This academic year, I aimed to “question the status quo”. To challenge the notion that discomfort is inherently harmful or unnatural. There’s a common thread in many of the activities I chose to embrace: other Berkeley students wouldn’t do the same thing just because it was unpleasant.
With that in mind, I wish to share three minimalist experiments that I found especially worthwhile:
This started off as a challenge from Tim Ferriss and Jerzy Gregorek. They said that there were substantial health benefits to the practice, and asserted that many, many people simply weren’t willing to tough it out. After I couldn’t find any contrary evidence, I decided to try out cold showers for a week.
That was three months ago. I still take exclusively cold showers. I might not fetishize them like other Silicon Valley inhabitants, but I can’t deny that the cold has improved my quality of life. Why?
First, it put me in the right frame of mind to tackle the day. Nobody in the Bay Area takes a colder shower than me. Period. No matter how poorly the rest of the day went, I started with a win. And there’s something magical about not relying on a resource everyone else thinks they need. For example, I didn’t even notice that the gas went out (no gas means no hot water) for my apartment building until my roommate complained.
Second, cold showers jolt me out of a mental funk. You know the feeling. That foggy sensation that strikes after you finish a grueling homework assignment. The kind of fatigue that tricks you into wasting two hours scrolling through Facebook or watching Netflix. Instead of going down that rabbit hole, I take a five-minute cold shower. This serves as a powerful mental reset, letting me get back to work tout suite.
Finally, cold showers help me appreciate the moment. The caress of the towel, the warmth of my blanket, and the hum of my shivering body all strengthen my brain-body connection. The cold washes away all the aches and pains of the day (although my muscles get tighter than a bowstring).
Same Four Meals for Six Days
Another activity I still follow. My diet is not as diverse as I thought, which gave me the courage to reduce my meal diversity even more. By consistently eating plain, healthy food (as described in Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body) I saved a lot of brainspace and time that others devote to picking their next meal. I also learn to appreciate the nuances of the food I’m eating because the spice’s are the only thing that’s changing!
The best part of this practice: I pig out on the seventh day. I eat unhealthy food until I’m sick to my stomach. This give me an outlet from my spartan diet and reminds me why I eat minimally on the other six days. Originally, I committed to this diet for a month. Many friends found that a week is enough to decide whether they like it.
Not Speaking for a Day, Digitally and Orally
Many monks can go years without talking to others. Having the fortitude to embrace solitude and companionship as one and the same is a powerful trait.
I’m doing this activity tomorrow (read: no blogging/talking). I’ll let you know how it goes on Tuesday.
- Tribe of Mentors (p.113-121)