Scott Carney (he/him) is an investigative journalist, anthropologist, and the author of my cold shower bible, What Doesn’t Kill Us, and his new book, The Wedge. In this episode, Scott explains that, thanks in large part to technology, we’re all a little TOO comfortable, and it’s making us sick, weak, and fragile. By adding sensation variability to his own life (in the form of ice baths and Wim Hof breathing techniques), Scott developed superhuman levels of endurance and quieted a persistent autoimmune illness.
Today, he shares how making yourself just the right amount of uncomfortable can reveal how powerful you really are, and delivers big benefits to your self-confidence,
strength, health, and stress-resilience.
THIS EPISODE’S GUEST
The Wim Hof Method (breath work and cold therapy)
The Wedge, Scott Carney
What Doesn’t Kill Us, Scott Carney
The Enlightenment Trap, Scott Carney
The Red Market, Scott Carney
MU (00:03): Hi, my name is Melissa urban and your listening to do the thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change, Make it stick.
MU (00:20): Last week, I shared all the details of my cold shower experiment. By the time you listen to this, I’ll have taken an eight minute long freezing cold shower every single day. For more than four months. In that episode, I mentioned a book that was basically my cold therapy Bible written by Scott Carney. Scott is an investigative journalist anthropologist and the author of several books, including what doesn’t kill us and his new book. The wedge Scott’s thing is simple due in large part to technology. We’re too comfortable and it’s making us sick, weak and fragile. Comfort is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. It’s really nice to turn on the air conditioning on a summer day or crank the heat in my car on a cold winter morning. But because comfort is marketed to us and so easy to achieve, we don’t have enough variability in our lives and how we react to variability or contrast is really what drives us to growth.
MU (01:22): We don’t grow when we’re comfortable. We grow when we’re uncomfortable and it’s introducing the right kinds and amounts of discomfort back into our lives that helps us adapt and build that stress resilience. And that’s exactly what Scott wants us to explore. How can we stretch those comfort zones? Learn to adapt to challenging situations and come out stronger. Here’s how it works in real life. I’ve discovered that if you can be totally chill, singing along to ed Sheeran in a freezing cold shower, you can handle anything. Your first grader throws at you at breakfast. Over the course of this episode, Scott is going to invite you into a few small changes you can make to your normal routine to help you become more stress resilient in every area of your life. No, you’re not going to have to get rid of your couch, throw away your air conditioner or cancel Netflix.
MU (02:18): He will give you plenty of ideas, however, for including variability into your routine, whether that’s variability and temperature, movement breathing, or any other form of sensation, all designed to wake you up, build your confidence and make you stronger. This podcast is all about finding the missing link in making change stick. And I’m guessing you’ll hear at least one trick in this episode, that will sound intriguing enough for you to explore in the name of your own habits and goals. And if it’s cold showers, make sure you listen to last week’s episode. So take a deep breath, hold it in, then
MU/SC (03:00): Let it out because God is about to help you sharpen your wedge. Now onto the episode, Scott, welcome to do the thing. Thanks, Melissa. I’m still happy to talk to you. We’ve been chatting on Instagram for a while since I read what doesn’t kill us. And I already warned you that I’m going to fan girl really hard during this episode. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. This is going to be so cool. All right. The first question I ask, all of my guests is what’s your thing. So my thing, which is also the title of my book is the wedge, which is the idea that you can put yourself into stressful situations, into difficult places, where to have loud signals coming in from the outside world, and then control how you respond to that both emotionally. And also once you do have an emotional control and the stressful situation that changes the way your body works too.
MU/SC (03:56): So that’s my, that’s my thing, Melissa. So I think your thing is encouraging all of us to be less comfortable. Is that kind of what you’re going for? Oh man, you should write my books. That’s so much more simple than what I just said. Yeah. I mean, it’s, you know, you could say question comfort. Like we are in a, we live our lives most of the times in this sort of like constant homeostasis. And we want to challenge that because the measure of being human, the measure of being alive and, and, and reaching your potential is not who you are on your couch when you’re, you know, sniffing Cheetos or whole 30th roof Cheetos, whatever those are, it is. Um, the, the measure of who we are when we’re under stress, the measure of, of what, who we are when we are challenging ourselves. And we were overcoming, uh, when we are, when we’re trying to express our abilities in the world.
MU/SC (04:46): Yeah. You know, I was thinking about this episode and I thinking about my last car purchase, my new car has heated seats, but it also has air conditioned seats. And it has a heated steering wheel and it has every like gadget or dial. It is purely designed to make me perfectly comfortable in this perfectly balanced temperature situation at all times. Right. Why isn’t that an awesome thing? Because it feels awesome when a minute. Oh, I think it is awesome. I mean, there’s no doubt you’re that, that, that I have heated seats too. And I turn them on in the winter and they’re great. But you know, I’m also known as the guy who hangs out in ice baths a lot and like hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro in my bathing suit and stuff like that. The, the thing is, is that you are allowed to be comfortable, you know, now, and again, like this is the idea of questioning comfort does not mean like now you will live on a bed of spikes.
