Everyone wonders why I take cold showers instead of hot ones, like a normal person. Here’s why: Cold stimulates. It invigorates. It opens your brain up for creativity. Lots of things do, but we rarely do them. Let’s talk to investigative journalist Scott Carney, who lives for the crazy! Scott has worked in some of the most dangerous and unlikely corners of the world. His work blends narrative non-fiction with ethnography. “What Doesn’t Kill Us” was a New York Times bestseller; other works include The Red Market and The Enlightenment Trap. Carney was a contributing editor at Wired for five years and his writing also appears in Mother Jones, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Foreign Policy, Discover, Outside and Fast Company. He attended Kenyon College and has a masters degree in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Denver, CO

““With no challenge to overcome, frontier to press, or threat to flee from, the humans of this millennium are overstuffed, overheated, and understimulated.” 

-Scott Carney What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength


May 8. Hey guys, Peter Shankman here waiting on, uh, Scott Carney, who is just finishing up an interview with NPR. I believe so. I’m, uh, obviously not as important as NPR you are. So as soon as I hear from Scott, that he is on board, I will bring him into the studio, but I am. Uh, thrilled that anyone is watching or anyone is here.

I hope you guys are having a great Friday. I’m going to try to get rid of that background light. There we go. So it is raining in New York city. Unfortunately it was a gorgeous morning. I got to run in outside wearing my mask, but it was lovely to be outside. And, uh, just to feel running outside, gave me a sense of normalcy that I think has been sorely lacking.

Over the past, uh, eight weeks or so. It was very, very nice. Again, we’re waiting on Scott and he should be here any second. So I will, uh, I’ll let everyone know there, uh, waiting on Scott to join any second. So the, uh, the fascinating thing about running outside this morning was that I saw. I’ve got a dozen other runners on the path.

And as we, as I was watching them, um, as, as we were passing each other, we were, you know, we always tend to, runners are a special breed in that we tend to give ourselves more. We give each other room right to pass, especially in New York city, we were giving it to the even more rooms. The point we were hugging the, the, the side of the, of the, of the West side highway path, which I thought was a really nice thing.

And. It’s interesting for those who wear masks, who socially distant, they distance themselves. Coronavirus has done something interesting in that. It has, it has there Scott. Okay. Even better. So standby. Scott is now joining us, so let’s see if he can turn on some light. There we go. Hi buddy. How are you doing?

All right. And we got audio too. We, I said we weren’t as important as your other interview, but we are so glad you’re here. And, uh, welcome Scott. It’s great to have you. I’m going to try to fix the audio. Oh, I can’t find fine me. Alright. Cool. Well, I am sunburned and my hair is a mess, but we’re pretty good.

You know, yours is blue. It might, my beard is big. I mean, this is COVID living, man. Let me, I closed one second. That’s going to be the, okay. Give me that kind of interview. Cool. So it’s great to have you here, Scott. Thank you for joining us. You know, I was talking about how while I was waiting for, to come on.

I was talking this morning about how I went out for a run. I did, if I did three miles on the West side highway and it just, it brought back some. Level of normalcy to that. So desperately needed that we just do not have anymore. And when you say a run on the West side highway, I’m figure, I’m picturing the scene from iron legend, where you’re running in the middle of the road from Zam is that’s not, the highway is open for cars and there were cars.

The West side highway has a jogging path right next to it. Fun fact. Built by the tax measures laid out or pet bond measures laid out by ed cots back in the seventies. The last time New York was in a fiscal crisis. Like we are right now. Thanks. Thanks to ed for those West Western highway junkie path. But, um, you know, it was just, it brought back this level of normalcy that is missing.

And I think that, that if we can figure out how to get just a little bit of normalcy in our day, every day during this nightmare, bullshit, I think it might help go a long way. And I think that there’s no better person to talk about that than you. So I posted your bio and then people know. Sort of what you’re about, you know, you’re the guy who runs up the side of mountains in tee shirts and shorts.

But give us, give us your story real fast. What would you say that it’s because I’m the most normal person, you know, the four that, or in my world you’re perfectly normal. Yes. And everyone is walking into this world. Not so much. Well, you know, I think that that, um, routines are very important, uh, and especially dealing with all the stress that’s out there in the world.

