Our society is reaching ever-increasing levels of decadence. Even the poorest in our society live like kings compared to other countries. Barring any sort of debilitating physical or mental condition, if you cannot make it here, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Whether you’re living the life of your dreams or still working towards it, you must always be mindful of how your lifestyle affects your body and your mentality. Don’t misunderstand me, I am in no way saying you should feel ashamed for your success. Being successful is something to be praised.
What I’m getting at is how living a relatively pampered life will, over time, make you weak, both physically and mentally. Just like you push past your discomforts in the gym to get stronger muscles, you should endure other discomforts on a regular basis to strengthen your mettle. Today we’re looking at some less conventional methods of embracing discomfort for the improvement of your body, mind, and spirit.
*NOTE: These methods should only be used if you are in good health. Use your best judgment and understand that I’m not liable for any consequences of you employing the methods prescribed below.*
Change Your Diet
Almost everyone has gone on a diet at some point in their life an remember how rough it can be. Some diets are relatively painless while others will leave you white-knuckling your desk whenever someone walks by with a bag of fast food. Regardless of your reasons for dieting, a stark shift in what you eat and how much causes huge changes within your body and psyche. Most modern diets are made to be as pain free as possible, which is fine and dandy if you’re just looking to shed a few pounds, but we want to test our willpower. For that purpose I have one diet to rule them all; the Keto diet.
The Keto diet involves eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. I’ve gone as low as 17 grams per day and let me tell you, it’s grueling. All you can think about is your favorite starchy carb (mine is French fries) no matter how much you eat. I will leave the research needed to safely perform this diet up to you. There’s plenty of sources out there and the details of the diet is not the focus of this article. That being said, be prepared for a whirlwind after your body depletes its glycogen stores.
Diet: The Ketogenic Diet
Goal: <50 grams of carbs per day
Duration: At least 1 week
Benefits: Health, mental clarity, and discipline
Intermittent Fasting (IF) has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. This is NOT what I’m suggesting, although it’s a good starting point for beginners. If 12 hours is all you can muster, you’re doing better than 95% of the population.
What I’m talking about is an extended fast of 24 hours or more. Extended fasts allow your body to enter a period of autophagy. During this process, your body renews itself by breaking down old cells. The longer your body is allowed to stay in the phase, the healthier it becomes (up to an extent). This is why certain studies have shown that low calorie diets correlate with longevity; less time spent digesting means more time spent cleaning house.
So how long should you fast? Most people max out at 1 day which is a great accomplishment, but I’m telling you that you can go longer. I have gone for up to 3 days without eating any food. Why did I do this? No idea. Just to prove I could, I suppose.
Fasting for long periods of time requires immense willpower and determination. If you plan on going any longer than a day, I suggest you get acclimated with the Keto Diet prescribed above first. This will keep you from having such a bad energy crash. After the first day of fasting, you begin to see and prioritize things differently. Your lunch break isn’t as important as finishing that project you’re working on. Your body feels like a live wire, every cell energized and raring to go.
Type of Fast: Extended
Duration: >24 hours
Frequency: Once a month or every other week
Benefits: Health, longevity, and willpower
Holding Your Breath
This sounds silly, but hear me out as this is one of the most potent methods to mastering your body that I know of. How long can you hold your breath? Go ahead, try it right now.
20 seconds? 30 seconds? 45?
During a self-defense workshop, we were lead through a session where we were asked to hold our breath as long as we could. This was to help us become more aware of our control over our own bodies. The first time I lasted 43 seconds. We were then asked to take some deep breaths and to try again, this time focusing on the sensations our body was experiencing, acknowledging them, then dismissing them.
As I sat there, listening to our instructor talking us through the exercise, time seemed to slow down…
My lungs burned.
My body twitched uncontrollably.
My diaphragm spasmed, trying to force the air from my lungs.
I acknowledged the sensations, then dismissed them. I was trying to hold on for another 20 seconds when my instructor made some comment about pushing the air deep down into your stomach like you’re trying to fart. I lost it and took the sweetest breath of air I ever had. I had lasted the longest out of the group, managing to hold my breath for a solid 2 minutes!
So what happened between the first round and the second? Did my lung capacity magically increase? No.
I focused my willpower like a laser on the challenge and refused to relent.
Breath Control Summary
Duration: As long as you can
Frequency: Once a day
Benefits: Focus and willpower
Notes: Do this seated somewhere safe in case you get dizzy or pass out (unlikely but the possibility is there).
Exposing the body to cold initiates a plethora of biological responses as your body tries to maintain homeostasis. Your muscles contract, you begin to shiver, you instinctively try to curl into a ball. The benefits of exposing your body to bouts of cold -either water or air- cannot be overstated. It helps burn fat, improves circulation, and strengthens your resolve. So what are some methods of exposing your body to the cold? Here’s four of the easiest ways:
- Cold Showers – Start it on lukewarm and slowly turn the water temperature down as your body acclimates. Be sure to let the water hit all parts of your body and not just let it run down your back.
- Cold Bath – Like the cold shower, but more intense sense the body is completely submerged. To take it to the next level, add ice to the water.
- Cold Air Exposure – Live in a cold climate? Go outside and breath in the crisp air. Wear as few layers as possible and slowly build up the amount of time you can stand being outside. It’s not uncommon for me to go trudging through the snow in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops to get the mail or grab something out of the car.
- Ice Packs – This is probably the least effective means of cold exposure, but it’s better than nothing. Put the ice packs on areas of strong blood circulation for maximum effect (neck, inner thighs, etc.).
Add an extra kick to any of these techniques by drinking some ice cold water.
Cold Exposure Summary
Types of Cold Exposure: Cold showers/baths, cold air exposure, and ice packs
Duration: Start with 30 seconds and slowly build up from there
Benefits: Health, resilience, and resolve
How to Employ These Methods
You’ve got two basic approaches to choose from for these self-imposed tribulations; the incremental or the all-in approach. Both of these are pretty self-explanatory, but let’s cover a few pointers for successful implementation:
- Set and measure your criteria – If you’re a numbers nerd like me, you’ll want to know exactly how you’re progressing. Some things, like cold exposure, don’t need to be tracked but you will certainly need to track your diet. Tracking how long you can hold your breath might also be an interesting little challenge.
- When in doubt, start slow – If you have health issues or are simply unsure how you’ll react, start on the less extreme end of the spectrum. For example, if you’ve never eaten low carb before, gradually decrease the amount of carbs you eat so you can see how your body reacts. Low-carb flu is darn near debilitating if you don’t know what to expect.
- Be mindful – Don’t forget the reason why you are putting yourself through this period of discomfort. Just as you lift weights to make your body stronger, you must go through periods of struggle to make your mind stronger. Acknowledge the pain and then dismiss it.
Decadence weakens the body and dulls the senses. Without external threats our will to survive dwindles and we begin to bicker and whine about mundane issues (hence terms like “first-world problems”). While it is certainly all fine and good to enjoy our society’s comforts, you would do well to go through periods of extreme discomfort to keep the mind focused on what truly matters. For those of you who are reading this and thinking “I’m not doing any of this. It sounds awful.” you actually need to do these ordeals the most. Men do not shy from adversity. We approach it head on, unflinching and unwavering.