If you’re here for leadership, especially personal leadership, you’re going to hear about one of the most important things that you can do to improve. What Joel and I talked about, this is how you develop skills that people think that you can’t learn. Things like integrity, discipline, resilience and it’s going to come from a place where most people don’t expect to hear the stuff. Cold showers. Cold showers is a big SIDCHA of mine. SIDCHA, if don’t know the term look it up at www.sidcha.com, S I D C H A. People who know me know, SIDCHA is a big part of what I do, critically important for leadership. If you know my habits: cold showers, the burpees, picking up garbage, Joel is a big piece of it. As Aristotle said, â€œQuality is not an act, it is a habit.â€ As he also said, â€œExcellent is an art won by training and habituation.â€ We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. And so cold showers happen to be something that’s one of the easiest materially speaking, it changes very little about your life, you don’t have to pay any money for it, extra time, no risk of injury, no personal trainers, you can just, just don’t turn one up. So I indulge myself in talking to the guy who I learned all this from and I hope that you get a lot out of it too. In his case you’ll hear how it turned his life around. I highly recommend watching his TED talk. Thatâ€™s enough of me talking, let’s listen to Joel.
Joshua: Welcome back to the Leadership and The Environment podcast. This is Josh Spodek and I’m here with Joel Runyon. Joel, how are you doing?
Joel: Iâ€™m doing pretty good. How are you?
Joshua: I’m great and I’m really looking forward to this. I was recently rereading some stuff that I’ve read of yours, years and years ago, like four-five-six years ago and I didn’t realize how much of an impression it made on me. In particular it’s the cold shower stuff and I’m not sure if we should start talking about cold showers because I think, also from your perspective you’ve been doing the Pencils of Promise and 777 Project and I feel like that’s probably more recent for you.
Joel: Yeah, we could talk about it all. I mean, cold showers are kind of a nice through-line, it’s more of a daily practice, and then the 777 is more like the most recent impossible thing that I just finished up a week ago [unintelligible] whichever one you want to start off with.
Joshua: Let’s do it chronologically with cold showers and then moving up to more recent and the Pencils of Promise.
Joshua: So anyone who’s listening to this and if you haven’t watched it, I would say a great starting point is to go to your TEDx talk and if you just go to YouTube and type in Joel Runyon TEDx, it’ll come up and that tells a story about you starting the cold showers. Would you mind going through it again?
Joshua: I mean the highlights of it?
Joel: Yes, sure.
Joshua: This is a story I have told a million times, I donâ€™t want to bore you.
Joel: Well it is but it I mean itâ€™s also one of the things that I think have a big impact on people so I don’t mind sharing it. And the story basically goes like five or six years ago, I think at this point Iâ€™d gone through this phase where I had a really hard time getting a job and then I finally got a job and worked my way up and actually got recruited to another company as like a promotion, like a big overall promotion and working with like Fortune500 companies and right in between I went to a conference out of Portland and I was supposed to meet up with my buddy, with a friend of a friend named Nick and Nick had run a couple of successful businesses but we didn’t really know each other.
And so, I met him at a bar and we get right into like, â€œHey, what are you doing?â€ or you know, â€œWhatâ€™s going on with your life?â€ and I basically tell him kind of my deal like, â€œHey, I’m going to this sort of thing. I like this, you know maybe start my own thing down the road but I don’t feel like Iâ€™m ready, blah, blah, blah.â€ And I’m five minutes into this conversation with this guy I literally just met because a friend told me I should meet him and he asked me like, â€œWhy haven’t you started your own thing yet?â€ and I was like, â€œYou know what? You know there’s a lot of reasons.â€ I was like, â€œYou know, I’m young, I don’t have tons of money saved up, I don’t know if I have a great ideaâ€ and he’s like, â€œNo, no, no! Why haven’t you started that business yet?â€ and I gave a bunch of more reasons. He basically cut me off and he said, â€œNo, the reason you haven’t done it yet is because you’re scared and you need to get over this fear that you have.â€
And so I was like, â€œNo, no, no. I’m not scared, I’m totally cool with it, like I’m not.â€ It’s not a fear thing he’s like, â€œ[unintelligible] And what you needed to do is you need to take a cold shower tomorrow and do it for 30 days.â€œ And I was like, â€œWhy?â€ and he was like, â€œJust don’t worry about it, just do itâ€.