Like we ha we are dealing with, um, all of these asset Terek things that are COVID and a dead economy and zombies chasing on the West side of highway. And. The, the thing is, is that releases all of these hormones in our body, this adrenaline and the cortisol and the things that we’re supposed to give you boosts of energy.

And when you’re stuck inside, you can’t use that energy for anything, right? I mean, you’re, you’re in your apartment. You, all you get to do is grow your beard and have your hair. You change your hair color. And, uh, and what happens is, is if you’re releasing chemicals that need energy and you can’t release it, you get anxiety.

That’s the, that’s the pathway there. So what you’re doing, especially exercise is so good because you’re actually doing something which makes you, um, uh, gives you some sort of physical outlet. Now it gets even better. If, if your exercise can also have an emotional component to it. And I think right now, With there is one because you’re feeling joy, right?

You’re like, ah, I’m back to normal. Here’s the emotion. And remembering that emotion is actually going to be really important to counteracting anxiety. Um, yeah, it was interesting cause it was, it was a feeling of joy until about maybe 25 years into my run. When I, when I realized I’d say, I almost forgot I was wearing a mask.

Right. That being said, it was a great deal to workout, but you know, it was this, it was this point where, okay, now the mask is soaking wet. Now I’m feeling every breath feels like I’m being waterboarded. So that sort of brought me back to normal, but just enough to get that don’t mean hit that, that put me in a, I’ve been in a good mood all day.

Awesome. Right. And that, and that’s nice because we don’t, you know, it’s funny, you mentioned that the, the, the hormones and things that people tend to think, you know, Oh, um, uh, people that are like, Oh, the, um, the, the, we get to sit at our couches all day and relax, but, you know, I had someone this morning, I was talking to someone, I was doing an interview for someone, and they said, you know, talk about for a lot of people, this is kind of a reset.

I’m like the fuck it is, this is not a recent, a recent, when you lie on a beach set up your phone and you have no worries. This is the complete opposite of a reset. We’re sitting here and sitting on your couch, even though you’re working from worrying about everything, seeing a news alert, going off of what now, you know, whatever is nerve wracking.

That’s not a reset that’s, it’s nerve wracking. It’s, it’s almost more, uh, I’m almost more tired by sitting here and working in my kitchen than I am, uh, you know, going to my office yesterday. I did a social distance with my mother and father and my daughter. And so we, we, we hung out and we, uh, we went to the, the, the pier, the wasn’t, how we appear.

And it was the most anxiety filled. Hour I’ve had in three weeks because I have to keep my daughter away from my mother worse and keep my mother with my daughter. I could not get my mother to stop wanting to go over to my daughter. I’m like, mom, you’re going to die. Don’t go over. You know? And then half the people walking around, aren’t wearing masks.

So, you know, what are, what are we, what are we doing? How do we get to a level of, of, of some level of peace of tranquility? Cause this is not a reset. Well, you know, I think there. The only constant in the world has changed. Right? I mean, that’s the only thing that, that, that is going to be true. Our whole lives is that things are, um, altering around us.

And I, I think the reset is probably the wrong word that he was using, but. If we, if we think back to like eight weeks ago, what were we thinking about? Right. What, what were we, you know, w we were, we were caught up in the election. I mean, is there an election going on? I haven’t heard from, I mean, probably not.

Right. So that’s, that’s gone. We were worried about Instagram influencing, right? We were worried about all sorts of like stuff that was actually pretty negative. Right. We actually, it was not. Always, uh, you know, always beneficial to us. And so COVID has knocked us into a whole nother place. It has forced us into a whole different, um, uh, set of stresses.

And I think that can be. Useful. Um, you know, in, in, in the neurological literature, we have homeostasis. That’s where your baseline is. And we’ve aloe States, this which is neck, which is, uh, which is a, a baseline, which has been altered usually to a heightened state in a, in a negative way. So, uh, anxiety is an alostatic static place where you’re, you’re in a anxiety all the time.

You’re feeling very pumped up and, and you, you’re trying to get back down to homeostasis, but I will say this keeps you. In your new baseline? Well, what has actually happened is we’ve sort of taken a left turn, right? We were already an alostatic place, but now we’re in a different alostatic place. And some things have actually come down in some ways.

