it is that you really desire until like number 36 or something. So that's why I say do 50."
For more of Questlove's advice and habits, go to his social media pages, where he'll be posting more in-depth content.