In the winter of 2013, Scott Carney traveled to Poland to debunk the prophet/madman Wim Hof, a charismatic Dutchman who claimed that his method of breathwork, cold exposure, and meditation could confer superpowers on its practitioners.
Scott was good at this sort of investigative muckraking; his previous book, A Death on Diamond Mountain, chronicled another guru whose hyperbolic claims and irresponsible programs put gullible people in harm's way. Wim would just be the next to fall.
Before exposing the scam, though, Scott's journalistic ethics compelled him to see it firsthand. And what he discovered – and experienced – changed how he saw health, culture, human nature – the works.
Long story short, Scott found compelling evidence – personal experience, case study, anecdotal, lab science, and clinical trials – that human beings are suffering for lack of exposure to environmental extremes.
We've become weak and anti-resilient. Our immune systems prowl our unchallenged bodies like bored puppies, chewing on everything in sight and triggering autoimmune disorders. And we live in a fear bubble that acts as an additional layer of insulation from the natural environment in which our ancestors evolved.
From his first dips in an icy lake, to taking control of his immune system, to climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in record time, shirtless in a t-shirt, Scott has chronicled his discoveries and insights in one of the best books I've read in years.
It's called What Doesn't Kill Us, and it did its job on me. Before I was halfway through, I was already doing the morning breathing exercises and running 7 January miles in just shorts and no shirt.
So when Scott agreed to be on the podcast (to give you some perspective on how hot this is right now, I heard him interviewed on NPR's Weekend Edition a couple of weeks ago), I rejoiced.
And he didn't disappoint – this conversation went by so quickly, I didn't realize that we were 70 minutes in and I was totally monopolizing his afternoon.
I hope you enjoy it, and have the same “let's get cold!” reaction that I did.
(Responsible podcaster's note, cribbed from the Black Box Warning at the front of What Doesn't Kill Us: Please don't try any of this stuff “without appropriate experience, training, fitness level, doctor approval, and supervision.”)
Scott and I covered:
- why his book hit a nerve right now
- his experience leading a trip in India where a student threw herself to her death believing she was becoming an angel
- A Death on Diamond Mountain: Scott's book on dangerous spiritual leaders
- attempting to debunk Wim Hof's claims of superpowers: controlling body temperature and immune system and spending long periods of time in ice water (“he's gonna get people killed”)
- why Wim seemed trustworthy because of – rather than in spite of – his obvious flaws
- the costs of living in perpetual early summer
- comfort is killing us
- “the wedge” – using our minds to master our automatic reactions
- natural extension of the human project since infancy – gaining increasing control over our limbs, movements, and bodily functions
- “our brains are designed to panic – it's like a hobby”
- why our bodies can adapt so quickly to environmental extremes
- the difference between early warning panic and automatic responses to true danger
- the science of cold exposure
- the real purpose of body fat
- the discovery of adult brown adipose tissue in 2007 – and why it's triggered a ridiculous R&D initiative by Big Pharma
- Wim and the endotoxin challenge
- “giving our immune systems a chew toy”
- the wholistic nature of nature, and the reductionist nature of a profit-driven drug paradigm
- climbing Kilimanjaro shirtless in shorts in -30 F wind chill – and being OK
- lowering insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics by 54% through three weeks in a chilly room
- “part of being an adult is being able to face the world as it is” – my new mantra
- the terrible costs of the absence of initiation into adulthood in our culture
- the viral videos of Siberian children playing in the snow
- and much more…
Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.
What Doesn't Kill Us – by Scott Carney
A Death on Diamond Mountain – by Scott Carney
Siberian Kids playing in the snow – YouTube video
Research article from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans”
Vice Documentary on Wim Hof: Inside the Superhuman World of the Iceman
Bonus Giggles: Apetor's Merry Christmas 2017
HOWARD: Scott Carney, welcome to the Plant Yourself Podcast!
SCOTT: Oh, man. It’s awesome being here. Thank you for having me on.
HOWARD: Yeah, so I heard about you on a weekend edition NPR, and I just got so excited for this message to reach so many people. You got this new book. It’s been out for a couple of weeks, What Doesn’t Kill Us. You’re doing great. You’re on major national media. How’s everything going with all this?
SCOTT: Yeah, who knew that a book about being uncomfortable and jumping into ice water would catch fire, if you’d allow me the pun, so well. But I think that there’s a message here that resonates with people, which is that the environment that you inhabit is important and that it can be a key to staying healthy and, as I showed in the book, actually let you do some pretty amazing things.
HOWARD: Yeah, we’ll get into that. I’m really curious, though, about… when I first heard your interview and I contacted you and the publisher to do this interview, I was thinking of talking to you about Wim Hof and Laird Hamilton, some of the other folks, but the more I read, the more I got interested in your story and the more I identified with YOU. I know your previous book was kind of a mirror image, like a dark mirror image, of what this one turned out to be, debunking sort of a spiritual physical group that led to someone’s death by very irresponsible means. Can you talk a little bit about that story and how it kind of predisposed you to approach this one?
SCOTT: Right. I don’t think this book could have been written without writing my first two books actually. You know, the first book was about organ trafficking and the really dark side of the medical industry in general, you know, and how people get taken advantage of for the money that their bodies represent.
The second book was about… you know, it started with an experience that I had when I was a leader of an abroad program for American college students in India. In my previous life, I was an anthropologist, getting my PhD, and I was leading this abroad program. I was the director, and we ended up on a meditation retreat in Bodh Gaya in north India where… it was the spot where Buddha attained enlightenment about 2,800 years ago.
At the end of this ten-day silent meditation, my best student – the prettiest, the brightest, the most driven of them all – climbed up to the roof of the retreat center and jumped to her death committing suicide, and you know, as the director of the program, I was responsible for bringing her body back home and understanding why this happened, and I read her journal and some of the last things that she wrote in the journal… the last words were “I am a Bodhisattva,” which means essentially I am on my way to enlightenment – I am essentially an angel. And all she had to do was leave her body to gain this power.
And the book that I wrote that came out of that experience, A Death on Diamond Mountain, was about this allure of spiritual seekers who are looking to be greater than themselves through meditation and how that can lead them down a very dark path. Over the years, I collected the journals of people who died on silent meditation retreats or had gone insane on silent meditation retreats, and in that book, I followed the story of one particular guy who died on a silent meditation retreat in the mountains of Arizona under the tutelage of this very suspect American-Tibetan lama, so a white guy in robes, if you will.
So, when I found Wim Hof, who makes very similar claims that he can give you superpowers, you know, whereas Michael Roach was saying you can learn to levitate and walk through walls and various other very magical powers. Wim Hof was making similar claims.
He was saying that he could control his body temperature at will and control his immune system, and he was proving that by dunking himself in ice water and staying there for extraordinarily long amounts of time or climbing Mt. Everest in just a pair of shorts and boots, you know doing these things that they look like they are crazy. No, let me take that back. They ARE crazy things to do. When he was saying this, I was sure that he was gonna get people killed.