MU/SC (05:36): The idea is that we need contrast between comfort and discomfort. So you need to like designate some time in your life to say, look, now I’m going to be pressing my boundaries. And at other times you don’t need to, because honestly, if you were just always pressing your boundaries, that is also not a dynamic, right. That is also just in one place. And you’re just finding Stacy’s office in another probably even less comfortable and fun spot to be. So what we want to do is be able to push ourselves, uh, and find places where, Hey, this is really hard and Hey, this is, this is really good. I mean, it’s not so different from the whole 30, because the whole 30 is not the whole three 65, right. The whole 30 is like, you’re going to do this for 30 days. And, you know, frankly, it’s going to suck for a while and then, but you know, you’re going to feel really good.
MU/SC (06:22): And that’s the same idea with ice baths. It’s the same stuff I do with like facing our fears. Um, and, uh, you know, all the other cockamamie things that I’ve gotten up to over the last few years, I love that you mentioned the whole 30 cause I was going to come around to that later. I think when people think about the idea of purposefully making themselves uncomfortable, it just sounds awful. Like, why would I do that? But when you really think about it, we do lots of things on a regular basis that help us grow because they’re not comfortable, whether it’s going to the gym, whether it’s doing a whole 30, whether it’s going to therapy, having a confrontation or setting a boundary, like we already have examples of things in our own life that make us uncomfortable and prompt that growth. Yeah. And what do you remember about your life?
MU/SC (07:06): Like if you think back to the stuff that you’ve you, where you were 10 years ago, are you going to remember that time when you were just sitting on a beach at Acapulco, like drinking a Mai Tai? I mean maybe, but you’re probably gonna remember the crazy car ride you had to get down there, which was really stressful and, and these challenges impact us. And the reason that they impact the reason that’s important is because those are the moments of change. Those are the moments where you’re learning something both intellectually. And, you know, you can think about how you just, you know, if you’re cramming for a test, that that sense of frustration as you’re cramming is probably the sensation of neuroplasticity. If you, if you think about it like that. But the other thing that that could be going on is like, is like, you’re you learn things emotionally, you throw other things in your body that, and though, and that is also a type of knowledge.
MU/SC (07:54): That’s important that we often underrate. Yeah, completely, you know, and I think the important thing about stress is that there’s this balance, right? You don’t want too little stress because then you’re not provoking growth or change, but then too much stress becomes something that we can no longer adapt from. Right. And that digs us the whole. So what you’re talking about is I think these kind of incremental steps towards making yourself a little uncomfortable and then figuring out how to deal with it. It can be incremental and it can also be, um, strong, you know, I mean, we don’t want to get to damage. Like, that’s really the thing, right? You don’t want to get to the point where you’re, you’re actually hurting yourself in, in, in any of the ways that you could hurt yourself. Um, but you can be a strong stimulus, you know, um, you know, for instance, on Instagram, we were talking about ice baths, right?
And you were saying, Hey, it’s hard to get access to ice, which is, uh, which is a constant frustration for anyone who does ice pass. It’s expensive and annoying, but jumping into an ice bath is extreme. Like I’m going to go out there. I’m the guy who wrote the book about it. It’s still extreme to jump into an ice bath. And that signal is it’s fast and it’s loud and it’s hard and there’s a place for that. Right. There’s also a place for the, you know, I call it jumping an ice bath, fast, cold, but there’s also slow cold where you just keep your house at like 50 degrees all the time. And then you’re just like miserable all the time. I’d much rather actually be in an ice bath and take care of that. Then that’d be like, I’m just cold all the time.
And, but, but both types of stresses are useful. And there’s also a time to be like Jack up your heat to like 74 and just be like, yeah, I did it, man. I mean, you know, but we, we want that, that contrast, we want very ability. And if you think about, um, where you’re comfortable and think, I I’m trying to like visualize this in my head. I’m thinking of like a bar and there’s like a green in the middle of the wire and there’s red on either end and there’s like yellow in the middle, you know, what does that call like a spectrum or something like that. Uh, and, and, and comfort is that green in the middle. And one of our goals in life is to expand that green area to as much as possible. And the red is still gonna be there, but, but it’s the yellow in a way.
That’s the problem. Cause the yellow is the warning, right? The yellow is your body saying, wait a minute, although I have no direct experience of X, Y, or Z stimulus, like an ice pass, I am sure we’re going to die. So don’t go there. Uh, and, and the truth is though, if you know, you can be in an ice bath for five minutes and no one has ever died in the history of ice pass in five minutes. Uh, I don’t think, but, but you won’t. Uh, and, and, uh, and so then you’re training your body where the yellow should be. Should it take up all the bar? So you just have this little green space in the middle and then the yellow is everywhere else. Or do we want to push that away until there’s the, your body starts screaming the warnings when you need them in actuality?
Yeah. And so I was gonna ask you, what are some of the problems that we see in ourselves physiologically psychologically, if we spend too much time in an incredibly sort of a static state, or if we don’t push or challenge ourselves, but I might want to flip it now, what are the benefits of expanding that green area? What do we gain when we increase variability, increase our discomfort in a safe way, and then learn from it? Like, what does that bring us? You gain the ability of generalized resilience, right? So, so here’s the thing. Like I don’t do ice baths to become a better ice Baylor. I don’t do breath work to become a better breather, I guess, in some ways I do. That’s not a great example. I don’t throw kettlebells through that or kettlebell throw, or I don’t do float tanks to be a better floater.