And I didn’t really know how to react, Iâ€™ve known this guy for five minutes and he’s already like calling me out and telling me to take cold shower and I’m like, â€œDude, who recommended that I meet you anyway?â€ But I knew I was going to see him the next day and I knew he was going toâ€¦ He had already called me out for the first five minutes knowing him so there is no way he wasn’t going to bring it up the next day. So knowing he was going to call me out I knew I was going to have to take a cold shower and so I basically get ready the next morning and I’m like, â€œOK, I’m going to do this cold showerâ€ and as soon as I jumped in the shower I put my hand on the faucet and…
Joshua: So youâ€™re in the shower, the space but not with the water on yet?
Joel: Yeah. So I stayed in it and I’m like, â€œOkay, I’m going to do this.â€ I’m not going to, you know, I’m not going to go back to him and say, â€œHey, yeah I didnâ€™t do thatâ€. So I’m starting to do it and as I put my hand on the knob and I’m about to turn the cold on, all these terrible excuses popped in my mind. I’m like, â€œHey, why are you doing this? This is a stupid idea. Who is this guy? You just met him. Why are you doing this, like first?â€ And then I sucked it up and I just did it and then just started like, I was like, â€œHoly crap! This is really coldâ€ like in Portland, not warm water. I was freaking out and somehow I managed to… You know the only reason I was doing it, was because I knew I was going to see him and I wasnâ€™t going not do it, you know knowing I was going to see him later that day.
And so I did it, I finished it, dried off and I realized when I got out that I was totally fine and nothing bad happened. And all the excuses, all the things that popped up in my mind before I turned the shower to cold were the same things that were coming to my head for why I didn’t start my business. And so I basically took that lesson and did it a bunch more times, I did it when I quit that job eventually six months later, I did it when I write before I did that TED talk on cold showers, I did it you know, before I did my first ultramarathon and before I won 777, so it sort of became this ritual that any time I start to get in my own head about why it is something or why you know, something’s too difficult it becomes kind of that impetus and that reminder, that physical reminder that yeah, it can be uncomfortable, it can be difficult but it’s not impossible. And at the end of the day doing the uncomfortable thing you know, makes you a little bit better and there’s no real long lasting negative effect. You might be cold for five minutes, you might be uncomfortable for a little bit but once that’s over, it’s over, and you can dry off and you can go on with your day and that was a big realization for me at that point in my life and that has kind of carried over to a lot of different things that I do.
Joshua: So, thank you for sharing again and there are few details on that that I hadn’t heard before so I appreciate it, Iâ€™m owning even now more things about it and then you took it on what you write up of it in Impossible HQ which is your, I guess you several web presences but in Impossible HQ is like the one where all the cultural stuff is. And you have a very assertive way of describing it like you’re very clear, like if someone isn’t willing to take a cold shower or you know people come with all these excuses and you use it as a filter and that was what I was reading recently, I was like, â€œI’ve been doing stuff like that tooâ€ and some might look at it saying it’s like a way of discriminating based on people’s behavior and their choices but I think it’s like a filter that, I don’t know how to put it. The people…
Joel: [unintelligible] post that you’re talking about? Is that the one?
Joshua: [unintelligible] and there’s, I mean you’re also like, someone will say, â€œOh, I took a cold shower one time in India just when there was no hot waterâ€ but they didn’t choose to.
Joshua: Like, I have this term SIDCHA, self-imposed dailyâ€¦ I think the self-imposed came from you. I didn’t realize that I was reading your stuff and I was like, â€œThat’s where the self-imposed came fromâ€.
Joel: Yes. So for the listeners who might not know what weâ€™re referencing [unintelligible] impose once the cold showers in India don’t count and I’ll have people say, â€œYeah, this one time in India or this one time in Guatemala, you know we didnâ€™t have any warm water so I jumped in there for 30 seconds and you know, I soaked up and then you know, dumped water on me for 30 seconds, it was really cold, it was really invigorating. That totally counts, right?â€ and I’m like, â€œNo it doesn’t because you had no choice and you werenâ€™t sitting in it being comfortable with it, you probably have like, you know, 30 or 90 seconds of itâ€.