So, I came out there with the intention of proving to the world that he was just like this other guy that I had looked at and that you should be wary before you get involved with Wim, but it turns out… you know, because I am an investigative journalist, I have a certain set of ethics when I go in to do my reporting.
I had to give him a chance, and I did his training, and lo and behold, in a matter of like seven days, I went from a guy who was living in California – in Los Angeles –palm trees swaying to his training center which is in the heart of Poland in the middle of the winter. You know, this is the winter that stops Napoleon’s army.
It’s the winter that grounds the Nazi army to a halt. Here I am, standing outside in the snowy wilderness in just a bathing suit with my feet bare in the snow, and I’m standing outside for an hour at a time or I’m sitting in the banks of the river with melting snow around me, and I finished the week by hiking up a mountain nearby his house, a ski slope, but it’s two degrees outside, and I am hiking up this whole mountain for eight hours and burning up the whole time.
It was so shocking and I had such a reversal in my understanding about these claims that some gurus make that I knew I had to write a book about it.
HOWARD: It’s so interesting because… we’ll get into the message, but you began this conversation by saying basically that we’re part of our environment, and the message of the book is that if we’re always cuddled and bubbled and wrapped and protected from it, we don’t get to become wholly our natural selves, and we suffer. We suffer from lack of resilience, and throughout our history we didn’t really have a choice about it, but now in this little blip of time, we get to use up all the world’s fossil fuels to make ourselves comfortable…
HOWARD: … and it’s to our detriment. But you came into this with a perspective of people who are out of the mainstream in this way doing extreme things are basically charlatans and fakes and ultimately destructive forces in people’s lives.
SCOTT: Right. You know, the thing is that even now, I’m still skeptical of many of these claims. I still need evidence for what I get into, and I’m still suspicious of anyone who says they can give you superpowers, but what I’ve come to understand for myself about Wim’s stuff is that it’s not about superpowers.
It’s about powers that humans already have biologically that are already here, and that we just factored out because of our penchant for comfort, because of our penchant for using our technology in our minds essentially to take care of all of the external stresses that we have so we don’t experience them on a daily basis, and that drive for comfort and essentially… homeostasis existed probably throughout the duration of human history, but we never had the power to achieve comfort at the flip of a switch until about a hundred years ago, and evolutionarily that’s a brink of the eye.
That’s no period at all. Our species are at least 200,000 years old and in that time, variations of nature whether they be a snowstorm or a fine summer day or a scorching hot trek across the desert, we had to survive all of those conditions, and it was our body’s ability to adapt that let us do that.
However, the present day where we live most of the year is a perpetual early summer environment, like the perfect, easy life. That’s what we simulate with climate control. We used to have changes in light patterns that would have to do with this fireball in the sky called the sun, which many of your listeners have seen before. You know, that doesn’t go through the sky at a set amount of time. It’s not 12 hours up, 12 hours off.
It changes throughout the day, and that actually has impacts on our inner biology and the way we sleep and our sleep patterns, and you know, there are so many things that we’ve factored out because we have electric lighting or we have heat or we have other things that insulate us. We do it because we are comfortable, but that comfort hides suffering and that’s what I’m trying to expose.
HOWARD: Right. So, in our efforts… human beings basically were running off with this survival pattern in our minds unless we consciously override it like the human responses like, what do I need to do to survive…
HOWARD: … and all those comfort cues were early signals, like ‘I’m a little bit chilly’ could turn into ‘I’m freezing to death’ and ‘I’m a little peckish’ could turn into ‘I’m starving to death.’ So, we naturally try to move… comfort is a really useful early warning system.
HOWARD: But it seems to me that the function of culture, mature cultures – I’m not talking about the United States or really most of modern consumer culture – but the purpose of culture was to take someone out of that and put them in some degree of danger, so it’s not that students are jumping off of mountains believing in their bodhisattvas or people are dying by droves in harsh conditions but that to move out of comfort does involve some degree of risk. It’s not like doing a ropes course where the risk is all imaginary.
SCOTT: Right, you have to be really careful, right? I mean the whole process of evolution is that successful biological beings are able to pass on their genes successfully, and the ones that don’t make it die, and the genes never go forward. So, evolution is a very violent process, and the stakes are always death and always life. I think that we have to bear that in mind when we talk about quality of life and how one might live beneficially. That’s not what evolution cares about.
Evolution cares about your genes moving down through the systems. But that said, you know, we are the product of this billions of years, yeah, billions of years – life has been around about three billion years on the planet – we’re the product of billions of years of winters, and they won because they were in these harsh environments, and we have those underlying abilities that are in our bodies now that were honed through eons of eons of evolution. And by taking out the evolutionary pressure, we are not exercising the systems that have made us so successful.
HOWARD: Yeah, kind of reminds of when I bought my mother a computer, and the only thing she used it for was email, and I’m like, “look at this, look at this.” Of course, it’s not a great analogy because the computer didn’t really hide away and get worse and its RAM didn’t shrink because it wasn’t being used.
SCOTT: [laughs] No, it did, though. Think about it. That computer is old. It’s probably obsolete already.
HOWARD: Yeah, I don’t know where it is anymore. So, when you went out there… I don’t want to rehash the book because everybody should get the book. It’s a seriously life changing book for anyone who is skeptical and likes science because the science would blow you away. So, when you first got there to experience Wim’s whims, Wim’s methods…
SCOTT: [laughs] We like puns here. Keep the puns coming.
HOWARD: Well, I’m sure you haven’t heard any of them.
HOWARD: So, your first experience of the method… Tell me about when you first got there.
SCOTT: I landed in Poland and I met Wim, who at first glance didn’t seem all that impressive or intimidating. He looks like a life-size garden gnome. He even had a pointy green hat on when I met him. He drives me out into the Polish mountainous wilderness on the west side of Poland.
You know, the first thing that happens after we get out of the car – I went there with two other people who were paying to be on the course and I’m coming in as a journalist – and he shows me a bunk and I know I’m going to be there for a week to see what’s happening.
I’m in the top floor of his house and I’m looking outside, and there is this dude in his underwear sitting in this snowy field throwing snow on himself with steam coming off his body as the snow evaporates when it comes in contact with the skin, and I’m like, WHERE on earth have I landed, who is doing this stuff!?
And the guy that I showed up with says, “I can’t wait to get out there,” and he runs off and goes outside, and I’m like, I’m surrounded by clearly insane people. But you know that night, I don’t go out in the snow right then, and I’m sort of hanging out with Wim and I’m trying to gauge him as a teacher or a guy who makes really outlandish claims.