Right? I do these things so that I have various different types of stress that indicate different things to my body. Right. They send different signals to my body so that I can generalize my stress response in many, many situations. I mean, there’s, I’m sure there’s situations I wouldn’t be able to because we all have limits, but there are, you know, I, I, for instance, if I am fighting with someone on Twitter, maybe someone, maybe someone on this, on this podcast has fought on the internet with somebody and, and, and maybe there’s a politician who said something dumb that made you feel really bad. Right. And then you’ve just lashed out and you said, no, you’re dumb. Welcome to Twitter in general. Right. See the thing, the thing with that is that that’s an unreal situation, right? I mean the outside world, we don’t have any control over.
I don’t have any control over any politician saying something dumb. I don’t have any control over what the public health response is to COVID like, that is totally outside my world, but I’m responding emotionally because I said dumb, right? I, that means I responded. That was dumb. And then I just threw my emotions on the internet as a way to solve the problem. But if you’ve noticed, and I don’t know how many dumb tweets you have sent out, but I said a lot of dumb tweets in my life and my dumb tweets have not changed a thing about the world. I mean, you wouldn’t believe it. So one thing that the web dumb tweets do, your dumb tweets make you angry. They make you, they make you right. You’re, you’re the one bearing the brunt of that. Yeah, I am. But I am. And maybe what I’m hoping as I hurt someone else’s feelings.
I mean, I don’t even know what the longterm plan was, but instead of all of that, if you’re using generalized stresses in your life, you can find out that the only stress that matters is the things that are immediate, the things that you have control over. So maybe you’re not going to engage in that, in those things that you don’t have with, well, maybe you’re going to look at Twitter and be like, huh, that’s funny. Or that’s weird. Or, or just let it go. And I think these are really, really useful skills to have. Cause if I can, uh, stand a cold shower, if I can, um, do this thing where I throw kettlebells, where I can handle the handle heat in a sauna, that is a real physical stress. That requires a real physical response that cast to keep me in the moment. And when you do these practices and there’s tons of ones that I have in my book, but there’s also just a millions of other practices that also work that it can keep you in the line and can sort of center you throughout the day and the week.
And it can bring you back to a place where you are, you know, calmer and better, you know, the person you more want to be. So when I first started taking cold showers about 90 days ago, and I had done ice baths before, and I remember from my ice bath experience, that when you get into the bath, your brain is going to scream that you have to get out right away or you’re going to die. And the, the only goal is to remind yourself that you’re not, and you’re actually okay. And the faster you do that, the more successful you’ll be. And I had to go through the same process with the cold shower. I find cold showers worst, by the way, there’s so much worse than ice baths. But what I figured out pretty early on was that if I can handle a cold shower, first thing in the morning, in the middle of winter, in salt Lake city, my kids temper tantrum at breakfast was like NBD.
Totally. And that’s the carry over for me? Absolutely. It’s because you have these physical resiliences that you, you can certainly overcome and you, you also control the stress. You’re like, I am going to be stressed now, and now I’m going to respond to it. And you turned it off at some point. And, and, and that gives you a control over emotional control over the rest of, well, I mean, you don’t control the rest of the world. Your kids still will say something that, that, that, that hits some nerve in you, but you, how you respond to that. And the way to think about this, uh, is, you know, our species is about 300,000 years old, right? We’re homo-sapiens, uh, and, and for the vast majority of that time period, we were at the whims of the environment. We were at the whims of actual dangers that needed physical responses.
So, you know, here’s the prototypical example. There’s a lion on the Savanna and you’re a guy on this van and you’ve got a sphere and, and the lions running at you and you’re like, Oh, no lion. And you grow. And, and, and when you say, Oh, no, your autonomic nervous system goes into fight or flight. And that’s what they call the sympathetic nervous system. And you dump adrenaline, you drunk cortisol, and then you stab the line and hopefully it don’t get eaten or you run away. Right. That’s, that’s the story of your body. And your body is programmed to be like, okay, threat adrenaline. Now in the modern world, the threats aren’t there, right? I mean, they’re there, it’s like my 401k, my, my, my politician said something dumb. My X, Y or Z, um, uh, is, is existential. But it’s like distant. It’s like, I can’t dump adrenaline into my body to help solve the political crisis.
Like I wouldn’t be able to Elian. So then what happens is when you’ve got that adrenaline in your body, that cortisol adrenaline gives you energy and cortisol is your pain threshold that just dumps in there and has no place to go. Cause you don’t have a physical output. And so some of the practices that we’re doing is finding physical outputs for that excess existential dread that we’ve just created with our, you know, sort of crazy sit civilization that we all live in now. Yeah, absolutely. And that’s really what the wedge is about. That’s the title of your newest book. It’s kind of what you said at the beginning was your thing, but the wedge is essentially the space between the stimulus and how you respond to that stimulus. Is that like a fair summary? Yeah, absolutely. It’s it’s this, it’s this thing we have, we have stresses in the outside world and I don’t just mean stresses.
Negative stress can also be positive. Right. But it just, it’s just a thing that’s outside of you. Right? So sex could be a stress and an ice bath is a stress, but it’s still a signal that’s coming in. And then you’re, then that enters through your nerves and makes it to your brain. And then your, your brain either automatically responds. Or you, you, you have this little moment, this just, you know, sensations coming in, you get to say, wait, I’m going to do something. That’s not the response that I know is coming on. And you know, in a nice bath, it’s relaxing, but you can also think of it as something as simple as like a sneeze, right? You have that, like that thing coming up in your nose and it’s sort of painful or whatever, and you can decide, most people don’t decide this, but you can decide to like, not sneeze. You can be like, and what is it that you’re doing? There is it there’s pain. And you’re thinking nod and where worthy thoughts are. You’re modulating sensations. Like putting it to words in my mind is actually sort of difficult, but I do something and that’s something is the wedge. And we can apply that to absolutely every partner life. And as we do it more, we gain sort of this generalizable control.
