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Addressing The Root Causes of My Health Concerns
Make sure you stop pooping into your own drinking water before you reroute the entire f’ing river.
In the 1880s, Chicago was faced with a huge problem. Chicagoans were dying from typhoid, cholera, and other waterborne illnesses at an alarming rate. Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world at that time and their future was threatened.
The Chicago River runs right through the heart of Chicago and connects with beautiful Lake Michigan. It was customary at the time to use rivers as a dumpster or sewer. Chicago was no different. Businesses would throw their waste into the river, butchers would throw carcasses into the river, medical waste would be dumped into it, and of course - lots of human waste would be dumped in as well.
All of that waste would flow down the river and out into Lake Michigan. The problem was, that’s exactly where Chicago got their drinking water! It took a while to figure out, but they finally woke up to the fact that they were literally pooping and peeing into their own water faucet and drinking it. Gross.
So, as you would suspect, they needed to fix this problem quickly. They were now aware that their own activity of polluting the river was literally causing their friends and family to get sick and die.
But, they came up with a plan to fix it! I know what you’re thinking: Just stop polluting the river and dispose of your waste properly. Easy fix! Nope, instead, they decided to undertake one of the largest civil engineering projects of all time. They decided to keep polluting the river, but reroute the river to flow backwards. This way they could send all their waste to St. Louis instead of to Lake Michigan where they get their drinking water.
It’s hard to get exact numbers on how much this project cost and how long it took. But everyone agrees it took over a decade and millions and millions of dollars. Probably billions of dollars when adjusted for inflation.
It’s such an amazing story. They literally rerouted a river to make it flow backwards to send their poop to another unsuspecting city.
I was thinking about another story that has similar attributes.
American car companies were notorious for prioritizing the relentless momentum of their production lines. The speed of the assembly line effectively dictated the daily production output of the plant and, by extension, the company. Employees were discouraged from halting the line; the prevailing notion was that defects could be addressed later, maintaining the continuous operation of the line for the sake of high production figures. The focus was on producing and selling as many cars as possible, even at the risk of allowing imperfections in the product.
This inevitably led to a decline in quality of American cars which then led to a decline in customer satisfaction and ultimately a decline in sales. Consumers grew tired of purchasing low-quality cars.
Japan on the other hand developed Jidoka. Jidoka is automation with human intelligence. Jidoka is a principle implemented in lean manufacturing where machines automatically stop working upon detecting an abnormal condition and operators try fixing the defect to prevent recurrence of the issue.
The Japanese auto manufacturers even went so far as to put big red buttons inside their production plants and encouraged, actually demanded, that their employees stop the line if they discovered a defect or a quality issue at any point in the process.
In the short run, stopping the line would be terrible for production numbers. Stopping the line would mean that all the workers would sit idle without work to do. A huge cost in lost productivity. The immediate benefit of course was that the car would be better. It would have fewer defects and quality issues. But there was also a deeper cultural change at the company. Every employee knew that they were empowered to make sure the product was perfect. They knew that the company was focused on quality.
The improvement in quality was noticed by the consumer and Japanese auto sales skyrocketed. Of course, now all the American car companies have largely learned these lessons too and their quality has improved significantly.
These two stories reminded me of my own errors with managing my own health.
Chicago was getting sick because they were polluting their own drinking water. But instead of just stopping polluting - they rerouted an entire f’ing river!
American car companies were producing cars that were unreliable and low quality - but instead of fixing the problem - they just sent it down the line, compounding problems on problems, until they shipped the product to an unsuspecting customer for them to deal with. It kept their sales numbers high in the short term, but it devastated them in the long run as customers no longer trusted them to make quality cars.
In both of these cases, problems were solved in the short term. But the supposed solutions actually made the problem worse in the long run. Instead of focusing on the root cause or first principles thinking, only a surface level bandaid was put on the problem.
I realized recently, this is how I was treating my health in the past.
If I had a bad day at work, I’d come home and have a beer.
I had high blood pressure, so I took a pill.
I had trouble sleeping, so I’d take Advil PM.
I had a little sadness, I’d smoke a joint.
I felt lazy or tired, I’d take it easy and lay on the couch.
If I was sore from working outside, I’d take Ibuprofen.
All of those activities would make me feel a little better in the short run. But they didn’t fix anything in the long run. In almost all cases, they actually made things worse. If I would have instead focused on eating good healthy food, getting 8 hours of sleep, going to bed and waking at the same time everyday, getting my heart rate up and working out, challenging myself with cold and hot temperatures, and stopping medicating myself - I would fundamentally address the root causes of my problems.
It’s been 479 days since I started focusing on the root causes of my health problems and it has already corrected 14,965 days of damage that I caused by ignoring them.
Now, when I have a rough day I ask myself: Did I workout? Did I eat healthy? How did I sleep last night? Was I a good father? Was I a good husband? Did I make the bed? In almost all cases, if I’m having a rough day, it’s because I didn’t do one of the things that I know I should have done. It’s because I didn’t focus on the root cause of my issues.
Now, as I have said many times before, I think modern medicine is amazing! But I also think, they should be a last resort after you have your root causes in order.
I guess this is all to say: First, make sure you stop pooping into your own drinking water before you reroute the entire f’ing river.