Rising to the Challenge

Before I begin, let me give a shoutout to my wife Jennifer and my four daughters, Aryanna, Bianca, Gracelynn, and Arabella. They have been my greatest source of support and my motivation to stay happy and healthy. Also to my friend Jamie Fellrath, who is doing his own cold training and will be taking the Polar Bear Plunge at the Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio. You can read about Jamie’s cold journey and how it has transformed his life here. Please show your support for Jamie by helping him raise funds for the Ohio Special Olympics or by leaving him a comment in support of his journey.

As you know, for the past few months I have been training for the Polar Plunge. (You can read about it here, here, and here). Well, that’s not exactly accurate. I started out training my body for colder weather. While West Virginia isn’t one of the coldest states in the U.S., average winter temperatures run about 35-40 degrees F. In the past (like most normal people) I have hunkered down in my warm house on the coldest days, complained about things like cold rain (although I love snow) and dressed in thick layers every time I had to go out. I have always loved hiking in the snow, though. The woods seem so much quieter after a good snowfall. But I would never think of spending time outside in the cold shirtless and shoeless.

Inspired by a video posted by someone who also inspires me, who was also recommended by an inspiring online friend who is also doing his own cold challenge, I decided to try something new. I first found Wim Hof by accident. If you’re a regular Facebook user, you are familiar with the group recommendations that show up on the right column of the web version. There was a recommendation for the Wim Hof Method Facebook group. I thought it was the name of some diet program or fitness routine. It wasn’t until a friend posted the now famous Vice video of Wim (Inside the Superhuman World of the Iceman) that I felt this crazy motivation growing inside of me.

I knew this man was crazy. I knew that hiking Everest without a shirt, sitting in an ice bath for almost two hours, and swimming in icy water was just insane. But if there was something to his claims that we could challenge our bodies to withstand extreme conditions and become healthier in the process, I was definitely curious. I researched Wim and his methods, watched Youtube videos, joined the Facebook group, and was soon taking cold showers.

It began with baby steps: start with what I like to call the James Bond Shower (warm first, then switch to cold at the end). The first shower was a shock but somehow both painful and refreshing. It definitely woke me up. I gradually decreased the time for warm water and increased the time for cold. After about a month, I was taking full cold showers that lasted around 3-5 minutes. Combine this with other methods of cold exposure (time outside shirtless, cold baths/plunges, etc.) and Wim’s breathing techniques, which are similar to the ancient Tibetan tummo techniques (there are some crazy videos, stories and pictures out there of monks doing tummo breathing in frigid conditions wearing very little and yet and melting the snow under them) and you get the basic gist of the Wim Hof Method.

On this same journey, I was (re)introduced to Tim Ferriss‘s podcast and his upcoming book Tools of Titans (which I ordered), as well as Steve Kamb’s awesome site Nerd Fitness (and the subsequent book Level Up Your Life). Through Tim Ferriss I learned about awesome guys like Jocko Willink (whose badass motivation to “get after it” pushed me to start waking up at 4:45 and win the morning) and Dr. Pete Attia, one of the most interesting men on the planet. I also rediscovered the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, started checking Brain Pickings daily, developed a morning routine, and transformed the way I greet the people I see every day (always be the first to smile and say “Hello”). This snowballed to joining challenge groups like the Paleo Castle 30 Day Challenge and George Bryant’s excellent group, Hugs and Bacon Lifestyle. (Side note: George soaked in an ice bath for over 20 minutes to show his support for my Plunge). I joined other supportive Facebook groups, such as Order of Man and New Year’s New You Transphormation Challenge (run by my friends Christina and Dustin Holston). I transformed my meditation/prayer practices by downloading Insight Timer and planning at least 20 minutes of daily meditation. And just from doing an Amazon search for Wim Hof, I learned about two other awesome books: Becoming the Iceman (which is kind of an autobiography/how-to for the WHM) and What Doesn’t Kill Us, a book in which investigative journalist Scott Carney set out to debunk Wim’s claims and found himself transformed in surprising ways by the method.

I know I threw a lot at you just now.

My point is this: My pursuit of cold training and cold exposure has opened so many other avenues. Much like what happened while pursuing my interest in natural movement and ancestral health.

It’s become evident that pursuing a goal results in a few things:

  • When you pursue a goal, there are people who will cheer you on and motivate you every step of the way.
  • Some of these people have no investment in your success. They just want to help you accomplish your goal.
  • The pursuit of awesomeness both is/is not a lonely journey. You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone.
  • A surprising amount of people are bored with the status quo way of living and are challenging their bodies and their lives in transformative ways.

I am reminded of a quote from Paulo Coelho’s excellent book The Alchemist in which young Santiago learns of his Personal Legend: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

My friend James Broderick can also attest to this as he pursues his passion to create his own podcast, Ancestral Health Radio. The number of listeners keeps rising and the list of guests keeps growing. Or my friend Bobby Poppola, who has found something he is passionate about and started his own blog.

Since I finished the Plunge, some friends have asked me, “Now what?” I’m letting that question encourage me because it means they want to know what’s next in my personal journey. For now, though, I’ll leave you with some encouraging tips:

  1. Find ways to challenge yourself and rise to those challenges. These could be physical challenges, social challenges, spiritual challenges, etc.
  2. Tell others about your journey, and encourage them to join you. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to share your challenges with others; you would be surprised how many people share the same struggles and maybe need motivation for their own challenges. Soon, you will have friends who support you and show it in a variety of ways (such as my friend Charles Franklin who did his own physical challenge in honor of my Plunge).
  3. Reach out to people who may be able to help you/motivate you along the way. This was one of the most life-changing parts of this for me. I am blown away by the humility of lifestyle coaches (like my friend Jason Shalkoski), fitness gurus, authors, podcast hosts and others who are so authentic in their desire to help people become the best they can be. You don’t have to break your bank to find someone who is willing to help. Use social media, join groups, do an online search, whatever it takes to reach out. Remember: you alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone. I encourage you to check out the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, one of the most supportive lifestyle/fitness forums on the web.
  4. Just get started. It might be baby steps at first, but just get started. Sometimes the hardest part is pushing past that first block. My first time switching the water to cold was the hardest because it fought against everything my body was asking for, which was comfort and warmth and contentment. Push past that and take the first steps anyway. Then celebrate your first victory and let the joy you feel push you onward to the next.

I appreciate the people who have encouraged me on this journey. This cold training is just one chapter on my adventure to becoming a more capable human. I look forward to the next challenge. If you want to join me, feel free to reach out to me via this blog or Twitter: @wolfdreamer1112.


About Jason

I am a Jesus follower, husband and father, high school teacher, hiker, writer, lover of the outdoors, theater, music, books, and movies.
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