Yeah. You, in a way, I think about it, like exerting control over my nervous system, which most of the time I feel like is out of my control when I get scared, I get scared when I need to shiver, I shiver, but there are plenty of examples of ways. The sneeze is one of them. I think in your book, you mentioned occasionally, you know, we can choose to delay an orgasm if we so choose. And that is like exerting control over what is typically considered an automatic process in the body. And when I think about that, it makes me feel so much more powerful than I gave myself credit for.
And you can also like stop something from starting. And I think that’s really important is that, you know, when you’re really anxious and you’ve been anxious for like a little while, that’s part of that feeling is, is actually the adrenaline running around your system and you’ve released it. So it’s a little harder to deal with. Like, if you’re already in the middle of a Twitter war and you are really angry, it’s actually, you can’t like get rid of that adrenaline. You have to go use it. You have to like you run out and do a, do a practice, but you can actually stop it before it starts. And that’s the really cool thing is that we can actually intercede as we get those initial sensations that come in and be like, wait a minute. Maybe I don’t need to respond in this way. And, and you know, and, and we’re all works in process and works in progress.
Like, no, one’s a master of this. We’re all just fiddling about in our bodies. And to some degree, I think we’re all born knowing how to use the wedge. Like, you know, if you think of the very first days of your life, you’re a baby and babies. I don’t know. You can probably know more about babies that I used since you’ve had them. Um, but babies are weak and vulnerable. I mean, they can’t lift anything that are there. They don’t even know how to use their arms or their eyes. Basically their body is automatic at that point. Like some stuff is happening and it’s just, it just happens. And eventually I’m guessing that they’re looking down at their arms and be like, well, I can control that. And somehow there there’s, there’s something they’re pushing against. And at first it’s in your own body and, and that is the wedge they’re there.
They’re actually taking something automatic into sematic, which is conscious and, and we pushed forward and we all learn how to use the wedge until at some point we don’t need, there’s nothing to push against. Right? There’s no, and a lot of this is because technology has made things easier for us. And, and because of that, you’re like, well, I don’t need to go learn some physical process when something external that’s already created, um, can take care of, uh, for instance, thermogenesis the way you heat your body. So you don’t learn how to heat your body consciously. But if you put yourself in stressful situations over and over again, your body has to learn this. Yeah. Yeah. I love that.
It’s funny. You were talking about, uh, the wedge and I think stopping a process before it starts. And the first step of that of course, is awareness, right? Being aware that you are getting sucked into this response, whether it’s on Twitter or in a stressful conversation in your own life. And then the second piece of that is having the tools to be able to deal with that in the first place. And I feel like breathwork is one of the most powerful tools. That’s pretty much breathwork and cold therapy is where you got started in this whole journey, right?
Yeah. I mean, w where this all first started is I was the first journalist to write about this guy named Wim Hoff. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he’s the Iceman, he’s this Dutch fitness guru. And in 2011, he was basically an unknown, uh, in, in the world. I mean, he was, he had some minor media attention in the Netherlands and he was sort of a clown. And, but he was telling people, you know, if you’ve seen pictures of him, he’s like this old dude sitting on an iceberg somewhere. And he was saying he could teach anybody to do this. And not only that, he could, he could control his autonomic nervous system. And I had just been right. I wrote a book called the enlightenment trap about how meditating can kill you. It usually doesn’t, but it can, especially if you’re trying to pursue something, that’s superhuman, like some sort of like psychic power or something.
And I documented lots of people who either ended up mental institutions are dying on these paths. So I heard about Wim Hoff, and I was like, Oh, this guy is going to get keepable killed. And I went out to debunk him on an article for Playboy. And I think I’m probably the only person you’ve interviewed has been shirtless and Playboy. And maybe not, maybe quite an honor. Um, but I, I did this article for Playboy, where I went out there. I was going to debunk him, but it turns out his method worked. And in the course of a week, I was sitting on ice banks and melting the snow around me. And I did his breath work and I could hold my breath for a really long time. And I climbed up a mountain in my bathing suit in eight, in eight hours in eight degrees or two degrees, Fahrenheit, cold, something cold longer than it should have been out there.
And, uh, and I find that all of these techniques are super great. And, and the thing that that’s, that’s so useful though, what whim taught me is that when we push against something, that’s hard, that’s that gives us insight insight, because it’s that feeling it’s that awareness is forced on you at first, right? Cause when you’re in a situation, which is difficult, your body has to become aware. It forces that awareness and ice. I mean, no one can get an ice bath and start thinking about like, you know, their taxes. Like, it just doesn’t happen. You’re like I am in an ice bath and I want to get out. That’s what you’re thinking. And you’re in the moment and, and whims, all of them whims, two things, the breath work and the, and the ice force you in the moment. And now what the wedges I’m looking out in the world and trying to find other places, other things to push against where I can find those same sort of powers.