No, I’m not thinking about the bullshit that that used to like take over my mind. I’m thinking about different bullshit. And I think in some ways I feel more adjusted and in other ways I’m crazy. So, I mean, it’s good. I mean, I, there’s no real takeaway, right? It’s just that life is not the problem. The problem, a lot of the time is that, is that.

It’s still like that. We were thinking about the election, thinking about Trump, whatever that was stuff we couldn’t control. This is the stuff we can’t control. Right. So if we can control it and that drives us crazy, the question becomes, what can we do? What can we focus on that we can control? And that’s where your tips come into play.

That’s where the stuff that you do comes into play. So talk about that for a bit. So, you know, I wrote this book it’s called the wedge. It’s very, it’s very pretty right. And I read a, I read it. It’s actually very, very good. And what this is really talking about is that, you know, we are under this existential stress, right?

All of these things, and even in the Trump. You know, era, which was eight weeks ago, right. We were still living in that central stress. Cause there’s all this stuff that we can’t affect. What we do have choice over is how we feel things, right. You can either let the chaos of the world make you feel worse, or you can try to.

Um, I want to, I was about to use the word resist, but it’s not really, that’s not the right one and you can sort of redirect it or like, let it miss you in a way. And we should be focusing on things that we can control. So when you’re running outside, that is you expressing your control over some part of your life.

Right? We have to look at the things that we can control, especially things that make us. Feel stuff. Cause sensations are very important because when you say you’re stressed out, you’re not, that’s not an abject thing, right? That’s something that you you’re feeling that’s visceral. And, and what I’m doing in the wedge is I’m looking at like maybe 10 or 15 different things that you can do, whether it’s breath work, whether it’s cold showers, whether it’s facing your fears, um, whether it’s doing your, your exercise that you were doing.

But adding a component, like just doing all breathing through your nose, which will make that so hard. It will make that like, it will make it, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re going to be building up. What’s called CO2 tolerance, which is going to build up your athletic floor. That’s all well, and good.

But what’s really happening is you hate every moment of it because you feel so anxious. You feel like your performance is dwindling and they’re there. We have a stress that you can play against right now, your fight, your you’re thinking about why you’re breathing through your nose, you’re thinking, but why this sucks.

Cause it sucks. You’re you’re thinking about all of that stuff, but you’re not chewing on COVID at that moment. You’re not chewing on the, the, the, like you had your mother, her kids, right? Is it, is it the equivalent of, um, banging your foot with a hammer to forget about your too thick? I hope not. That sounds terrible.

That’s what I mean, the basic premise that you’re thinking about something else you’re doing something else to think about a worry about to avoid the initial pain. I mean, I guess to a degree. Yes, but qualified. I think that’s a really bad wedge. So, so talk about the benefit that comes from that. So. You know, we’re sensing the world all the time.

Like, like even when we’re not consciously sensing, like I can see you through that through the light that’s here, but I’m also feeling the air pressure. I’m also feeling my heartbeat. I’m also, you know, there I’m smelling things, but I’m not registering all of that. And yet all of those things are being wired into my brain all the time.

So we are, we’re forming, what’s called neural symbols, which means I’m a sensation. That comes into your body. It doesn’t make any sense to your brain at all. It’s just a sensation. It’s this data. It only starts to make sense when you wire it with an emotion when you bond it with an emotional state. Uh, and if, if you start wiring anxiety into your life right now, if you’re feeling anxious, you’re also wiring that quality of light with anxiety, your quality, the sound, your heartbeat, all of that gets bonded with anxiety.

So that in the future, Um, those that same quality of light that smell could trigger the anxiety that you felt earlier because we’re always living in our emotional past. And, um, essentially, you know, there’s this, the, the, the trait way to talk about it is the power of positive thinking, right? This is the, this is the low end way is that if you just think happy thoughts, you will be happier.

And in a way that’s true because you’re creating an internal environment in your body of happiness. So you’re predisposed to that. So things don’t suck as much and, you know, we can think of it that way. All right. We got to go to a different topic because we have a week it’s like 50% of the questions are asking this Nancy Federer has convinced me that cold water is good.

