“The Ouroboros” is an ancient symbol often represented by a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. The ouroboros feature in many ancient civilisations including Egypt, Greece and Norse mythology. The word ouroboros originates from Greek and means “tail eater” or “tail devourer”. Many of us perceive the snake as a symbol of evil, but the ouroboros symbolises eternal cyclical renewal or a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Carl Jung, saw the ouroboros as a symbol of immortality because, “by slaying himself, he brings himself to life.”
The ouroboros provides a lens through which we can reframe our approach to business and life. Using this lens, we can perceive that our former selves can act as fuel for our future becoming. Many individuals and organisations stop learning when they reach the top of their growth curve. We forget that as soon as we reach the peak in any endeavour, the dip is already underway.
In my keynotes and workshops, I wear a lapel pin of an ouroboros as a constant reminder to myself to stay hungry, to keep working to avoid becoming complacent. These small reminders remind me to maintain mental agility and develop metabolic agility. One of my disciplines is intermittent fasting and one of the benefits of fasting is a state called autophagy.
The word autophagy comes from the Ancient Greek autóphagos, meaning “self-devouring” (like the Ouroborus). It refers to the body’s response to the stress brought on by fasting. When we trigger autophagy, the body both recycles damaged or unnecessary proteins and renews cells. The body will even use pathogens and plaques as fuel. Autophagy boasts anti-cancer and anti-ageing benefits. My basic understanding (I AM NOT A DOCTOR) reveals the point of this week’s ThursdayThought.
When we continually feed our cells with simple fuels such as sugars and carbohydrates, our bodies become complacent. Our cells come to rely on us to fuel them on a regular basis storing excess calories as fat. However, when we initiate a stress response – on our own terms such as through fasting or exercise – we become more resilient to stress and we activate autophagy. As an added bonus with autophagy, we regenerate, reinvent and renew our cells. When I trigger autophagy through fasting, I imagine my body thinking, “Huh, he hasn’t fed us in 16-18 hours, I better go look for fuel from some other source. As a result, the body fuels itself with any stored fat, damaged proteins or whatever else it can source as fuel. Other ways I promote autophagy include exercise, resveratrol (the nutrient found in red grape skin), green tea, coffee and curcumin.
I am sharing this to emphasise how we need to be cognisant of our natural tendency to become complacent when things are going well. This is a core message in my book “Undisruptable, a Mindset of Permanent Reinvention”. When we experiment and build stress responses, and metabolic or mental agility in times of abundance, we are in a better headspace to make the mistakes that are symbiotic with innovation. I am talking about organisations here as much as I am talking about each of us in our careers. This is the principle of the Spartan warrior mantra, “The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you bleed in war.” This is the domain of the important, but not urgent. It is never urgent until it is.
When we “sweat in times of peace”, it not only becomes part of our daily DNA, but it benefits us greatly “in times of war”. Just look at how many organisations were caught out by the Covid-19 pandemic. The organisations that had developed an agile mentality weathered the storm while others were swept away. With the current (and ever-increasing) velocity of change, such a mentality is no longer a luxury.
To promote organisational autophagy, we must embrace experimentation, jettison jaded pieces of junk organizational DNA, selectively regenerate dormant cells and reinvent, regenerate and renew in permanence.
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