And just because he seems so open, and also his flaws are so apparent… you know, he is not the sort of guy who presents himself as a perfect individual by any means and because his flaws are so apparent… you know, he was an alcoholic for many many years, he was a smoker, he didn’t eat particularly healthy… because his flaws were so apparent that it actually made me feel that he might be a man that you could trust with his claims in sort of a converse idea.
You know, you usually want these people to be an epitome of human health. But because his flaws were so apparent, I said, maybe there is something to him, you know. Maybe he is not making claims that are straight-out outlandish.
The next day, the first thing we do is this breathing method where we’re all lying in his yoga room in the front of the house and it’s freezing in there, so we are actually in our sleeping bags and lying down. And you do this hyperventilation method where you take 30 quick, deep breaths.
You know, we call it hyperventilation, but it's not the panicked type of hyperventilation, but sort of like [demonstrates taking quick hyperventilating breaths three times] like that, and you get really dizzy, and it feels a little uncomfortable. You get tingly. And you let all the air out of your lunges and then you just hold it for as long as you can.
You do these repetitions where you hyperventilate and you hold your breath, you hyperventilate and you hold your breath. And all of a sudden, the amount of time you can hold your breath greatly extends, and I think the first time I did it, I was able to reach something like two and a half minutes of breath retention with no air in my lungs, whereas if I’d done it before then and just tried to hold my breath, maybe I could hold it for 30 seconds, maybe a minute before I felt the urge to gasp. So, I knew that this breathing method was hacking the way my gasp point worked. So, what I did… what you do by the end of this breathing is… I think we breathed for about an hour, doing these cycles back and forth…
HOWARD: Oh my god!
SCOTT: Yeah, I mean…
HOWARD: I’ve been doing it this week for three or four rounds ending in pushups, as you suggested for a morning routine, and this morning, I had… in the middle of round two, I forgot what I was doing. [laughs]
SCOTT: That totally happens.
HOWARD: I pushed this little button… I got his little app, and I pushed this little button, and it says like 27 seconds, and I was like, where am I, what’s going on? An hour must be like mental…
SCOTT: Yeah, you get some really deep spots, so I recommend a 15-minute routine every morning in the book, but as you go deeper, experiences get more profound. Different physiological things happen to you along that journey, but I think that 15 minutes is a great daily practice.
But you know, you mentioned the pushups. Let’s remind your listeners what happens is that after doing these repetitions of breathing and retention, breathing and retention… you know, I worked up to about two and a half minutes and then you do another round of breathing where you hyperventilate. You let all the air out of the lungs and just start doing pushups. You know, I’m a normal guy. I’m not in particularly great shape. I could do about 20 pushups, but when I did this breathing while holding my breath with empty lungs, I did 40, which doubled my- number, which was astounding to me, and they felt easy.
It was one of these things, and I was like, Wow, Wim has this thing that he’s figured out. He’s figured out how to hack something in my physiology to double my strength. I knew then that there was something very very cool about this method, and as I did all these feats on the ice, it just became easier and easier. But let me ask you to turn the interview around, since you’ve been doing the breathing, how’s your experience with the pushups been?
HOWARD: So… I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve also doubled it, so now I’m doing 20.
SCOTT: [laughs] Awesome!
HOWARD: I’m not a weak dude, but for some reason, I’m doing something wrong with pushups, so I gotta get that checked out because I fatigue really quickly or maybe I’m just going down really far or something, but I definitely had that experience like the very first time I did it, and the weird thing is I’ve been doing breath-hold pushups for years actually because I do martial arts called Systema…
SCOTT: Oh, okay.
HOWRD: … which in a lot of ways is very very similar, so we don’t do ice-cold showers, but every morning, I pour 4 or 5 gallons of cold tap water on my body while I stand outside.
SCOTT: Oh, awesome! Okay!
HOWARD: So that was fun in Many.
HOWARD: It was delightful in August, and now it’s fucking miserable in February.
SCOTT: Right. [laughs]
HOWARD: But now I really feel proud of myself.
SCOTT: Oh, wow. I have to say, in the summer I feel like it’s so lame, like you go outside and it’s so easy. I enjoy nothing more than jumping in my cold shower now because the pipes are in the ground here in Denver and it’s cold. It’s coming out of the tap like… I should measure it, but it feels like maybe 50 or 48 degrees, and I love it. I feel like in the summer the tap water runs so warm that it’s barely even a challenge.
HOWARD: That’s one of the things I had in my notes to ask you about just personally. At what point do you start not dreading this because I’ve been doing the double ice-bucket challenge every single morning since May and every single day I wake up and try to talk myself out of it.
SCOTT: Yep! Yeah, totally, and I don’t think that will ever change. The hardest thing that a person can do probably in life in general is to stand in a warm shower and turn it to cold. I mean I think that’s absolutely the hardest thing.
SCOTT: Because you are in this comfortable spot and feel so good, and then you’re like, really I have to do THIS? It doesn’t get easy to do, but afterwards you feel so great, right? And then even after just two or three seconds of this cold water coming down on me, then I remember that it’s actually not so bad.
But I feel like I do teach myself that every single time, and maybe that’s why the method is so good because it actually works on… you know, that’s basically my own subconscious saying, No, I don’t want to be uncomfortable, and that’s me telling it to shut up.
That’s a hard thing to do, but if you do it every morning, that’s something that makes the rest of the day easier. You know, it’s a small thing, right, to turn a knob, but it’s also a really hard thing to do, and it’s really nice. I don’t find the cold difficult to deal with. It’s really just the decision to go into the cold which is hard.
HOWARD: Yeah, that’s one of the things that they talk a lot about in my practice. The discipline comes from filling up the bucket.
SCOTT: Right. [laughs]
HOWARD: Once you are pouring it, you’re not gonna stop.
SCOTT: Mmm hmm. Yeah, you’re committed.
SCOTT: Yeah, and this is an issue with any practice, right? Getting yourself into a disciplined routine is the hardest point. You know, if I’m sitting and doing the breathing routine… I don’t do it every day because sometimes I’d rather have coffee, and that’s me succumbing to my comfort more than anything else, whereas once I do the breathing, once I do three breaths, I know I can do the whole thing. It’s not gonna be a big deal. But it is the sitting down and the discipline to get yourself there which is so important, and I always feel better once I’ve done it.
HOWARD: Yeah, and that’s the paradox. You know, I retrain my nervous system to not flinch. So, one of the things I’ve been doing since I read your book is now I’m running shirtless, and I’m running different routes so more people will see me.
SCOTT: Yeah, right, right, totally!
HOWARD: I’m totally embarrassed by that revelation, but I’m like, hey this is the trafficky road that I usually avoid and hey look, now they see this dude running at 35 degrees with no shirt.
SCOTT: You know, one of the first shirtless runs I did was actually in Central Park, which is the most visible place to do it. I think it was in the middle of March. It was really snowy and cold. You know, everyone was sort of… heads turning and high-fiving, and there was sort of a showboat thing about it. It sort of feeds a certain ego side of things.
