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Fahed Al-Essa of Mayv: How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus

Get into the habit of prioritizing and executing to make sure that neither you nor the people who work with you spend energy on irrelevant tasks. I find the best way to do this is to identify 10 goals — then circle top five and move the remaining five to don’t do. Out of the first five, pick the one that has the highest chances to be accomplished and gives you the best yield. Decompose these goals into manageable sub-goals and then create tasks for each. Work with your team to divide and conquer.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fahed Al-Essa of Mayv.

Fahed Al-Essa is the co-founder & CEO of Mayv, a resilience-based holistic pain management solution designed for patients looking for a new approach to living and thriving in the face of chronic conditions. Launched in April 2021, it’s a program that combines evidence-based stress and pain management approaches with plant-based anti-inflammatory supplements that tackle major aggravators of chronic pain, stress, and inflammation. In this capacity, Al-Essa’s core responsibilities are maintaining company trajectory and vision, developing the internal and external values present and leading by example. He also oversees all financial and operational sustainability, sales & marketing initiatives, and customer outreach.

Prior to founding Mayv, Al-Essa held esteemed positions at major healthcare companies and launched numerous wellness-related start-ups. His extensive background in science and healthcare coupled with his firsthand experience living with chronic pain and working with patients and professionals who know the challenges of these debilitating conditions, helped him to bridge the gap between conventional and complementary medicine to build a solution that patients actually need.

In addition to personally suffering from chronic pain over the last two decades from a broken femur and three unsuccessful surgeries, Al-Essa’s mother (and mentor), was diagnosed with five consecutive and different cancers over the span of five years. He felt the medical treatment was superb, but the mental health care she received was not. Her emotional wellbeing was deteriorating, and it was disheartening for him to see how little her medical team focused on an integrative approach, where mental and emotional care are on equal footing with cellular and biological health. He knew something had to change, and that’s how Mayv was born.

“At Mayv we plan to be the patient’s companion in their medical journey, filling the gaps where the system falls short,” says Al-Essa. “We believe in a holistic perspective, and only when we address the patient’s mind, body, and spirit are we creating a space to heal. We plan to tackle chronic pain, piece by piece — first with joint pain, and then into other critical health verticals.”

Born in Kuwait, Al-Essa earned his Bachelor of Arts in molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania. He then continued his education there to obtain a Master in Biotech (with a concentration in biomedical technologies). Shortly after, Al-Essa went on to earn a Master in Public Health and a Master of Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley.

Al-Essa currently resides in San Diego, CA and enjoys spending his free time outdoors, scuba diving and meditating. He also finds joy in cooking and baking, as it’s his creative outlet to alleviate stress or to just unwind after a long day at work.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in Kuwait, to a Kuwaiti father and Syrian mother. I grew up in a close knit community of friends, family (three siblings and 40 first cousins) and society that looked out for each other. We became refugees in the early 90’s when Iraq invaded Kuwait, which only strengthened the social structure of Kuwait. My childhood thereafter was great, or I thought it was. We played in the alleys, walked to the corner store for our daily dose of ice-cream and spent the rest of our time camping with my uncle on the islands or fishing with my dad.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My mother has been a cornerstone of inspiration throughout my life. She moved to Kuwait when she was eight in 1969, an immigrant escaping dictatorships and oppression she learned how to speak for what she believed in and taught us to help free people from mental and psychological oppression. After years of seeing how she dedicated her life to helping others, it was ingrained in me that my life too needed to be dedicated to help others. In addition to my mother being diagnosed with five consecutive and different cancers over the span of five years, my personal experience with chronic pain over the last 20 years, and the lack of attention to the mental and emotional toll chronic diagnoses take on patients in hospitals led me to create Mayv.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My father. From deciding what education to pursue in college, to what career path I should take, my dad allowed me to grow into who I wanted to be, with support rather than intrusive direction (this is not a typical scenario for a Kuwait family dynamic). For example, when I told him I wanted to study molecular biology and 95% of my high school class was either pursuing engineering or business, he let me be. When I approached him about starting my first business, I received his full support. And now with Mayv he continues to be extremely encouraging. He has stood by my decisions, never sculpted them and to that is what I can attribute a huge part of my success and for that I am grateful!