And so the self-imposed aspect is a really big deal with that because, you know I mean most people’s lives on a normal basis, the differentiation to make with cold showers is that most people on a daily basis… Cold showers are a choice and it doesn’t interfere with anything else that you do in your normal day-to-day life. Most people every day take a cold shower, most people also without thinking about it do the normal thing, do the comfortable thing, do the thing that everybody else does which is take a warm or hot shower. And the thing about cold showers is, you’re literally doing everything the same that you would normally do except instead of doing the normal comfortable unconscious thing you’re doing you know doing something that’s actively uncomfortable, you’re consciously choosing to do it and you’re choosing to be uncomfortable. A lot of people post photos on Instagram with you know, â€œGrowth is at the edge of your comfort zoneâ€ or you know, â€œGet comfortable with being uncomfortableâ€. When you say like, â€œActually, go be uncomfortable, be cold for five minutesâ€ they freak out and they are like, â€œI don’t know what I’m doing.â€ And so that leads into the other post that you mentioned which is the [unintelligible]. And so a lot of people write to me and they say, â€œHey, I want to quit my jobâ€, â€œI want to get in shapeâ€, â€œI want to do X, Y, Zâ€ and I tell them, â€œTake cold showersâ€ and they’re like, â€œNo, no, no, no, no, you don’t understand, I don’t like the coldâ€
Joshua: Oh my God.
Joel: And what I always say is like, you know, â€œIf you’re not willing to do a cold showerâ€, I think this is how I ended the TED talk as, â€œYou’re not willing to be uncomfortable in a place like your shower, where there’s no one to affect like, the only person affected is you and there are like no, there’s nothing at stake, then how are you ever going to be able to choose to be uncomfortable in a situation that affects a lot more people than just you and it has much bigger stakes?â€ And so the reason these cold showers is a filter is, one – it shows you who’s willing to try new stuff because there’s real no downsides to taking a cold shower, youâ€™re going to be uncomfortable for five minutes but if you’re not willing to be uncomfortable for five minutes for the off chance that you might learn something like that tells you a lot about who that person is and a lot of times like, you know…
Even people, I’ve had people say like, â€œHey, I’ve done cold showers and I didnâ€™t get anything out of itâ€ but I’ve never had like, there has always been people that have done the cold showers, it always makes me laugh when someoneâ€™s like, â€œI can’t do thatâ€ and that’s why itâ€™s so difficult or â€œI wouldn’t get anything out of it anyways because thereâ€™s eitherâ€¦â€ You know, there’s two reasons: they’re either not willing to be uncomfortable or they’re too arrogant to think they might learn something out of it. And both of those are pretty big downfalls when it comes to trying new things, to learning new things, to building new habits, to improving yourself and trying to do something you haven’t done before. If you’re too arrogant to learn or if you’re you know, you don’t have the willingness to be uncomfortable like you probably wonâ€™t be able to do that much.
Joshua: It is really weird how much peopleâ€¦This disconnect that they don’t see about what they think they can do and what they can’t do… What they think they can do but if you’re not willing to do it, it’s really the same as you can’t do it.
Joel: Well, yeah I mean, it’s revealing because people say a lot of stuff. And the thing with you know, a lot of things on my side I talk about running a marathon or skydive and like, there’s actually real limitations that like, maybe someone really has zero mind so they canâ€™t go skydiving, okay maybe that’s an actual limitation. There’s ways to get around that but maybe that’s a real thing or maybe youâ€™re 400 pounds. If you run a marathon like you need you know, three months to train for or something like that. But the thing with the showers is like, â€œOkay, well this is something you can do today.â€ Like you have a shower, you probably know somebody with a shower like, you go to the gym and take a shower, like there is no excuses. There’s no reasons why you can’t do it and the only reasons come back to yourself and so a lot of people think like, â€œHey, you know, you wrote about cold showers, you’re this big tough guy who’s taking cold showers and you think you have to prove somethingâ€, Iâ€™m like, â€œNo, this is actually like the low level baseline like, it’s a shower, it’s not like any big crazy impossible thing, it’s a really basic thing but the thing is if you canâ€™t get the basic things, are you ever going to do anything that’s complicated and difficult and way more involved or takes six months of training? How are you going to be able to do that if you canâ€™t do something that’s like a five-minute thing in the morning on a daily basis?â€
Joshua: Alternatively, if you can’t do the cold shower or you will do the cold shower and you believe that you can do the other stuff but you never actually do, what stories are you telling yourself about your ability that are based in fantasy that are not based on what you’re actually going to do?
Joel: There is a disconnect. There’s a big disconnect.