You know, it’s also fun, and I think it’s important to have fun with these practices that look extreme but that really aren’t. You know, once you’re running and you’re actually moving… if you have a hat on and maybe gloves if it’s really cold, so your extremities don’t plummet too much, you’re generating so much heat from running that it doesn’t actually feel bad. It’s only bad in the first minute or two as you’re working up… if you do pushups beforehand, you are not cold ever on the runs.
HOWARD: Oh, okay, I’ll try that. Yeah, one of the things I’ve discovered is that most of my aversions to cold was my aversion to my reaction to the cold – this sort of squeaky flinch.
SCOTT: Uh huh.
HOWARD: My family thinks this is hilarious. They’re up and I’m doing it, and they look at the window shaking their heads because this is the guy… if I was at the stove cooking and if someone took their moderately cold hand and touched my bare back with it, I would freak out and yell at them and scream.
SCOTT: [laughs] Yeah, this is what I’m calling in the book the “wedge,” right? This is one of the concepts that I use to explain what the Wim Hof method is really doing, which is… and you’re using the word “flinch,” but I’d describe it as your automatic reaction, that shock, that’s tweaking your fight or flight responses actually.
SCOTT: And what you’re doing is using your mind to master this panicky response that you have, and that actually has a huge impact on your body in general. It’s putting your mind – your conscious mind – in control of what is essentially an unconscious process, and I sort of think that that is one of the ways that humans learn to use their bodies in the first place.
When you’re an infant, you don’t really control anything in your body. You sort of plopped out into the world, and you sort of have to figure out what you’re doing, and as you control your limbs, you’re extending mental control over physical processes.
Although we look at them as really easy now, you know walking or using your arms, but at that point, it’s a struggle to get anywhere, and you’re developing neural connections to do it, so what we’re doing… when your wife touches your back with her icy cold hands, that flinch response is like your autonomic response and what you’re doing is saying, No, look, it’s not that bad, it’s just a sensation, and the sensation won’t kill me, I’ll be fine, and then you’re subduing that, and you can actually getting control…
You know it’s difficult to explain how it exactly happens, but controlling that sort of panicky response to the cold seems to extend control over your autonomic nervous system for immune issues, and that’s a weird connection to have and doesn’t seem straightforward at first, except that your immune system seems to have some connection to your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.
HOWARD: Yeah. I haven’t experienced that particular thing yet, but I do notice, first of all when someone touches me with ice-cold hands, it doesn’t feel that cold anymore, so physiologically like blood vessels and capillaries have changed, and also what I was experiencing I was magnifying with this crazy feedback loop and turning it into swords and daggers.
SCOTT: Right, yeah, and our brains are designed to panic. It loves to panic.
SCOTT: It’s like a hobby, right? When you give it rational information, all of a sudden, standing in snow for five minutes really isn’t that big of a deal. And jumping into ice water, I promise you, no matter what ice water you jump into, it’ll be very difficult for it to get below 32 degrees, right?
SCOTT: You know, if you add some salt, you might be able to get it down to 30 degrees, but ice water is liquid for a reason.
SCOTT: And we know that at 32 degrees, you’re not gonna get hypothermia in five minutes. It’s just not gonna happen.
HOWARD: Well, I’ve yet to try that one.
SCOTT: Oh, do a polar bear plunge. Man, it’s awesome!
HOWARD: I’m thinking at the moment about all the things that I’ve missed out on because I was always a water wimp and a cold wimp. We’d be on vacation somewhere and there’d be like an 82-degree pool, and everyone is having fun, and I’d be like, “No, I think I just wanna read.” It was the total fear of that kind of discomfort.
HOWARD: So many things I missed out on specifically around cold and wet. I’m kind of relishing… and it’s amazing how quickly… you’re right, the first time is gonna be the worst. You know, how quickly, it wasn’t that bad.
SCOTT: Yeah, it’s awe inspiring, you know, and it comes down to the question of evolution or ancestors, the ones who were crossing deserts and climbing mountains with a whisper of what we have for technology now. You know, their biology had to adapt quickly, and if it didn’t adapt quickly, they didn’t pass on their genes, so it’s not like, “A snowstorm is coming. I’ll talk to you in three months when I’m ready for it.”
No, a snowstorm is coming, cold front, let’s get down to business, and you know, a lot of those early warning signs, those panics were just warnings, and if your body doesn’t have a baseline to identify the danger of a stimulus, it’s gonna trigger its warnings super early, and if it has been through the rounds a few times, it’s not gonna worry as much. And then you can really start assessing what real danger is because there is danger out there.
We can’t go infinite amounts of endurance. You can’t throw me into the vacuum of space, and my suppression of my shiver response isn’t going to let me live. I’ll die, right, just like you might expect.
But I can do a lot more than I ever anticipated. You know, I climbed this mountain in Poland, but at the end of the book, I’m tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is the tallest mountain in Africa, and I’m doing it shirtless and in shorts most of the way. There are times when it dips down to negative 30 with wind-chill, and you know, I’m not exactly comfortable, but I’m okay. I know where my limits are, and I also know when to put on a jacket. I also know where that is, but it’s way further away than you might expect.
HOWARD: Yeah, it’s so interesting that the word “okay” is so crucial because it basically means I’m gonna live through this. It didn’t destroy me. A lot of my coaching with people around health… they don’t understand why they’re binging or why they are not getting up in the morning, and it’s usually like some feeling that comes up. You know, they’re scared of something or they have anxiety or depression or fear, and that immediately translates into “I gotta get rid of this feeling, and the way I know how to do that is with food” usually.
SCOTT: Oh, right. Uh huh. Yeah.
HOWARD: So, the ability to sit through with whatever feeling and say, “You know, this sucks, it’s not supposed to not suck, but okay,” like the baseline of “what doesn’t kill us,” right? I am OKAY. It can feel like such an empowering realization because we’ve spent our whole lives trying to avoid this thing that we thought we’d never be okay.
SCOTT: Yeah, and you know, all of your… many of your listeners are listening to this right now and thinking to themselves, “Well, you know, these guys might be able to handle the cold, but I’m ESPECIALLY unable to handle the cold. No one is as unable to handle the cold as me,” and this is a universal thing that I hear when I’m talking about this book.
I know you listener are thinking this way right now, and that’s what everyone thinks. It’s just not true. Unless you have… there are certain actual medical conditions that do occasionally show up for people, but you probably don’t have them, right? And I’m not just talking about Reynaud’s Disease. I’m talking about… I think they’re called chill burns.
There are certain reactions like your body is just so used to comfort, so out of kilter like forever that you really have to go slowly to get anywhere. But the truth is that we’re made to be able to adapt to this and the part of you that’s saying “I’m especially unable to handle this” is your inner wimp talking.
HOWARD: [laughs] I feel like ending this by editing in my kids talking about me for two minutes because I would’ve been that listener, like NOBODY hates the cold and wet more than me.
