3 min read

What those who regularly live to 100 can teach us about burnout

The cultures of the Blue Zones have a lot of wisdom to impart
What those who regularly live to 100 can teach us about burnout
Photo by Sven Wilhelm / Unsplash

Okinawa, Japan has some of the longest-lived people in the world - a sizable population of centenarians (or those that live to be 100). And they aren't people that are barely hanging on. They are thriving, independent, active, and moving all around.

In our self-help absorbed culture, your mind may be spinning with all the hacks to life we can learn from this group.

They must be charting all their food in a specific diet. They must have an insane workout regimen.

Un-hacking a good life

In reality, there are no specific "hacks." And their secret to a long life isn't very tactical. Instead, they have principles to steer them in the right direction, but you guessed it, they are empowered to think for themselves within those principles.

For example, they don't do something intense like Crossfit - gardening and just simple constant movement is their exercise. They rely little on technology for communication - regular time in person with their moai (friend group) is what recharges them.

Commonalities of the longest-lived people

As many end-of-the-decade posts are published, I wanted to take the time to share the most influential book I read in the last ten years. I've talked about Blue Zones a little in this newsletter where Dan Buettner visits with and learns the principles behind longevity for five pockets of centenarians around the world.

It's guided me into making many changes in the way I live my life. The learnings have been an instrumental driving force behind this newsletter and helping me work out of my work burnout.

After studying the five cultures, the researchers distilled down the tips and practices of the longest-lived people into nine core principles.

  1. Move naturally - Work in movement throughout your day. Centenarians are far more likely to garden than do weight training.
  2. Purpose - These groups know why they wake up in the morning in the macro sense.
  3. Down shift - Spend time relaxing (without technology) so you don't run through life and miss it.
  4. 80% rule - The Okinawans follow a 2,500-year-old rule to stop eating when they are 80% full. The bigger meals happen earlier in the day and no snacking happens at night before bed.
  5. Plant slant - Beans and greens are central to every Blue Zones diet. Meat is eaten on special occasions only, a handful of times per month maximum.
  6. Wine @ 5 - Nearly all Blue Zones cultures enjoy 1-2 glasses of red wine a night as a way to connect and relax with those around them. Permission to drink wine!
  7. Belong - Have a larger community you belong to that gives you a sense of place.
  8. Loved ones first - Keep those in your family near.
  9. Right tribe - The people around you greatly shape your behavior so align yourself with people that steer you (and your decisions) in the right direction.

Again, these are designed to be broad guiding principles. You have the autonomy to execute them how is right for you and your very specific situation. I'd encourage you to use these principles as the backdrop to guide your decision-making but try and do it without creating specific rules for yourself.

Purpose, downshifting, and plant slant are the main principles I doubled down on in 2019. What I'm building with this newsletter and the community around it gives me a huge sense of purpose, my major reduction in screen time unlocks far more time for me to live and think, and plant slant has allowed me to fuel my body in a way that gives me the energy to work toward my purpose.

The people that regularly live to 100 have a lot to teach us about working without burnout.


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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