Joshua: And what are you doing in order to protect yourself from facing that disconnect so that you can have an idea of yourself that’s consistent with your beliefs that were not consistent with your behavior? I don’t know how people work that out. I mean except that I do kind of because we all do this. I mean it’s part of the culture as it gets you over this inhibition or this something that you had. I mean there’s no one who’s born able to do the most amazing things, you have to grow and develop and change I think and this is such a quick access to it like you say. In fact, some of the stuff you said I must have gotten from you because it’s so similar about how cold showers you really just not touching one of the knobs, otherwise everything is the same materially speaking and if anything changes you’re probably taking a shorter shower because it’s a little less comfortable and so it gives you more time in the rest of life and it costs you nothing.
You know, one of the reasons I started this podcast was when I was talking to people about the idea, I wasn’t even talking about a podcast, I was talking to my former students about how one of my SIDCHAs, one of the things I do every day is I pick up one piece of trash per day from the street and I put it in a garbage can or the recycling if it’s recyclable. And so I was talking about it and I wasn’t yet doing this podcast and he on his own decided that he was going to take on a personal challenge, for the month of June he was going to pick up 10 pieces of trash per day and that’s what he was going to do.
And then in June I wrote him and asked him what the experience was like and one of the things he wrote back and you can kind of guess what are the conversations heâ€™d been having that month with other people, was he pointed out that you know, sometimes you see someone throw something on the ground with a trash can 10 feet away and heâ€™d say, â€œPeople talk about how if they were in Germany in the 30s, they would take a stand against the Nazis. It’s possible but that’s easy to say when there’s absolutely zero way of checking that.â€ But then he lives in a world where people don’t even walk 10 feet to throw the trash away. And he wonders how many people would really do that. I mean I’m sure they believe they would but would they really if they were in that situation?
And to me you know, in the context of leadership, this personal leadership is you know, there’s nothing requiring anyone to take a cold shower. They can always say, â€œI donâ€™t feel like itâ€ and that’s enough for them. But it is really interesting, it is a place where you can, you pointed out how there’s really no downside, you’re not getting injured, it’s not going to… As soon as you turn the water off everything’s back to the way it was before. Likewise, you have only to gain from it like, if you do it, you gain self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-mastery. Yeah, you’re cold for a little bit but that’s not that big of a deal.
Joel: Even if you don’t get anything from it you still get the knowledge back that you’re like, â€œOh, I tried that one timeâ€ and like I have an experience from it now and like if you could say like, â€œGive me five minutes and I’ll give you an experience that maybe have a benefit and it may give you just like you know a story.â€ That’s like, that’s a big deal. And actually, sometimes I feel like I have more respect to people that are like, â€œI just don’t feel like it. You know I just don’t want to.â€ And I’m like, â€œHey, at least you are allegedly honest with yourselfâ€ versus there’s sort of mental gymnastics that people do sometimes where they’re like, â€œYeah, I could do that. I do like four days and I think I could give the rest of the monthâ€. It’s like, â€œWell why didn’t you do that?â€ Yeah, well you know [unintelligible]. Yeah. Well then you didn’t do the rest of the month you get give yourself credit on something you didn’t do.
And the reason I like that and the reason I like a lot of the physical challenges I talk about is it forces you to get into your body and there’s something about those physical activities where you know, your mind is a huge capacity for self-deception and delusion and…
Joel: Yeah, and when it’s like can you do the pushups like, â€œI can do like 100 pushupsâ€ if you like, â€œWell, can you or not?â€ like, can you do the pushups or can you not? Can you do this cold shower or can you not? Can you do a marathon or can you not? Like there is a reason I like the physical things because they force you to ground yourself back into reality. And then when you have that actual knowledge you can improve of that. And I feel like a lot of people have you know, what’s the number, it’s like 80 percent of people think they’re above average or like above average and like actually like, you know, statistically that doesnâ€™t work. But it’s one of those things whether you’re in a good spot or a bad spot, just knowing where you are gives you the tools to improve of that and that takes like you know, not to have a punt or anything but like it gives you like a shot of cold water on the face and forces you to wake up and say, â€œHey, like where am I and where I’m trying to go?â€ and you know â€œHow do I get there?â€ and you have to be clear. And then you’re away from there rather than just being like, â€œYeah, I could do that if I wanted to.â€ Well, you know, why aren’t you? Just go do it rather than people talk about it and I think you know the social media and everything is made that almost worse because you portray it. We live so digitally now that people don’t know how to get back into their own bodies and you know it’s infinitely harder to take a cold shower than it is to post a photo about, an inspirational photo of someone on a mountaintop saying, â€œGrowth is at the edge of your comfort zoneâ€. So yeah, I just encourage people to get in their own body and take challenges and see what their physical limits are because they reveal a lot about your mindset as well.