SCOTT: Well, I’m him. It’s everyone, right? It’s a universal human response for all of us who have lived most of our lives at 72 degrees, rain or shine, snow or sun. We don’t have temperature variations in our lives, so why would our body want to go to something that feels extreme? I lived in India for a long time, and this is actually really interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this on podcasts before. India is a pretty hot place, right? You can run into 44 degrees Celsius, which I guess is like 120, which is not nice to be outside in.
But you know, I had an apartment, and when I had air-conditioning, it was awesome because I go inside and I can be cool and it would feel great. It was dehumidified and all that stuff. But then I couldn’t go outside anymore because it felt unbearable. I couldn’t deal with the heat anymore.
But in the times when I didn’t have air-conditioning, when I’m traveling. I’m an investigative journalist so I’ve done like war correspondence stuff and I’ve traveled to really difficult areas in India or when I was a college student living there in the deserts of Rajasthan, you know, the air-conditioning was sort of a treat that you go into sometimes, and it actually started to make me sick when I was in AC.
Because my body was getting used to dealing with the heat, and that changed the way my sweat glands worked, the way the capillaries and the surface of my skin dissipated heat, and you get used to different sets of temperature variation, and these technological crutches that we use, which at times can be nice, actually stop your body from being able to inhabit the environments that they are designed to survive in.
HOWARD: Yes, so when you look at it globally, we are the environments, right? I remember listening to an interview with Ram Das from 30 years ago where he is sitting stuck in traffic, cursing the traffic and he goes, “Oh, you know what, I AM the traffic.”
SCOTT: Yeah, right!
HOWARD: We ARE the environments. We are other people’s environments. You know, we are designed for earth and not for Holiday Inn.
SCOTT: No. Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. You know, I sort of end the book on that idea in the epilogue. We’re drastically changing the environment with our technological advancements and using intense amounts of resources to feed this drive for comfort that we all have, and we don’t need to do that. We can just try to feel a little bit more in touch with the world around us. And we’ll be okay. It won’t kill us.
HOWARD: Yeah, in fact, one of the things when I started working with people on their health, it was largely about food and nutrition. You know, I can teach people what to eat in about 12 seconds and I can give them all the information they need on an index card, so it clearly wasn’t knowledge, right? It was implementation, and people would feel like… like I said, they have these negative feelings, and they would immediately reach for comfort foods, highly palatable, fatty, processed foods…
SCOTT: Delicious. [laughs]
HOWARD: Delicious … to make themselves feel better in the moment, and that’s really a hard thing to train out of people, and what I discovered is that when you train people to experience discomfort whether it’s like, I’m gonna sprint for 30 seconds and it hurts and it sucks or do this breathing exercise for 2 minutes or I’m gonna pour a bucket of ice water over my head. They have finite end points. It’s not like you’ll never have snickers bars for the rest of your life, but the skill of not indulging your comfort in the moment is a really transferrable skill.
SCOTT: Yeah, absolutely, and it brings up this idea, which is sort of a catch word these days, of resilience. We’re designed to be resilient. You know, if you start exercising those muscles, you get robustness in general and you get healthier, mentally and physically healthier.
HOWARD: So, let’s talk about that a little bit because you’ve done a great job of distilling and explaining some of the science. When I read the science chapter, that’s when my greed gland started going off, like I could be like the billionaire founder of a chain of spas that had all this stuff available for people.
SCOTT: Do it, man! I’m behind you.
HOWARD: So, all the investors that are listening, get in touch… There haven’t been that many people who’ve done this, so there haven’t been that many people to study, but as it grows in popularity, it’s clear to me that research is gonna show incredible benefits. You can do as much with cold therapy for diabetes – for type 2 diabetics – as you can with significant dietary changes. Can you talk a little bit about the big scientific findings that really convinced you that this isn’t just you hallucinating in the snow?
SCOTT: Well, there’s several, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to get to all of them.
HOWARD: Pick two or three.
SCOTT: The most interesting study on Wim, I believe, is something called the endotoxin study. This is where a lot of people gravitate to why the Wim Hof method is useful for autoimmune illnesses, so Wim, being the crazy guy that he is, had a conversation with a doctor, an immunologist, over at Radboud University in the Netherlands named Peter Pickkers and his student Matthias Kochs. He said to them, “I can consciously turn off my immune system.” How that conversation started, I really have no clue.
SCOTT: Because who says something like that? But he did. Pickkers is very well known and very well respected for developing a test for immunosuppressive drugs like cyclosporine. What those drugs are used for is… if you’ve got an organ transplant, your body would naturally look at that spare kidney that you have and see it as a foreign invader and it would try to attack and destroy it.
So, what you do is you dose yourself with something called cyclosporine or various other autoimmune suppressants to turn your immune system down or even off so that it doesn’t reject the organ. So, he developed a test to see if an immunosuppressant drug actually did what it was supposed to do, which was… he would inject somebody with heat-killed E. coli bacteria called endotoxin so it’s not the live bacteria, but it has all the signals on its membrane that says that it is a dangerous invader.
If somebody gets injected with endotoxin, their immune response immediately activates, which means you get a fever, achy joints, runny nose, all of the normal primary immune responses that you have, and the way he would tell if an immunosuppressant drug worked is that the person wouldn’t have those reactions.
Wim, making this claim that he can consciously turn off his immune system, which was technically impossible according to the science of the moment. Peter Pickkers said, “This is easy enough to test.”
So, they injected Wim with endotoxin, and lo and behold, there was no reaction. All he complained was a minor headache. His immune system never turned on, and in fact, the blood that they withdrew – the blood samples that he withdrew – even when it was outside of his body for multiple days – I think it was three or four days – it never worried about endotoxin, so not only was he able to suppress his own immune system, the blood itself outside of his body was able to do the same thing.
This was mind blowing for the scientist. This is almost a new paradigm shift, so the scientist would argue that… and the people who read the paper were like, this is an interesting study, but maybe Wim is a freak. Maybe he’s got some sort of genetic thing that he just isn’t responsive to endotoxin. About one percent of people who get injected with the drug have a response similar to Wim’s.
So, Wim made a follow-up claim that not only was he able to suppress his own immune system, he can teach other people to do the same thing in only a week. So Pickkers and Kochs took him up on his second challenge, and Wim took 12 Dutch college students into his training program in Poland, the same exact training program that I did, and at the end of that, they took them back to Holland, and they injected all of them with endotoxin, and they all repeated Wim’s results.
SCOTT: Showing that this was… you could consciously suppress an immune response, and that is HUGE. When this article was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it got nods on Nature’s website. It was all over the Internet because it proved something that wasn’t possible that you can consciously suppress immune responses, and the implications for that are enormous because every autoimmune disease is essentially your body attacking itself.
