Investigative journalist Scott Carney is our guest as we dive into: Why you might want to consider getting in cold water, the technique for staying in cold water for more than a few seconds, how to take your first step into the freeze, brown fat, the power of lightly held beliefs, how people are dying with the Wim Hof method, and the law of speedy gains.
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Scott Carney is an anthropologist, investigative journalist, author, and a seeker of both the fringes of human experience and the core of what makes us human. Scott has written four books to date, including The Vortex, The Enlightenment Trap, The Red Market, What Doesn’t Kill Us, and The Wedge, and produced the recent film The Rise and Fall of the Wim Hof Empire.
Scott’s work has been featured in many magazines — Wired, Mother Jones, Playboy, Foreign Policy, Men’s Journal, and National Public Radio. He has won the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism and is a multi-finalist for the Livingston Award for International Journalism. You can find all his goodies (podcast, vodcast, books, videos, blogs, etc) on his website.
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The method of staying in cold water
- The Wedge and The Walls- expanding the space between stimulus and response.
- First wall- overcoming the anticipation and getting in the water
- Second wall – getting through the first 10 seconds of being immersed in cold water. Even for the experienced, the first 10 seconds are hard!
- Third wall – there’s a voice in your head that says, “You’ve done enough.’” Getting past that is the third wall. It doesn’t have to be a long time, even 10 seconds is enough.
Scott’s Recommendation for how to enter cold water
- Stand in front of it and think, “This will be good for me.”
- Put your foot in to the point where you’re ready to immerse and take a deep breath in – hold it at the top of that full lung and then immerse up to your neck while you’re holding your breath.
- “The reason why we do that is because people’s natural physiological response is to hyperventilate. When you get into the cold bath, you want to avoid that panic response. If you have a full set of lungs you can’t hyperventilate because you’re holding your breath. You’re already decided. You’ve already put that command into your brain code that you’re not going to hyperventilate. That helps you control. And then you just relax.”
- Breathe slowly, chill out, and think about your happy place. Alternatively, you can focus on awareness of the experience.
The benefit of breaking through walls and focusing on physiologic control using ice baths
- Scott recommends staying in a cold bath for at least 1 minute.
- You begin to connect your emotional response, actions, and the sensory environment.
- If your sensory environment says panic and then you panic, you lock in that emotional association. The next time you get in, you think panic first.
- You want to get to the point where you’re now relaxed, and you’re thinking, “Okay, I can do this”, and then you can get out. But if you get out really quickly, you lock in anxiety, and you’ll make your life a little worse.
The power of lightly held beliefs
- For Scott, it doesn’t really matter what a belief is – we have ideas for how the universe is put together in a way that eventually surpasses science and what we can verify.
- We know that science can’t answer every question – it goes up to a point and then you get to launch off on your springboard.
- Lightly held beliefs are open to change, not dogmatically held.
- “Most of our life operates in this lightly held belief area. What we need to be able to do is realize when a belief no longer serves you – you realize when you have gotten calcified in your belief and your belief either doesn’t match with scientific reality or it’s actually making your life worse.”
- “These beliefs should be held like a lightly held cloak and you should be able to just cast them off and go to another belief that serves you better.”
Cold exposure as a lightly-held belief
- When he started doing cold exposure, Scott looked at the science supporting the practice. The evidence was fair, but he felt great after doing ice baths – less anxiety and fewer autoimmune symptoms
- Per Scott, “Scientifically, you can’t really start making those causal statements [that cold exposure causes these health benefits] without a study that will never be conducted and costs a billion dollars and, has the real statistical significance. So you have to look at ice and cold exposure as a lightly held belief.”
- There is also evidence that cold exposure doesn’t do anything or is just a placebo effect. “And I have to just say, ‘Cool. Well, it works for me. And I’ve seen it work for other people, and if it doesn’t work for you, just like with any drug that you might take, don’t do it.'”
People are dying using the Wim Hof method
- Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete and health instructor renowned for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures and hold his breath for a long time. He developed and taught the Wim Hof method – a combination of cold exposure and breathing techniques, meditation, and hyperventilatory breathing to promote physical and mental wellness. He has achieved cultlike status.
- Adherents are dying with a practice of hyperventilation followed by full immersion underwater.
- Learn more via Scott’s video – The Rise and Fall of the Wim Hof Empire
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Does Brown Fat matter?
- Scott’s take – probably not to the extent that it’s purported to in influencer-driven social media.
The law of speedy gains
- When you take on a new practice, there’s a seeming exponential curve of growth. You’re quickly much better than you were when you knew nothing.
- Where we get frustrated is the law of diminishing returns – after the initial gains, there’s often a plateau where you have to put in more effort to make improvements.
- You can still have a lot of fun with a basic level of skill or knowledge – you don’t have to be an expert in everything.
- “If you become a generalist and you realize that the law of speedy gains is out there, you can actually sort of hop from thing to thing to thing to thing and become a really happy dilettante.”
- It’s not so bad to be lightly experienced in many things and deeply in a few.