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It was 3 a.m. when I woke up to severe pain in my chest. With numbness in my left arm, a cold sweat breaking out on my forehead and chills all over my body, I was certain that I was having a heart attack and needed to get to the ER as soon as possible — or I would be dead.
As I lay in the hospital ER with tubes and wires draped around my body, a team of nurses and doctors ran a series of tests. Eventually, they ruled out a heart attack, but couldn’t pinpoint what had happened — other than to say that I was a perfect candidate for a range of health risks.
With that, they sent me home.
Later that morning, I stared at a picture that my wife had snapped of me hooked up to the tubes and wires on the hospital bed. I easily looked 15 years older than my age and utterly youthless. I knew I needed to change and form foundation-first guiding principles that would direct my path to better health and a better me.
That was in 2019.
Immediately after my 3 a.m. scare, I threw my energy into researching and preparing to become a new me. In the process, I learned that current scientific research strongly suggests that the healthiness of a person’s gut — all the organisms that live in us but that are not of us — has a massive influence on many aspects of our health, including brain and neurological function, endurance and overall levels of toxicity.
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Based on what I’d read and felt would be best for me, I made wide-ranging changes, starting with a prolonged fast that helped me experience a full reset at many levels while promoting autophagy — which is the body’s process of cleaning out damaged cells and replacing them with healthier cells. When my fast ended, I cut down on foods that weren’t serving me well, such as high fructose corn syrup and caffeinated sodas. I also started integrating far more vegetables and fermented foods (including kimchi, yogurt, and kombucha) into my diet to encourage the right kind of bacteria and balance the right kind of nutrients I was taking into my body. I measured all of this in an app that enabled me to quickly measure my macronutrients.
I coupled these dietary changes with exercises that built my core — as well as getting more rigorous about maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. I tracked all of this with my Apple Watch and shared the results with two groups of friends I’d invited to be my accountability partners.
As a result of these prolonged efforts, I have more energy, less brain fog, greater resilience in challenging circumstances and feel years younger. I look back at that photo of me on the hospital bed and barely recognize myself.
As a result of these changes, I have greater internal peace and am accomplishing more of what I actually want to accomplish. It took some major sacrifices, as well as meaningful but trivial ones, like cutting our family Netflix account (which led to a productive family conversation), but it has been amazing.
I’ve come to realize that this same transformation can happen at the company level as well.
Take a step back for a mental check-in
To start, it can help to have a period of time where you decompress from the day-to-day tasks — to “fast” from the grind so you can reset and make sure you’re taking the right approach to the problems you’re facing. This can take the shape of a work retreat or simply encouraging refreshing vacations across the company, but the point is to help people be more attentive and intentional to what matters most rather than simply fixate on what’s next on the to-do list.
Related: It’s Time for Startup Culture to Talk About Mental Health
Reprioritize for the health of the marathon, not the sprint
From there, you can encourage people to focus on what’s best for the long-term health of the company instead of constantly being driven by the tyranny of the urgent. After all, if a company is always operating against that which is expedient vs those things that are most meaningful to the company, there is a risk that, just like binging on sugary treats may surge energy in the short term, there will inevitably be a sugar crash and a real tummy ache.
Stay sharp and continue planning for the future
In addition, it’s incredibly important to encourage ongoing skill development and exercises that will optimize daily team performance. Does your culture allow for and encourage ongoing development, or does it just focus on the daily task list? Without taking time for skill development, you risk burnout or a team that loses its competitive edge over the long term.
In the end, it turns out that the gut is critical to brain health and is tied to diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Similarly, neglecting company culture results in ambiguity, failures in communication and energy drain. To fix this problem and optimize your culture, focus on long-term benefits and wellness. Your gut will thank you.