So, rheumatoid arthritis – when your immune system identifies joints as foreign invaders, it could theoretically be reversed by Wim’s things. Crohn’s disease, to some degree Parkinson’s, alopecia, all sorts of things your immune system is going haywire… it seems that you can use the Wim Hof method to reverse it. In the book, I, of course, asked that question: can I find people who have done this? And I outline four case studies of people who were crippled by one illness or another and were using the Wim Hof method very successfully to counteract their symptoms.
HOWARD: So, what was he doing? What did he teach them to do in the moment? Was it consciously directing the immune cells to chill? Was he breathing? Was he doing ice baths right beforehand?
SCOTT: They did the ice training, so that’s getting used to being calm in the ice and suppressing your autonomic response to shiver. That’s the basic cold method that you use. So, if you are in that environment, it’s supposed to make you panic. You suppress that, you try to relax. That’s the cold method.
And breathing is what I explained earlier – hyperventilation and retention. During the test, they had done the cold training for a week, and I think they had done the breathing right before they got injected with endotoxin. So, it’s a daily method. You really have to do this all the time.
What they did in the moment when they were being injected, I think they used the third-eye mediation, which is something you do in the breathing exercise, which is calm your mind and not really think about anything but focus on whatever you see behind the lids of your eyes, a very very entry-level basic mediation, and that’s really all they did, and the responses were great.
Incidentally, growing up for me, I was always afflicted by canker sores, which are these legions you get in your mouth that might be related to a version of herpes virus. I got them since I was one-year old, and I think because I was introduced to that virus at such a young age, it was actually very virulent in my body, and I could get these dime-sized lesions in my mouth, and I would get them like every month, and it would take a week for them to go away – unable to smile, very difficult to talk. It was really a horrible thing.
I started to think of myself as a canker sore survivor [laughs] because I had so many of these sores. Since I’m doing the methods, I don’t get them anymore, which is amazing and the biggest relief because it was a horrible thing for me to deal with. But they just don’t come, and the only thing I can attribute it to is the method.
HOWARD: So, you are not trying to consciously hack something, right? The method itself… I mean, it doesn’t turn off your immune system obviously because you are not getting colds and flus…
SCOTT: I still can be susceptible to the normal range of illness, but I think I recover quicker because of it. The thing with the autoimmune response… I think this is the reason why the Wim Hof method works. It’s going back to this idea of homeostasis. Now, remember our ancestors had constantly variable environments and also a range of viruses and bacteria in the natural environment that would always afflict us. Now we live in this sort of antiseptic places where not only does the nervous system not get a lot of stimulus through temperature and other environmental things but we also don’t get the bacteria and other things that help train our immune system to deal with the diverse environment.
The immune system itself, however, evolutionarily has to be aggressive. It has to be a predator for all of these incoming threats that it has to deal with. And the immune system and the nervous system – the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems – are connected at some point where they sort of have to work in concert to deal with external threats.
Now, when you start doing the method and you start giving yourself external stimuli that trigger your fight or flight response, and you modulate that fight or flight response. It’s very similar to getting that wolf predator in your immune system – all these macrophages, killer T cells and neutrophils and all those specific cells.
It’s like getting that thing a chew toy to deal with. So, it’s like, I’ve got this thing to deal with, and it doesn’t have to go bother your joints that are basically chewing on… I’m sure this is rigorously scientific to use this language. It’s getting a hobby, more or less.
HOWARD: And the implication there is that it’s not turned off for everything. It’s just turned off for things that aren’t really threats.
SCOTT: Exactly! You know, it gives you more robustness to deal with these illnesses. I don’t know if you’ve seen these viral videos that are going around right now on the Internet of kids in Siberia…
SCOTT: … throwing ice water on themselves during their recess and then coming back in for some hot tea at the end of like five minutes in the snow, and the teachers at that school are saying that the kids don’t get sick anymore because their bodies have something to do. And that’s really counterintuitive. That’s not what we do in America at all, right?
We think of our kids as these things need to be put in bubble wrap and never exposed to danger because a free-range kid in America can get you arrested and have CPS called on you. But in truth, when I was a kid, I was running around in the muck all the time, playing a game I called adventure, which basically meant I got to pick sticks and hit trees with them or whatever I was doing as a child.
You know, I was exposed to sort of a wide variety of stuff, and I think that is good, and I think we need to encourage those sorts of activities growing up. Because it seems to… you know, obviously you don’t want people to get in danger, we don’t want people to get hurt or kidnapped or any of those things, but we also don’t want to cuddle something so much that the unconscious… the nervous system doesn’t have a chance to learn to deal with stress, and that’s, I think, one of the biggest threats in rearing a child that we have going right now.
HOWARD: Right, and it ties into our cognitive bias for avoiding instantaneous danger versus long-term degradation, like we’re much more scared of terrorist attacks than heart attacks.
SCOTT: Yeah, right.
HOWARD: Which is statistically stupid as hell.
SCOTT: Yeah, oh, totally. You know, we’re so afraid of the big-name brand fears, big-name brand boogeyman that we forget that the real-life boogeyman is lifestyle. The real boogeyman is the way you live your life day in and day out, not a masked bandit that’s gonna ruin your life, although there are masked bandits out. They are terrible to run into, but the likelihood of that is very very low.
HOWARD: So, one more science bit I’d like to talk about. I’m imagining there’s more than a few people listening who are interested in weight loss.
HOWARD: What’s the skinny on weight loss using the Wim Hof method or any… it’s not just about Wim Hof. You also talk about other athletes who have experienced similar things.
SCOTT: Sure. Yeah, we’re using Wim Hof as a shorthand. The book is really about environmental exposure. He was just able to be a nice door into this method and gives a method to it versus just an idea. So, with obesity and diabetes… these are issues where you essentially have too much energy in your physical system, and that gets stored as fat. For diabetes, sugar and insulin resistance are also part of it.
Many of your listeners probably know that if you have a potbelly and you wanna go out and exercise it off, it becomes very very difficult to do that because your body would much rather burn muscle and name-brand tissue than it would fat in order to feel the exercise. So, exercise, while it can overtime decrease your weight, it’s a very very inefficient and difficult way to do it.
Now, the reason for this is because fat – white fat – actually serves a different purpose in the body, and it’s not to store for food energy. That’s its secondary purpose. The primary purpose is there to heat your body in a pinch.
We’re all born… every human infant is born with something called brown fat or brown adipose tissue (BAT), which is a fat-like substance that sits on your thorax and between your shoulders, and its only role is to suck white fat from your body and burn it for heat energy – what doctors call thermogenesis.
Babies need this because when they are born, they don’t have the musculature or digestive system or circulation system to heat the body the way every adult does. When we move around, our muscles generate heat by just kinetic motion of it, and our digestive systems are moving and that create friction, and whatever those movements create body temperature.