And for how long it always comes back to you and that you have the cold, doesn’t it? Yeah. I mean, right about astrophysics. And so when we talked about the call and you book yourself into that corner butter, People don’t even recognize with my shirt on anymore. I’ll tell you what, um, uh, so convince you about the cold look.

Your day is your life is stressful, right? Like life is really hard right now, but if you want to, um, if you start the day doing something hard, And then you can control yourself while it’s doing something hard. And honestly, the hardest thing a human can do is be in a warm shower and then turn around and turn that knob tickle.

That is probably the hardest thing a human can do because you’re going from a luxuriously, comfortable state into a state where you have to resist, you have to stand up and it, it makes the day. Just a little easier, right? It’s just a fraction easier. Cause you’ve already done something that’s hard and you’ve already succeeded at doing something hard.

So that’s one thing that’s useful. The other thing that is really good is it gives your body the things that aren’t conscious, right? Not the anxiety, but it gives the things in your body that are. Unconscious so that like, you know, your gut microbiome, your, your, your, your immune system, these things that you don’t have direct control over, it gives them something to do because your body is essentially a lens to the outside world for all that stuff that’s inside of you.

So, you know, when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in my bathing suit, yeah, I did that. Um, I was on top of the mountain. I was releasing all sorts of hormones into my, into my. System. And they experienced Kilimanjaro through the lens of the hormones that I was releasing. Um, they don’t know Kilimanjaro, but they were there with me.

So, so we’re trying to give signals and one stressful signal is a cold shower. There’s many other signals we can do to it’s interesting because I find that I can’t go, I can’t take a shower now without ending it for at least two minutes. An ice cold. And then I remember I was telling you, I told you when we first talked about a year ago, I said, Oh, you know, I’m not that I must be a worst.

Cause you know, I don’t take a fully cold shower. I take a hot shower and then I switched to cold towards the end and you go, no, that’s actually harder. And I was shocked cause that’s what I do every single day. But it, that, that last minute or two in that cold is just such a wonderful wake up call and I get it.

I, I literally bound out of the shower. Right. Like I walk in, but I bound out and it’s, it’s really. It’s really amazing. It really does tremendous, tremendous benefits. Um, I also think the breathing methods are very important too, because it’s the same concept, but it’s, it’s deeper. It’s a longer practice. So the Wim Hof breathing is like hyperventilating in the next hailing and then holding your breath.

And I do that every morning for about 15 minutes. And I will tell you the days that I don’t do it are works right. The table. That’s a classic ADHD line in that, in that I know that if I don’t exercise in the morning, I’m not going to have as good a day as if I did, because I’m depriving my body of those chemicals that the exercise makes me the dope mean the serotonin, the adrenaline.

So, yeah, it’s the exact same thing. Tracy gamble wants to know. She says she switches from warm to cold. The last couple of mints, the showers it’s good for your hair and skin. Does she still get credit for being brave? If fits for vanity? Yes. You still, you still get credit, even if it’s just vanity a type of sensory training, what is the cold showers?

Oh, of course. Yeah. Anything you sense is the type of sensory training, right? So, uh, and what we worry, what we really want to think about with sensory stuff is contrast, right? You like wherever comfort is about. Dasis right. It’s it’s about where you are and what might be comfortable for me right now might not be what comfortable is comfortable for you, but it’s the place where you are fine.

Like, it’s fine. You’re not stressing yourself out, but the, but the measure of what it means to be human, let’s go really big here. The measure of what it means to be human is who you are under stress, not who you are when you’re feeling comfortable, not when you’re not challenged. So, um, Heat is one. Fear is one.

I mean, there’s wedges for sex. There’s what does for sleep? That’s why just for, um, psychedelic experiences, anything that, that, that pushes you out of homeostasis into temporarily. Over the edge and off the screen. And then, and then, but you know, not to damaging levels, that’s very important to do the same and then brings you back.

That is what that’s like. It’s like exercising a muscle. It’s what puts you into order. But then that begs the question. If you’re going, if I, you know, when I started, I couldn’t take a cold shower for more than five seconds. Now I can do up to like five minutes if I need it to. Right. So, but. Aren’t we all chasing then just more of something, you know, in the respect that like I have skydiving friends, it I’m perfectly happy jumping out of a plane, flailing around the air and landing.