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I was in an executive meeting once where I presented my view point and the CEO looked over to me and said “you are too ethical for Kuwait!” I laughed on the outside and then cringed on the inside. I strongly disagreed, but did not have the courage to speak up for my beliefs. I thought I could have handled the situation differently and defended my opinion better in front of the executive team. My key takeaway was that to be a strong leader one must lead by example, and that comes with confidently owning one’s viewpoints.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Be humble and listen more than you speak. There is wisdom to be found in silence. I am often a social and talkative person, but when I learned to listen and be present, that’s when I started seeing a different angle to every story and uncovering what I had previously missed.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

It’s “The Evolution of Beauty” by Richard O. Prum. It is a book that dissects the forgotten part of Darwin’s theory of mate choice in respect to the evolution of beauty. Why are things beautiful, when do we like beautiful things, how does it biologically signal anything. It postulates human traits and why we appreciate certain features. I just find this stuff fascinating.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.” ― Kahlil Gibran. We spend so much time in our heads, on a personal or business level. My fear of rejection has resulted in loneliness, and my fear of failure has led to failure. I learnt this the hard way, not to try to hide behind humor, to speak honestly about my emotions and how things make me feel. This is the only way to have a successful business and personal relationship.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We just launched our holistic pain management solution, Mayv — the first integrative and digital chronic pain relief system with customized, holistic treatments, such as breathing, meditation and yoga in conjunction with CBD products to help individuals live pain free lives. What’s most exciting about it is we are not trying to overhaul a patient’s life. We try to change the way we address pain and introduce small practices that are achievable, repeatable and easy to incorporate into our daily routine. I compare this to when I used to yo-yo diet and lose weight rapidly and then gain it back. The weight loss was unsustainable because I did not incorporate lifestyle changes but more temporary changes.

A non-opioid, therapeutic solution, Mayv aims to transform the way people live with chronic pain. Science backs the benefits of CBD, mindfulness, yoga amongst many for pain, But patients are often left to figure it out on their own.? That is where Mayv steps in.We are here to be a patient’s partner and guide them through their pain management journey cycle by providing patient-centric technology and content, science-backed integrative therapies, digital pain relief tools, education, invigorating classes, and a community of users all included in one platform when purchasing any of our packaged. .

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Many people don’t believe in themselves enough, and underestimate their power to change. Habits don’t have to be large to be impactful. In fact, the best thing you can do is to start EXTREMELY small. if you want to start a new habit to write in your journal every morning, you should give yourself the goal of writing a single word, and then stick to it. What you’ll find is that after you’ve written that single word, multiple days in a row, you’ve already tackled the hardest part: getting started. The beauty of habits is that once you start creating healthy habits, you start to change your own perception of what you’re capable of. Just being successful at small changes will inspire you to slowly tackle larger and larger changes. So I’d say creating good habits is important because they show us our own power to change, and make future big changes possible. You go from a person who believes you are stuck, to seeing yourself as a person who is capable of changing.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Our bodies and brains form habits whether good or bad as a mental shortcut. The most interesting part about habits is that they can change. Although not easy, it gets easier over time. We have to start somewhere.

Eating: On a personal level: I love to eat, I think no meal should be wasted; every meal should be delicious, but it became a habit of mine to eat when I was bored at home. So instead of defaulting to food, I started trying to build small practices and habits that I can incorporate instead of it.

When I am hungry, I drink a large glass of water. Our brains often confuse thirst and hunger. Watch a funny video, or go for a run instead.

Meditation: From a career perspective I think meditating and learning to be present has helped me in my journey. It started with challenging myself to meditate every day for at least two months (when you actually start seeing the value of it). So I started with five minutes a day and gradually increased it. It’s now my go-to stress reliever. It helps ground me in the present, the only thing we can control.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

The difference between good habits and bad (something I learnt from James Clear “Atomic Habits”) is that bad habits often have an immediate reward and good habits usually have a delayed reward. The way to stop a bad one or start a new one is pretty much the same. To stop a habit, you need to untangle some key questions. Most habits have a prompt, something that reminds you to engage in the behavior. With a bad habit, you want to remove that trigger. Final is to address the motivation. Search for and connect with the reason you want to stop. Don’t make stopping just one more to do that you “have to” do, but make it something that fits into what you “want.” “I want to run without getting out of breath” or “I want to be able to keep up with my kids.”