But for an infant, who doesn’t have that very developed digestive and circulatory system and a very high surface area to mass ratio, loses heat very quickly. The only way they survive is by sucking out those baby fat rolls and transforming that into heat, which is why premature babies who don’t have fat need to hang out in incubators for so long because they don’t have any way to deal with this thermogenesis.
As we get older in western civilizations, brown fat disappears, and we start relying on our muscle activity to heat us up. Until 2007, almost every doctor in the world thought that brown fat was this vestigial tissue in adults and didn’t really exist until a study in 2007 by a doctor named Aaron Cypess over at Harvard, who’s moved onto NIH now.
He was looking at these weird blobs in PET-CT scans for cancer patients that would always show up as cancerous tumors in human bodies, but when they biopsied it, they never found anything at those tumor spots, so he was trying to figure out what these weird splotches were.
The way PET-CT scans work is that they actually test metabolisms, and they inject you with this radioactive dye, and that gets picked up by metabolically active tissues, which tumors are one of those tissues that are metabolically active. So that’s how you identify tumors, but what are those splotches?
So Cypess eventually deduced that the locations where those splotches are correspond to where brown fat, this vestigial tissues, are supposed to be, and he realized that the rooms where people were getting PET-CT scans done were cold and that these people were sitting in these cold scanners, and their brown fat was lightening up because it was trying to heat the person’s body up and suck white fat from their systems and burn it for heat.
And this sparked a HUGE research initiative at the NIH and other institutions to find out if we can use BAT to… if it’s active in adults and if we can supercharge that, then we can turn off…. you know, you can use that to lose weight very rapidly.
So that’s where the state of that research is… and to go into the full discussion of that is actually gonna take a rather long time, but the crux is that people who regularly expose themselves to cold are able to build up BAT – brown fat – or other metabolic tissues in other parts of the body to compensate for the cold, and we’ve seen people lose weight very very rapidly by being cold.
When I was with Wim, I lost seven pounds in seven days, and I was eating a Polish diet of pierogis and sausage and whatever else Polish people eat. But it was basically because my body was very very active at trying to heat itself, and eventually I built BAT, and that’s great. I can deal with the cold. I’m using my fat as the fuel to heat my body.
HOWARD: So, you said using your fat for the primary purpose for which it exists in the first place.
SCOTT: Exactly. Isn’t that grand, right? And with diabetes, another study that I mentioned in the book, they put 12 guys who were overweight with diabetes in a room in Germany that was 51 degrees, and they put them there for three hours a day.
They were just wearing shorts and T-shirts and just watched TV, I assume. After three weeks of this treatment, their insulin resistance, which is what you’re measuring when you’re measuring the effect of diabetes, reduced by 54 percent just by being cold. That’s all they did, and that’s AMAZING.
HOWARD: Yeah. In the book, I loved the irony of, okay, we discovered this brown adipose tissue is amazing, so now of course all the pharmaceuticals are pouring billions of dollars for the next weight loss blockbuster in this reductionist quest in the assumption that it’s only the brown fat between the shoulder blades that is gonna set off this reaction. A
nd you make the point that yeah, maybe there is something there, but we don’t know what else that drug is gonna do. We’ve just discovered this, and we don’t know how the whole system works, but we do know being cold works all of it.
SCOTT: Yeah, right. It’s so typical of the American scientific pharmacological paradigm, right? Oh yeah, we have an idea. We found a tissue in a body. We’re gonna maximize its effort and that’s the whole key to success. Then five years later, they realize it was too myopic a view and actually there’s more stuff. So, the cold is great.
And what they found with the diabetic men is that they thought they would have more BAT after three weeks. When they measured their BAT, it had remained unchanged, and they found that actually the muscles built thermogenic material in the muscles instead. They increased some mitochondria in the muscle tissue.
SCOTT: But the cold is so many things. The stimulus that helped these diabetic men was the cold. It wasn’t BAT, and the cold can also do other things. When you jump into cold water, you have vasoconstriction, which means that your arteries and veins would constrict and put the blood into your core, and so you have all these muscles in your veins that are designed to do that one specific task, but you can’t actually trigger vasoconstriction consciously.
You can’t be like, “constrict hand,” and your hand would get cold because blood comes up to your core. The only way to do is by say, jumping into snow or taking a cold shower or whatever else, and people who don’t expose themselves to environmental changes never exercise those muscles so they get weak, and that leads to cardiovascular disease, which is one of the number one killers in society.
So, the stimulus of cold is really really important, not just for this BAT stuff but all sorts of different metabolic symptoms. So why are we focusing on pills to be shortcuts for our health when really what our body is designed to do is resist the stimulus, and that’s what makes ourselves healthy. So, get uncomfortable and don’t assume that a pill is going to make you better.
HOWARD: You know, we could transcribe what you just said, remove “cold” and talk about “diet.” You know, healthy diets deal with everything, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration. In the meanwhile, we see how quickly and easily these things can be reversed through eating natural authentic human diet, and seeing everybody on these pills that at best are holding their symptoms at bay a little bit while they slowly decline… It’s kind of part and parcel of the same thing.
My business partner Josh LaJaunie and I run a program called Big Change Program, and we talk about vitamin P as an essential nutrient which is pain.
SCOTT: Ah, nice.
HOWARD: Which is exactly what you’re talking about. You know, our profit driven economy is looking for ways to serve it to us in a proprietary pill, but you can say organic, healthy food might be more expensive, and there are cases in which that’s true, but there’s nobody saying that the water that’s in the oceans, rivers, streams, and lakes of our planet that we spend trillions of dollars to heat, if we just used it at its normal temperature, it would have this profound healing effect on most of the things that kill us.
SCOTT: It’s crazy and I don’t wanna diminish the pharmaceutical industry because obviously there are things that are fantastic about it, right? Obviously, antibiotics were one of the things that allowed the human civilization to flourish, right? There are wonderful things with medicine, and nothing about this book says, get rid of doctors, right?
Medical science is fantastic, but certainly profit driven medicine has an agenda, which is to generate more profits, and they realize that we want shortcuts. A lot of the interventions that we have are trying to be shortcuts to what a healthy lifestyle can give you. You know, there’s gonna be no pill that will give you a healthy lifestyle. You actually have to put in the work.
HOWARD: Right. One of the things I think is so appealing about the cold therapy is that it’s a different kind of work and it’s work that I think a lot of people could see themselves doing even if they couldn’t see themselves giving up their favorite crappy foods.
SCOTT: Mmm hmm.
HOWARD: There’s something accessible. It feels like, you know, just like you talked about superpowers. There’s something about this that feels like a very very powerful gateway to a healthy lifestyle in all other aspects.
SCOTT: Yeah, it absolutely is. When you’re able to realize that health relies on three pillars of diet, exercise, and environment rather than just diet and exercise, you’re able to now deal with three different variables to make your life better. You could still eat crap, but if you have a very good environmental routine, that will help modulate the crappiness of your crappy diet. I still think you should eat healthy, right?
