The gobsmacking thing about being a human is that most of us walk around not knowing how capable we are. As I write this, I’m sitting in shorts and a t-shirt in a room that’s running about 55 degrees F. I’m comfortable, and I am definitely not superhuman. In this regard, I’m just like you. We all have this ability to thermo-regulate, it’s just that most of us don’t use it.
I’ve talked about using heat in the summer, let’s talk about leaning in to cold in the winter.
First, what does “leaning in to cold” mean? I’m not asking you to run a marathon around the North Pole in your underwear (although you could, if you prepared for it.) I’m challenging you to live in conditions that are just a little outside your comfort zone.
Instead of the thermostat set to 72, work it down over the course of a few days until you’re at 62. Wear sweaters and layers at first, but gradually strip ‘em away. Sleep warm at night if you like, but during your waking hours, just keep lowering your indoor temperature.
You might take a few weeks to get down to being comfortable in the mid to low 50s, and of course you can keep dropping if you want. Here in San Diego, winter lows get into the high forties at night. We take advantage of the mild winters and don’t heat the house, so the forties at night and fifties during the day is where we stay.
If you’re in, say, Flagstaff AZ, I’d suggest you stop in the high forties as well and not throw the windows open wide in the middle of a winter cold snap.
Still, humans lived through the winters more or less naked down in Tierra del Fuego; we’re a tough species.
Now, why would you turn away from warmth when it’s cold outside? Look, you can find a few dozen reasons that being a little chilly can help improve your immune system, joint function, sex life, thinking speed, max deadlift etc. All of those are probably true, and I’m certainly not going to ignore the benefits of cold therapy.
Still, I think the main benefit is a little more nebulous, and even more powerful. I’m encouraging you to do it because it’s uncomfortable.
We live in a world designed to make us more and more comfortable, and that’s a problem.
Why? Let’s break down the world “comfortable” into two pieces, “comfort” and “able”. Being comfortable means being able to be comforted. The question I’m suggesting you ask yourself is where that comfort should come from? Should comfort come from things, like the thermostat in your wall, or from the agency you decide to claim for using this wondrous human body we’re experiencing?
If that comfort comes from an external thing, you are giving up your ability to comfort yourself internally. If you can’t be comfortable without living in a 72 degree climate, there is a ton of the world that you won’t get to see.
If your chair, or your car, or your favorite snuggly warm top is where you derive comfort, you are limiting the potential breadth of your experience.
If, on the other hand, you take responsibility for your own comfort and don’t let a soft chair or a warm room do the work for you, you become tougher, more capable, more generally able. You see more of the world, experience more, build your understanding of the world. In fact, the more uncomfortable you’re willing to get, the greater the possibility that you’ll see that magical and wondrous thing; a scene of natural beauty that very few other humans have seen.
This doesn’t mean you discard all comforts permanently, rather, I’m suggesting you take control of when you experience them. The contrast between comfort and uncomfort is a joyful bridge to walk across under your own volition. Hot coffee on a cold morning is glorious, and a crackling fire when winter presses in is a small experiential bubble of warm ecstasy; don’t miss out on either!
Look, the only thing you know you get to keep no matter how long you live is the library of your experience. You may not get to keep the car, or the house, or the warm snuggly jacket, but (barring mental derangements) you get to keep the experiences you’ve had.
Why not develop the ability to bank more experiences?
Leaning in to cold guarantees that you’ll get to cast your net of experience far wider than leaning in to comfort.
To cold mornings, hot coffee, and an amazingly rich life!
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