I don’t need to wing suit. I don’t need to swoop in any of that shit. I’m the most, the world’s most boring skydiver and I’m fine with that. Right. But a lot of people, you know, they can, well, that was awesome. But now I’m going to jump into wingsuit. Now I’m going to base jump. Now, if we’re pushing out of our comfort zones, don’t we get accustomed to the comfort zone we’re moving into, and then we have to find something even more.

Well, here’s one question, is that, are they just finding a new comfort zone? Right. Are they, you know, when you’re pushing the, these, these new extremes, are you finding that you’re just comfortable at extremes? Maybe at that point, you need to actually do the opposite. Maybe you can need to go to sensory deprivation.

Maybe you need to go to meditation because you know, you’re right. You can get addicted to things. Yeah, things get addicting. And the point of life is not to be the super extrovert, Instagram star, you know, on-brand all the time and, you know, doing everything that’s so adrenaline focused that the point is to have contrast.

And if, if you you’re on the path of just doing more and more and more and more, you need to look at what your path actually is. And. You know, I often get criticized for being too extreme because I do these early extreme things, but you don’t know me because most of the time I’m hanging out in my house, just chill out and just talk to me.

So it is about the going from place a to place B and moving back and forth between these spaces, getting a, a, a gift certificate once to a separate sensory sensory deprivation tank. And I did it for the hour and I, I got out and I swear to God, I was in the fire. It was the worst hour experience of my, I hated every single second of it.

It was terrible. I could never, I could just do not do it again. I could never do it again. Have you gone to the chapter about sensory deprivation in the book yet? Where I, where I got in a fight with my wife, right? Like, like a minute before going into the sensory deprivation tank, like. Essentially divisions are awesome for me, they’re like automatic meditation, but we got in this like marital spat when we were both going to go into the sensory deprivation tanks to just sort of see how we respond to differently.

And then we just like magnified the fight like a million times or had, and when we came out, we were like ready to fight each other soft and like, um, Didn’t happen. And then we realized that that, that, that, that we’re, we were just making an echo chamber for where we already were. So these techniques are powerful, but you also to use them wisely, um, while you’re at it real quick, one minute left, uh, tell me something that people can do when they’re stuck at home and they, they want to push the comfort zone, but you know, they’re under quarantine, they’re in lockdown.

Exercise get a kettle bell, swing the kettlebell just with your nose, not with your nose, but while breathing through your nose. Uh, another thing I was going to say, Holy shit, this guy just really intense. I can’t do that. Like a doll

while breathing through your nose, swing the kettlebell. Okay. Yeah. Um, and then, and then if you, and if you can go outside, try juggling a kettlebell by which, by which I mean. You take a kettlebell and you throw it, I’m going to totally drop this like that. Do that outside, don’t break your floors. I gotta be scared of, of breaking your foot.

And that that’s the point. You have to focus on the kettlebell and, and you have to, um, you have to be afraid a little bit, and then you have to be sane. Cause you realize that in this practice, if you’re not focused, um, you fail and it will force you to do that. I just, I’m going to be kicked out of my apartment.

If I tried that, Scott, how can people find you? Cause I know a lot of people want to get the book and do it fast. And I’m totally going to say, you know, I mean, outside, I can’t go to, I’ll go to my base. How can, how can people find you? The wedges is the book. Uh, the wedge go to my website, Scott carney.com.

Um, there’s a sample chapter there. You can read there’s videos and all sorts of cool do hickies things. There’s social media. Um, if you don’t want to go to my website, there’s also on the internet. There’s the Amazon’s audible. It’s everywhere that books are bought and sold. There’s bookstores. They’re all closed public apology to Scott.

I screwed up the baby and she screwed up the time on this and I supposed to have you on yesterday. My apologies. I’m glad you made it today. I’m truly appreciative and we will do this again. You are always a blast to talk to. Alright, thanks man. Guys. Stay safe. Stay happy. Stay home. Stay healthy. Bye.

Follow Scott’s adventures on his website and Instagram

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