You know, when I was in Poland, I was eating horrible food, right? I was eating pierogis, oil, sausage and all the delicious, fun stuff and I was losing weight because of the environment was the pillar that I was focusing on. What you really need is balance in all three of those to address your health, but you can modulate where you put those things, but the first step is realizing that all three are important.
HOWARD: In a way, in the natural environment, they would be inextricably linked. It would be synergetic. You couldn’t get your food without going out into the environment and exerting yourself.
SCOTT: Right, absolutely.
HOWARD: And the more calories you took in, like you couldn’t go to a Costco and buy a 300-pound bag of nuts.
HOWARD: You just couldn’t get things – even natural foods – in unnatural quantities.
SCOTT: Mmm hmm. Absolutely.
HOWARD: To get what you need, you had to brave the environment until you had a tiered capitalism and pay someone else to do it.
SCOTT: Yeah, absolutely. You know, this is not to say that the modern world is bad or that the comforts that are available to us are evil in some way. They can certainly be taken for granted, but I certainly haven’t sold my house and gone to live in a cave, right? I haven’t ditched… obviously I have an Internet connection. I’m talking to you over Skype right now.
We live in a very best time ever in the history of humans to be alive because we have so much available to us, so much education, so much knowledge, so many abilities, like hey, I can fly across the world in the airplane, right? I can do all these crazy adventures, things that even our parents would’ve had trouble conceiving of as a lifestyle.
I think the point of this book is to realize that all those advantages also come with the responsibility of understanding how to use them in a way that is not to our detriment. And comfort is one of those things we have to keep an eye on. Are you getting too comfortable? And when you are, get outside of that zone, push yourself a little bit. This is why the obstacle course race industry is so big in the United States right now and across the world, right? Why are the people running the Spartan race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash and all these other things?
Why are they crawling under a barbed wire in the mud and jumping hurdles in fire? They’re doing it because they need… the part of them realizes that the stress…. it just doesn’t make a good Facebook post but it’s actually very beneficial to be in those environments, and there’s something primal to reach out for, and I think that it’s all really good.
I’m really heartened by the rise of suffering… or what we think of suffering, but it’s actually isn’t. It’s actually pretty fun. It’s good that this is happening. I think that my book is tapping into some of those underlined drives that are in society right now.
HOWARD: What it reminded me of was this west African shaman Malidoma Somé, who wrote a book on initiation. If you look at what 12 or 13-year-olds in his tribe went through, you’d say, oh my god, that’s horrible, that’s barbaric. Thank god, I don’t have to go through that. In fact, there are occasional… every decade or so, there are occasional deaths from the ordeal, and Westerners are aghast, and he says, “Look at your uninitiated children. Look at them trying to initiate themselves through gangs, through risky behavior, through alcohol, through drag racing,” and all this stuff, so we understand at some primal level that we need these challenges to not go crazy.
SCOTT: That’s a cultural thing that’s very important – what separates the child from the adult. We feel like we need a challenge to overcome to prove that we are now responsible, productive members of society.
I don’t really go into this in the book in great detail, but I think it is something very important that part of being an adult is being able to face the world as it is. Yeah, we have no formal way of doing that really in the United States and much of the world. You know, we’re not gonna go to war or anything like that, kill a lion or whatever it is, but that sort of separation from being a boy to being a man or from being a girl to being a woman is very important, and it’s part of the human process, and it happens for at least most of us at some point, right?
At some point, you’re like, “I’m a man now.” But it’s nice that there is a clearly defined… certain cultures have this clearly defined… that has been an enduring human tradition.
HOWARD: Right. So, I’m looking at the clock and I realize that I’ve already taken up 11 minutes more time than I’d threatened to.
SCOTT: Oh my god.
HOWARD: I just wanna… 71 minutes of discomfort with me, you should develop some brown adipose tissue after that. But one final question is, how has this whole project changed you?
SCOTT: I think that the question of resilience is very important. It’s understanding that my limits aren’t stuck in my youth, that I can still take challenges as I enter… you know, I’m 38 now. I still have a lot of robustness. I can still do these things. You know, I’m not scared of being out in these environments, and I feel good when I take cold showers, and my canker sores are gone.
It’s really affected a lot of different parts of my life. You know, it’s a journey. I’m still tweaking it. I’m still not perfect at it. I wouldn’t expect the readers to be perfect at it. I don’t expect people to go out and go climb Kilimanjaro, but I think having this perspective change is very beneficial, and I’m a happier person for it.
HOWARD: Mmm. So, if folks wanna follow you and find out what you’re up to and more, where can they go?
SCOTT: Google is a great tool. My name is Scott Carney. The book is What Doesn’t Kill Us. If you are not bored after the 71 minutes of me talking, there’s an audio book available on iBooks, Audible, Twitter, Facebook…
HOWARD: Did you read it?
SCOTT: I did. I read it in my closet with a real audio engineer outside of my closet.
HOWARD: Oh, so tell us.
SCOTT: It was a lot of fun to do it. It turned out actually really good, and it is a great way to support the book. But also, you know, the key… what I want people to do is read it and be like, oh my god, I have to go try this. I think I explain it in a way that it’s understandable and it’s gonna make people wanna go run outside without their shirt and in the middle of the winter and get looked at like crazy people, but you know what? You are not the crazy ones. It’s the people who are sitting in a cocoon of comfort all the time. They’re the crazy ones.
HOWARD: Right on. Well, the book worked on me.
HOWARD: And I downloaded the Wim Hof app, and I’m seriously considering taking one of the trainings, so it was definitely infectious, and it’s beautifully written. It’s so much more than what we talked about. It’s definitely on my top 10 books that have influenced me and my life so far, so I’m so grateful for the work you’ve done, and I look forward to staying in touch and seeing what you come up with next.
SCOTT: Thank you so much for having me on, and maybe we’ll do it again when the next one comes out.
HOWARD: Awesome! Thank you so much, Scott.
SCOTT: All right, take care. Thank you so much.
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– Tina Scharf
– Tina Ahern
– Jen Vilkinofsky
– David Byczek
– Michele X
– Elspeth Feldman
– Viktoriya Dolomanova
– Leah Stolar
– Allan Kristensen
– Colleen Peck
– Michele Landry
– Julianne Rowland
– Stu Dolnick
– Sara Durkacs (rhymes with circus)
– Kelly Cameron
– Wayne Pedersen
– Leanne Peterson
– Janet Selby
– Claire Adams
– Tom Fronczak
for your generous support of the podcast.
Wondering what a coaching session with me is like? A few brave souls volunteered to be coached publicly on their challenges, and I published the calls, along with commentary, in past Healthy Habit Huddles.
Here's one you might enjoy, in which I coached Sue about her upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, and the pressures of family judgments and expectations:
Coaching Sue on Thanksgiving (listen online or download the mp3)
And if you'd like to find out more about getting coached, here are all the details.
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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.
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