What is The Ocho System anyway? | by Joe Holder

Joe Holder
6 min readMay 3, 2021
by Jessica Foley

For the next 30 days I am writing one brief article daily on health/wellness + assorted musings. Today is Day 4. Day 1 and Day 2 can be found below. Day 3 was a wash cause I had bit of an emergency but we will make it up!

5 Simple-Ass Ways to Make Physical Activity Stick (Day 1)

7 Ways to Actively Engage in Rest (Day 2)

One of the most common questions I get is, “What is the ‘The Ocho System?” often followed by a mispronunciation of “Ocho,” so I figured it made sense to provide insight into what exactly it is.

If you’ve read any of my interviews, my columns for GQ, or listened to my podcast appearances you probably already have a cursory understanding of my approach. During my time at the University of Pennsylvania, studying health in medicine and minoring in psychology/marketing, I struggled with tough football injuries that included a broken leg, which led me to come up with an action plan for healing and returning to sport that I dubbed “The Ocho System.” It’s evolved today to become more structured into something anyone can use.

What does it mean?

Ocho is less of a translation, but more of an acronym. “O.C.H.O. ” stands for “One Can Help Others. Others Can Help One.” a manifesto of sorts that stands on the belief that if we take control of our physical health (fitness, eating habits), this in turn puts us in a better position to help others around us. Inspiration comes from the infinity symbol, showing the interconnectedness of it all, creating a feedback loop of gratitude that begins from one person to another.

What areas does it focus on?

Ocho also plays into the number 8, and I believe there are 8 core areas of wellness to focus on that will lead to overall improved health. These are physical, emotional, intellectual, mental, environmental, social, occupational and financial. This is why health to me is the result of a design system instead of just isolated parts that focus solely on physical activity. Instead, physical activity is the gateway to others areas of improvement.

Where does it take inspiration from?

Everything from positive psychology theories of Angela Duckworth to the writings of the Yoga Sutras to social impact work of various civil rights organizations to the theories of historic sport performance coaches, and the writings of Albert Camus, James Baldwin, and Henry David Thoreau has inspired the Ocho System. The list goes on and on.

Essentially, I’m a believer in being an expert-generalist. I understand the core empiricism of my respective discipline as it pertains to health, but why stop there? Inspiration is often hidden in areas where “you don’t know what you don’t know,” so I continuously explore the various avenues of intellectual terrain to illuminate my blind spots.

An example of this is when I worked on a Nike Project that was connected to Bauhaus, As I researched Bauhaus’s view on health, nature, and creativity, it changed my perspective forever and can be very applicable to one’s own health and wellness practices. While Bauhaus may have been limited in not including non-Western thought, they took a staunch stance on the need to merge body and spirit for creative practice, even using things such as gymnastic exercises as warm-ups before creative work.

How is it different from everything else out there?

A “system” as a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network, so it is of worth noting the mechanism of “my system” is not mine at all. It’s yours as much as it is mine. Essentially, it’s a design catalyst for personal health that I then believe delves into helping create societal change.

It is a bit of an amoeba-like structure that is malleable contingent upon one’s needs. Health has become too dogmatic. What works for me might not work for you, but I can give you base principles that you can apply to your own life . That’s where the magic is.

I’m a firm believer in “learning and sharing.” It would be anti-scientific for me to say I have all the answers , but I can lead you in the right direction to help you get closer than you previously were. Results aren’t created because one particular person is special, but because of the realization that we all are. I want to lead you into taking ownership, in some capacity, of your own life.

How do I apply it to my daily life?

It’s a practice in exploration of self while staying open-minded, but at the same time pragmatic. Try new things to see what works, not just for the sake of novelty. Every day we can approach life with fresh and soft eyes — a new beginning of sorts that allows you to see opportunities where others overlook them. To make it more concrete, just take ownership and within the 8 principle frameworks stated earlier. Look to make improvements that will lead to, in however you define it, a substantially more fulfilling existence. Everything doesn’t happen to be about “productivity” or esoteric “well-being”. Maybe, just maybe you want to meditate or eat better or volunteer because it makes you feel good and gives you purpose. It is worthwhile to entertain the notion that your wellness practices can be good for you and other people too.

Difference between it as a business practice vs a personal philosophy?

The Ocho System is a framework for how I work with various companies as a business/consulting practice to create change in those 8 core areas of wellness to hopefully improve the health of others. Whether it’s my work with Dyson, Nike, GQ, or Masterclass, I’ve had a lot of progress in the 6 years I’ve taken this endeavor on full-time.

As a personal philosophy, I truly believe that one can help others and others can help one. We can get caught up in believing that we’re more important than we are or that we don’t matter at all. However, there’s a bit of liberation in the balance between our significance and insignificance. If we can’t fix everything, why not focus on the one thing we can fix — ourselves — and improve the life of at least one other person in the process? If you change the world of one person for the better, you’ve changed the world. Take on that charge, instead of living passively.

What’s next?

Create an infrastructure that allows you to participate instead of just simply consumed. Stay tuned — we’re just getting started.

As always, thanks for reading

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Joe Holder

Founder of The Ocho System™, Plant Based Gang, and Exercise Snacks. Writer for @GQ. Consultant for various, primarily @nike @hyperice @dyson. Views my own