And now I realize, I didn’t answer your question. Your question was about breath work. Yes. Yeah. That was my question. Mostly because I find breath work. Some of the most uncomfortable practices I’ve ever taken on, I would get in and I spoke 20 times over before I do some Wim Hoff, like breath holds. No, I can’t, I haven’t having a really hard time getting past that point where my brain is telling me that if I don’t take a breath right now, I’m going to die, but I’ve only been holding my breath for like 40 seconds. It’s really challenging for me. Right. So, yeah. Um, I also find breathwork hard and, and, and luckily, I don’t know if you’ve read the book. The hero of the book is not me. The here or the book is my wife who has gone through all of this cockamamie stuff with me, or most of it with me.
And every morning we wake up next to each other and we say, do you want to do the breath work? And we’re like, no, I don’t want it to work. And then it’s sorta like, when you’re in the shower and you were like, should I turn this cold, not turn this cold. And then we, and then we, and then we sort of like peer pressure ourselves into doing that. And, and I will say that every day that I do the breath work is a better day than the days that I don’t. I can tangibly see my, my anxiety ratchet down on days that I do the breathwork. And, uh, you know, there, there’s a reason why the Buddha first taught breathing as his very first meditation. Right? And there’s a reason why that, that, uh, is, is such a foundational thing. Cause it’s this, um, it’s this inflection point between the sematic, which is the conscious control and the unconscious controls.
Like if I think about breathing, I can breathe right away. And if I don’t think about it, it’s not like I’m going to stop breathing. We’re not dolphins. Right. So, and that’s really beautiful because cause once you get better at using it consciously, you can sort of move that lever over what is conscious in your body and what is not conscious in your body. And if, if the Wim Hof breathing is essentially a hyper or they call it super ventilating. So you breathe really fast, really hard for like 30 or 40 breaths until you’re tingly and feeling a little dizzy and you’re lying down. So don’t do this standing up and then, and then you exhale and then you hold it. And so the beginning is a stressful situation and it’s not, it’s a, it’s a kin to a panic attack, like, or the akin to it like a heavy exertion and your body.
What you’re actually pushing against is those sensations of panic. Cause a lot of times the first time they do the Wim Hof method, some people with intense anxiety actually can feel more anxiety. I’ve seen this quite a bit and because they’re not used to pushing against that anxiety and you’re, and now your body has sent all those signals. I think we’re really anxious and we’re out of control. Then you control it in that. Then you exhale. And on the exhale, you are in a parasympathetic state, you’re in rest and digest and end. The first like 30 seconds are blissful because you breathe a hell of a lot. So, and you’re like, Oh my God, this is so relaxing. I’m so into it. And then, then you’re pushing against that, that anxiety, again, that comes up from building up CO2 in your lungs. When you have CO2, that that creates feelings of anxiety. That’s the reason you want to feel to gasp because it’s not because your body doesn’t detect oxygen. We detect CO2 biochemistry. You can go look it up. Um, and as that seemed to builds up in your, in your body, now you’re pushing against that gasp reflex, right? You’re pushing against that. And, and that’s also the same thing that underlies anxiety. And when you learn to control these T your, your anxiety and those two methods in those two States, uh, you find that that, uh, you can control the other ones too.
And you know, the, the Wim Hof breathing, I’ve done it several times. I’ve done led guided breathing. And I managed to get up to like a two minute and 15 second breath hold like that. It was pretty cool. But what I have also discovered is that by learning how to kind of turn it on with the Wim Hof breathing, I can also call myself down with like really slow count breathing or box breathing. And again, that makes me feel like I have a modem of control over how I’m responding in any given situation.
Yeah, you do, because breath is life, right? You let you have control over life and death and, and breathing the unconscious things that happen with breathing, uh, really, really impact our, our mental state, our physical state. Uh, I mean, there’s, uh, there’s like, I feel like I can just talk about breathing for like 50 or a hundred or eight hours. Right. Because there’s just so it’s in everything we do. There’s nothing you do in your life where you’re not breathing. And, and, and to think that it doesn’t play a role in psychology as you’re doing that underpinning things would be.
Yeah. Yeah. And what I love about the breath work. So my two favorite of course, attributes are the breath work and the cold showers, the cold therapy. And I love about them so much is that you can do them anywhere, anytime. And they’re free. It is like the easiest, most accessible form of self care. I started my cold shower experiment three months ago because I was still suffering from concussion symptoms. I was having immune challenges, nothing I was doing was, and I was doing everything, diet, sleep, red, light therapy, supplementation, and nothing was really moving the dial towards helping me better. And I was definitely in a depressed state. And I would say just a couple days of cold showers and I felt like a different person. What is so magical about getting that cold? Well,
It’s the, it’s the, it’s the fact that you’re in, in stress and that creates a physiological response that is natural and innate, which is adrenaline, right. Which is that fight or flight. And then you’re controlling yourself. In fact, you wouldn’t, it’s a forced meditation in a way, because if you were going to go into that cold shower and you had in your mind, this is the worst thing in the whole world. Right. And you can see how someone would think that, right. An ice bath is the worst thing in the whole world. I promise you, it’s going to be the worst thing in the world. Right. But you’re actually going into that being like, I’m going to turn this cold shower cold because it benefits me. You have actually a more complex thought going on in your, and, and when, when you’re thinking this is going to be therapeutic and that’s your intention.