What’s interesting about habits is there is a simple process I have used to build my own.

  1. Clearly identify your goals
  2. What is the bad habit and how is it stopping you from achieving your goals
  3. Acknowledge the costs of the bad habit
  4. Come up with realistic alternatives
  5. Take it one day at a time and IT’S OK TO SLIP UP!

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Performance: Don’t just start doing. Set a goal and make a plan. It’s ok to veer off track, at least there is a track!

Focus: Limit distractions. Phones, TV, kids, many open screens, your email inbox can all be distracting. Clean and organize your workspace whether it is digital or physical, do one thing at a time, create a task list, carve out time in your calendar and mark it as busy, and then attack it.

For procrastination, recognize that it is often caused by our desire to avoid discomfort. Doing X will make me feel ___ (incompetent, overwhelmed, etc.) A great thing you can do is to keep a journal with entries that are explicitly a log of “how I felt when I wanted to procrastinate.” Naming these things can make them lose their power. Most of the time when you procrastinate you’ll notice that you’re on auto-pilot. You have to start a hard task and you find yourself on Facebook. By stopping the moment you notice you’re avoiding a task, taking a breath, and writing what you are feeling in that exact moment, you can own your discomfort and you’re much more likely to be able to deconstruct it.

An entry can be as simple as “I was about to start writing an email to my co-worker telling them X bad news, and I started to get up to go to the kitchen to find a snack. I am worried how they will react and don’t want them to be disappointed in me.” Writing that out keeps you from mindlessly avoiding the discomfort, and sets you up to recognize your obstacle and confront it head on.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Practicing self love, allowing for mistakes and being your own cheerleader

If something goes wrong, addressing how it makes us feel first then taking a step back and asking ourselves how we could have changed the outcome

A routine is important. Our body biologically works better with routine. Birds wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, migrate the same way every year. Routine reduces variability, so it’s a good way to pick up a new habit.

Setting realistic goals. If I’ve never ran a mile, a triathlon might be too far of a reach, but a 5k run might be a more attainable goal

Enjoy your day…there is more to life than just work! Find the time to stop, appreciate the present, and smell the roses, watch the sunset, or spend time with friends and family.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Get into the habit of prioritizing and executing to make sure that neither you nor the people who work with you spend energy on irrelevant tasks. I find the best way to do this is to identify 10 goals — then circle top five and move the remaining five to don’t do. Out of the first five, pick the one that has the highest chances to be accomplished and gives you the best yield. Decompose these goals into manageable sub-goals and then create tasks for each. Work with your team to divide and conquer.
  2. Disconnect to reconnect: Get your mind off of work. I once went on a hike when work was stressful and needed to disconnect.Because of my fear of heights, I did not think of work once. It was such a meditative experience. When I went back to work I felt my mind fresh and focused to tackle tasks ahead.
  3. Run: I never ran a day in my life, but I wanted to know what the hype was all about. So I started by running one minute intervals and every day I gradually increased the intervals until I was able to run 30 minutes straight around 5k.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Meditate in the morning to clear your brain from any possible source of stress and carry over from the day before and grounding to our present goals. It allows you to be grateful and to focus on what you have. I actually developed this practice during COVID, to help me destress and be grateful for my health.

Remove notifications and things that distract you: My phone is always on silent with no vibrations.

Block your calendar off for dedicated projects.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Find a shared way of working with your team and agree on best practices to maximize team’s wellbeing without lowering productivity.

Use an app called Freedom that creates 25-min long sessions that block you from accessing distracting websites.

Compile a to-do list each day and start the day removing unnecessary tasks from the list.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

I think there is one way to achieve that; You have to love what you do! Find your passion, it might be not obvious now, but you can only find it by trying to do different things. Find fulfillment from what you do and you will naturally Flow.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Equal educational opportunities for all! It all starts and ends with allowing people to have equal opportunities to empower them to better themselves and the people around them.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

John Oliver. I love him! He brought comedy to the news and news to comedy. I love the topics he dissects and the true unbiased reporting he brings from across the pond! No left or right in the news. Just the news

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Sign up to our newsletter on www.mayv.co. Follow our instagram @mayv.co

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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