No man is free who is not master of himself. — Epictetus
We all have bad habits. Mobile phones, sugar, work, shopping… What is yours? And more importantly: how is it holding you back in life?
For me, one of my first vices was alcohol. I quit in my early twenties, when I realised that I would otherwise probably die. Quitting was a great step, but I quickly found other distractions. The following years, I over-indulged in a smorgasbord of more or less destructive habits.
My behaviour was not fun. Sure, a pair of glittery shoes might have cheered up for one evening, but barely affording rent caused sleepless nights. A Ben & Jerry’s feast tasted delicious, but the food coma afterwards was not so sweet. So why did I put myself through all of this?
I suppose that I was in pain and I did not dare to be present to feel it. It was easier to run away from it. Numerous mentors gave me the advice to start meditating, to practice presence despite what emotions might surface.
They told me that it was only through being comfortable with my feelings, that I would be able to stop escaping them through my various addictive behaviours. The scientific proof supports this: meditation can indeed be helpful against addiction.
It might sound simple, but it was not. I tried many different meditation techniques over the years: meditation apps, meditation courses, “40 Years of Zen” neurofeedback. I am still only halfway through the classic book The Power of Now…
The methods had various degrees of effectiveness. Some were frustrating, some great but so expensive that I would need years to save up for it again. What I was looking for was something simple, cheap and most importantly: something that worked!
It had been almost ten years of trying to practice being present, and I started to give up on myself. Did I have to move to a monastery for twenty years to learn presence? Or was there a shortcut?
I then discovered the Wim Hof Method. Part breathing method, part mindset and part cold exposure, I started having ice baths on a weekly basis. At first, it was just another one of my experiments with upgrading my health. I had heard about the scientific evidence that cold exposure is beneficial for weight loss, but had little expectation of how it could help my issues with overeating.
I was therefore surprised to quickly realise the powerful and unexpected effect that the ice baths had on me — finally, I felt present! It turned out that there was no place for my mind to escape, while being submerged in freezing water…
It has taken time and dedication, but I believe that my ice bath sessions have enabled me to use the same practice of presence in my daily life. I no longer stuff my emotions under tubs of ice cream. I eat to nourish my body, when I am hungry. It might sound trivial but for me, who was using food as a way to self-medicate for years, it is the greatest gift.
Ice baths is a method that anyone can practice in the comfort of their home. If you don’t have a bathtub, you can buy an inflatable pool online and fill it with ice bags from the grocery store. I am currently visiting wintry Canada, where I am rolling around in the snow in my bikini every morning. Luxury!
Do you need to shortcut twenty years in a monastery?
- How is your vice affecting your health? Is the chocolate that you’re eating causing more pain than pleasure?
- How is your vice affecting your relationships? Are you rather playing with your phone than talking with your friends?
- How is your vice affecting your finances? Are you keeping a down payment in your shoe wardrobe?
How to shortcut twenty years in a monastery (by shocking yourself into presence):
- Ice baths. There is no other place to be than in the present moment, when you are in freezing water.
- High-Intensity Interval Training. Blast Britney Spears at the highest volume in your earphones and run for your life.
- Adrenaline sports. I doubt you will be obsessing over your Tinder dates when jumping out of an airplane.
I just remembered that on one of my attempts to find presence, I did actually spend a weekend at a monastery in rural Australia. Let’s just say that I don’t feel tempted for another twenty years there. I much prefer my ice bath shortcut.
Alexia Bjarkan is a weight loss coach at The Benefactory. This article was originally published at betterhumans.coach.me.