And then that is matched with a very strong sensation, because cold is one of the strongest sensations that we can have. Now you’ve created a strong, the sensation of therapy, right? Yeah. Into your life. And that’s, and you know, I can really go into the biochemistry if we wanted, but at the end of the day in my book, what the, the, the unit that I’m most interested in is sensation many creatures on the planet, have this ability to sense the world and then make decisions about the world, which, which to me means that every sensation we are able to feel is there because we have some sort of action that we can take to modulating, whatever that, that, that sense, um, is indicating. So there’s things we can’t sense, for instance, I can’t sense x-rays I can’t sense cosmic rays, I can’t sense, um, uh, title forces. And then I sort of reel a way, cause I can’t affect those, but I can affect my sensations on cold. You know, if you have to burp it, you could feel those sensations, like you had to sneeze coming on. Those sensations always indicate to us that we have a choice sensation indicates choice. And that is where the wedge comes in.
I like that. Yeah. I like that. I don’t have sensation in my car. Did you just do that right now? I did. I did on the spot. I just came up with that sensation of choice. It’s good, but you’re right. You know, when I’m sitting in my car and my air is set to a perfect temperature where I don’t feel hot and I don’t feel cold, you’re absolutely right. There’s no choice involved there, but when I’m in a really cold shower or the opposite, so you live in Colorado, I live in salt Lake city. Your showers in the winter are probably very, very cold. And I would say now they’re probably not as cold, but you talk about also getting yourself outside and going for runs in the heat of summer. Right. Does that, is that just sort of the opposite end of that spectrum?
Yeah. I mean, you know, I, I’m a big fan of ice baths and such, but, but really every sensation offers a, uh, automatic autonomic response and then we can, we can change it. So I do. Um, so I, in the wedge, I did this five hour sauna in LA, which was by the way, the coolest experience I’ve ever had. And I awful, it sounded so bad. Your wife is such a hero. I mean, it was, you know, I wanted to do a Lakota sweat lodge originally. And then I call, I talked to all the Lakota around. They’re like, no, we don’t want you here because of the history of colonialism. And, you know, the, the, the, and I was like, you know what? That makes a lot of sense. And I got this invite to go to Latvia and meet these shamans there. And they have this, this, the all circumpolar region, indigenous communities, and the world has some sort of sourness, um, sweat lodge tradition, you know, all through Russia, Finland, Sweden, uh, Northern Canada, all of that, all those places have these sauna traditions.
And we went there and the, the thing that was so amazing about them. And so my wife and I are like lying naked on these benches, right? It’s like 180 200 degrees in the sauna, which is really a strong signal coming in. I’m like, Oh my God, this is really hard. And they start beating us with wormwood, like, like hitting us with like we’re naked and it’s uncomfortable to be American and naked. I don’t know why we don’t like it, but we don’t, but we’re naked here. So that’s a little weird and there’s these wood elves. Shalman people beating us with flowers and rubbing like honey on us. And like, and it’s really hot. So this is just sort of bizarre experience. But, but over time as we’re getting really hot, one thing that they do is they sort of pour cold water on our feet, right.
When we’re getting to that point, where at the red line, we’re like, I can’t take it anymore. And they’re just a little spritz of cold water brings us right below the red line. And we were able to stay in there for a really, really long period of time. And, and then like a really weird thing starts out by giving you a really truncated version of this. Um, weird thing starts happening is that the senses, my senses start to blend into what they call synesthesia. So I see sounds, and I smell heat. And I like, like, all of these things are mixing up because I’m confused because I’m already on the edge of this red line. And then I’m experiencing, for instance, that wormwood that I just drank as a tee, he’s hitting me with a warm red. So I’m, I’m tasting the pressure of the wormwood on my chest.
It’s super bizarre. And the reason why this is why I’m even going into this is because those sensations are all are, can all be rewired, right? I get confused. And all of a sudden a sensation is coming in through a different channel is my brain is mixing up the channels and I’m able to make new associations with what their stresses me with, what even the meaning of getting hit with something is, uh, and you know, in the shamonic, I don’t know how important it is to taste the sound of wormwood, but at the end, I feel completely refreshed because my senses have now experienced the world in an entirely new way.
I was reading that thinking to myself, I think I would have been worried that I was getting brain damage in that moment.
You know, ostensibly, I could have brain damage. I don’t know I’m a weirdo, but I think that there’s a lot of the things that I do involve some element of danger or uncertainty, right? That is what stress is. So you’re jumping into an ice bath, although not going to kill you in five minutes, um, is still signaling all those danger pathways. And to some degree, we, as humans have to be able to take risks in our life. And, and, and that means engaging with some sort of danger, preferably smartly, right? Preferably to thinking it out beforehand and like making reasonable assumptions about what actually is going to hurt you. But you also have to take some leap of faith if you’re going to find growth. And this is a, a tension that we, we sort of have to walk all the time, because what is the point of life?
If you never took a risk, right? What is the point of doing anything? I, you know, I open up the book with the biggest statement that I could possibly make, which is we’re all gonna die, right? Like at some point, like our nervous system is wired to respond to death. We’re wired to think of that ice bath jumping in there. You’re not just anxious, you’re anxious because you’re going to die. And, but we know as humans, as people born into this world, that death is absolutely coming. Like if you make it to 50, you make it to 80. You make to 110, maybe. I don’t know. But at the end of the day, that that finality is going to be there and everyone gets, it doesn’t mean if you’re rich or poor or healthy or sick, like everyone gets there. And to me, that knowledge is freeing because it tells me that I can’t like anything. I try in life. I’m not going to fail worse than the ultimate failure, which is already coming. So I might as well take a few risks along the way.
I feel like that needs to be embroidered, like on something you and hang on your wall. I don’t know how you’d put it more succinctly, but that’s good. I’m not going to fail as bad as dying. That’s pretty good.
I’m a really big fan of self experimentation. I’ve done a lot of self experiments. The whole 30 is one of them, cold showers. I did a talking to strangers experiment. I’ve done a hot food experiment. I’ve done a, you know, no phone in the bedroom experiment. You went on to document a number of kind of self experiments in the wedge. You attended several Iowasca ceremonies in Costa Rica. You did float tanks. You’ve done in brew. You did float tanks. You’ve done a kettlebell tossing. What are some, you know, probably most of us are not going to have an Iowasca experience in Peru. We could, but it might not be in all of our wheelhouses. What are some like more common things that we could all start embracing now to start playing with and expanding our own versions of the wedge.
Okay. So two come to mind immediately. Two easy ones that are in the book. One is do your normal cardio workout that you’re already doing. Right? Cause I think actually it’s really important to build on stuff that you’re already competent on. Like, you know, I know that I have a book with 10 techniques in it, but they’re just techniques that worked for me. And there’s lots of, lots of more out there that are cool. But one thing that I want people to do is find a physical activity that they like and then make it emotionally difficult. Okay. I want you to make, to find something that you like doing and make it emotionally difficult. And there’s probably many ways to do it, but here’s one very easy way. So cardio workout that you like do it, just breathing through your nose. Now, now I promise you, this is going to be a very difficult workout.
Not only physically, but it’s going to be emotionally taxing because you’re going to be like, goddammit. I want to breathe through my mouth because mouth breathing is where we all are. But, but, but breathing through your nose has many useful things that, uh, that I write about in my book about building endurance and building up floors of endurance instead of blowing up the roof, uh, things like this. But, but for right now, what’s important is that you’re going to be fighting against your urge to say, Scott was an idiot. Hey, that’s, that’s gonna be the first one and two, you’re gonna you’re you’re going to be wanting to teach. You’re going to be like, this is too hard. I can’t do it. Um, it’s painful. You’re gonna have all of those emotions coming up in something that you love doing now. And I want you to do, to do that breathing and then try to keep a positive mindset. Cause we don’t want to ruin, we don’t want to ruin cardio for you. That’s not the goal. We want it. We want you to, to try to flip that switch. And I think the first few times you do it, it’s going to be very hard. And it’s an, and, and there’s a little bit of a buildup to get here, but you know what? We’re all stuck inside. So just go do it.
Okay. So after I read that chapter and that, that section in the wedge, I did that with my next day’s workout. I was doing overhead barbell, caries and walking lunges and just breathing through my nose. So it wasn’t, I wouldn’t say it was cardio, wasn’t running, but you know, I was working hard. I hated you. I was so mad at both you and myself. Like, first of all, mad at myself, like, why can’t I do this? I’m in terrible shape. That shouldn’t be, it should be easier. And then I was like, what? Like freak this guy. Like, what the hell does he know? Right. Um, and I, I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I keep a positive mindset. So that’s what I’m going to focus on next. Okay. That’s the first one you can cause I’ve been watching your Instagram and that girl hardcore, I’m going to try and I’ll keep you posted. What’s the second one you said you have to,
One is, most of us are stuck inside with COVID right or not with COVID because of COVID second. And um, and I do this thing called kettlebell tossing, which on the surface of, it sounds like it’s crazy, right? It sounds like I throw kettlebells. I throw them to my wife or to people around. And the first thing that comes to come into your mind, when you think about this, as you’re going to break a foot, right? That’s that’s, you’re going to hurt yourself. Cause you’re throwing a cannon ball from one person to another and, and this is possible. And that’s the point, cause it’s a little bit dangerous. And when I first learned about kettlebell tossing, it was with a guy named Michael Castro, Giovanni, he’s got this whole program called kettlebell partner passing. When I first met him, we knew we were going to be throwing kettlebells and were squared off against just about five, six feet apart from each other.
And, and I’m realizing he’s going to throw this thing at me. And if, and when two guys stand up across from each other and there, one of them’s holding a weapon, the natural inclination is to say, this is threatening. Uh, and, and that is important because it cause it is threatening and, and uh, and here’s where the ritual works, right? So at first you’re standing across from each other and you look at each other’s eyes and you’re going to swing the bell three times on the first throw. You’re looking at each other’s eyes and I’m probably terrified. And he’s like, I’m going to throw this at you. And the second time he swings, you switch your focus from each other’s eyes to the thing that’s going to hurt you. So from the person that’s going to hurt you to the thing that’s actually going to hurt you.
And then he does this third swing and here’s where he lets go. It arcs gently through the air. My hands are out my butt puckers so tight that I know there was coal in there. It would be a diamond. And then my hands grab it because it’s actually very easy to throw a kettlebell. The movements simple you’re over your, your legs are wide by the way. Cause if you miss, you don’t want it to let her feet, but it doesn’t miss. I grab it. It goes into my hands and I throw it back to him. And then I realize in this moment that we are not adversaries, this is not that dangerous. This is dancing, dancing with another person and our movements because we’re both looking at that kettlebell, right? Our movements coordinate automatically because that threat is just as insistent as an ice bath because you don’t want to break your foot.
It’s death, it’s death flying through the air. So you both have to focus. And because of that, you enter a flow state together. And this is about building trust. It’s about building empathy. It’s about becoming, um, uh, you know, it’s not about looking awesome on Instagram, right? It’s about the internal experience and that that going from fear into sort of a flow state. And the coolest thing about this, Melissa, is that if couples get to do this, because at first couples are terrible kettlebell throwers like universally they’re bad at it because you know, we all have these things in our relationships that are, um, you know, islands, you don’t want to go to. Right. You know, there’s just things you don’t want to talk about for whatever reason. And there’s always this subtle undermining of trust because you see people at their best and you see them at their worst.
Right. And when someone’s going to throw a Cannonball at you, you’re thinking that they’re going to be at their worst, right? You’re you’re thinking that they’re going to land us on my foot. And then I’m going to be angry at Scott or I’m thinking, or you’re thinking I’m going to hurt them because you don’t trust yourself and I’m going to hurt the other person. Cause, cause that would be the worst outcome. So usually when, and this is why the wide legs are really important. Usually, um, people drop the kettlebell very early on when they’re, when they’re couples, because they don’t, um, they’re, they they’re, they don’t have that sort of fundamental trust and through their con their actions don’t coordinate, but over time they can learn to build that. And, and what kettlebell passing does, it’s actually a type of therapy between two people where you’re putting each other in a dangerous environment.
And you’re saying, no, I’ve got you because I’m throwing this kettlebell with love. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve done kettlebell throwing, not with a partner, not with a boyfriend, but just with a friend. And it reminded me of being on my motorcycle. It’s one of the few places in life where I am fully present and just present and attuned to every little fine move that my partner makes and the moves that I’m making in that flow state. Um, so for me, it was really beneficial. How heavy a kettlebell are you throwing with your wife? Not too heavy for either of you. I mean, it shouldn’t be a, I mean, it, it should be, um, threatening to some degree, but it shouldn’t be outside of someone’s capabilities. You know, for me, the 25 is great, but you know, maybe you’re in the 20 level. I wouldn’t go much below 15.
Yeah. I think we used an eight K, which is like an 18 pounder. Great. Going. Yeah. I love it. I love it. So I have one final question and it’s very, very important. Do you ever just sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix? Oh my God. Do I ever yay. Yeah. I mean, here’s the thing is like, I am often looked at as like this sort of super extreme dude, cause I’ve done some things, but it’s about the contrast. Like I love hanging around in bed, right? Yeah. I love, um, you know, uh, having the low States, but, but I try to put in the high States sometimes and, and you know, I would say the majority of my time is in a low state. Um, you know, but, but, but you need to have these spikes here and there and you need to learn how to control those spikes.
And sometimes, uh, you know, like anyone else, like, you’re like, I’ve been too low, too, too long. Right. And then that sort of like turns inwards. And uh, and so sometimes I need to like my wife to kick me out of my thing. Like, this is a group sport. Like there’s no answers here. No, one’s the guru. Like, we’re all just trying to figure this out together, Melissa. Yeah. Yeah. I’m with you. I’m with you. So at the end of every episode, I ask all of my guests, imagine that you’re a listener and you have been listening and you are just as motivated as I was when I picked up what doesn’t kill us. And even more motivated after reading the wedge and I’m listening to this and I am ready. I want that I’ve been low for too long. I want that spike. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who was ready to do the thing, breathe, breathe deep and find a way.
And when you find yourself in a, in a anything that’s difficult, always remember that you, you have the breath. Um, that’s the, I mean, I, people have always said this, right? This is nothing new, but you, but you have control of your breath. And so that’s something. And so you always have something you, you ha you have. I love that so much. I love it. Scott, where can people find out more about you? So I have a website it’s very difficult to remember. So jot this down. Scott carney.com. Uh, yeah. So your car anyway. Um, and there’s the Instagrams and there’s the Twitters and there’s, you have Google, you can just go find it. I show up on that. Um, there’s an audio book for the wedge. There’s an audio book for what doesn’t kill us. Um, there’s also all the other types of books, so, um, yeah, please, you know, there’s a, Oh, you can get a sample chapter of it if you’re not sold on my wonderful delivery, uh, of this, uh, there’s a free sample chapter on my, on my website. So you can go read it there.
I love that. One of my most favorite categories of books and it’s this category that I made up myself is called nonfiction. That reads like fiction. It is so engaging. It is so enthralling. It moves you along. You’re invested, you forget that you’re reading actual journalism and that is exactly the category that I would lump your work. I have loved reading your books. Well, I love it. Thank you so much. And there’s more on the way Melissa. Wait. Well, I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of the wedge and I couldn’t figure out how to get it on my Kindle. So I’m like reading it on my tiny iPhone screen because I could not wait. And then of course I ordered a copy pre-ordered as soon as it came out. So the wedge is your newest offering. What doesn’t kill us as the one I’ve been talking about. There are others on Amazon. We’ll link to all of this in the show notes. Scott Carney. Thank you so much for joining me on do the thing. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me. Great conversation.
Thanks for joining me today on do the thing. You can continue the conversation with me at Melissa. You on Instagram. If you have a question for dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at three, two one two zero nine one four eight zero. Do the thing is part of the onward project. A family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin all about how to make your life better. Check out the other onward project podcasts, happier with Gretchen Rubin side hustle school, happier in Hollywood. And everything happens. If you liked this episode, please subscribe, leave a five star review and tell your friends to do the thing. See you next week From the onward project.