Joshua: You just finished talking about mindset and self-awareness, along the way you also mentioned a few things that I got to call attention to is that you mentioned it gives you tools, it gets you thinking about â€œWhat can I do?â€ and the cold shower is not the end goal at least not for me the cold shower revealed, when I was reading the postâ€¦ I read what you wrote and then every page and it’s like I don’t know hundreds or thousands, but people who posted about their experience and thereâ€™s people who are like they’ve lost weight and theyâ€™ve changed relationships and I’m like, â€œWhat does that have to do with a cold shower?â€ and that made me very curious and as I read more and more about how people had life changing experiences, I went from thinking, â€œWell, that’s an interesting ideaâ€ to â€œI should do thatâ€ toâ€œ I should really do thatâ€ to â€œJust turned around and turn on the cold waterâ€ and just took my first cold shower. Actually, my first intentional cold shower because I had done ones where I didn’t have a choice. I was kind of in the middle, I was in a place, I think I told you when I was in Shanghai and the water took like 5 minutes to get warm. I didn’t have it in me to watch five minutes of water just going down the drain. I would jump in and let it warm up on me.
Anyway, then I, it does what you said. Like, it enables you to do things, you realize you could do things that you couldn’t, you didn’t think you could do or that you said you could but didn’t really and now, â€œOh, now I can do thisâ€. And then it starts getting you doing things. There’s a number of things that I do now that when I do them I’m consciously thinking, â€œWell, this is a lot easier than a cold showerâ€ and cold showers are really easy and there’s a lot of things that are pretty easy if you do them. And I think your experience was like that you started doing things that you thought that you didn’t do.
Joel: Yeah, it just gives you a perspective, right? So you don’t do anything hard and then like you can have a little like, if you don’t go outside all day, then it seems like a big deal to go outside and get the mail like you know, like all this is a big exertion of energy. But if you’re like, you wake up early, you take a cold shower like you do like the hardest thing on your list and you’re done by 10 and like you have like your biggest hardest thing is up by 10 and like everything else that you want to do like your workouts, making plans with friends or like working on your side business or whatever it is like, everything else starts to seem easier because you are already proactive and front loaded everything and you experience the hard things and then, you know it progressively gets easier throughout the day.
And like, again cold showers really ground you. They just give you like a basis in reality to work off of and once you start realizing, the other thing is you do tell yourself before you like, â€œThis is cold, this is going to be uncomfortable, this is stupid, I don’t like Joel, like this is a terrible idea.â€ And those are the same voices that you have in your head when you’re like, â€œOh I should, you know, I really should go to the gym but you know, it’s 15 minutes away, I don’t really want to do it like, it’s going to be you know, kind of a pain. Maybe I wonâ€™t get there in time, maybe you know, people are going to be on the machines that I want.â€ It’s all the same stories, all the same crap that you’re telling yourself over and over again. So what cold showers let you do, they let you recognize you know, when you’re telling yourself one of those stories and then you can start [unintelligible] around and be like, â€œOh yeah, I recognize that like, okay.â€ That doesn’t mean anything, it is trying to you know, keep me comfortable when I could be you know, getting better.
Joshua: So it gives you the self-mastery and give tools like you said. Do you also have the same thing, I’ve never asked anyone, on days when it’s really cold out and it’s not one of my cold shower days I really can’t believe that I take a cold shower on a day that that’s cold when I know how cold the water can be like in February because I probably can get really cold and I’m like, â€œI can’t believe that I do that.â€ Do you also get that sometimes?
Joel: When I was first talking about it I was in Chicago and in Chicago the winter is not warm at all. So people are like, they are always making comments, everybodyâ€™s trying to find a reason why they’re… It’s funny at this point because again you start to hear people’s excuses for why they don’t do X, Y, Z and they’re like, â€œOh, you, it’s winter over hereâ€ and you know, chillier you know, in a different hemisphere or something like that and you’re like, at this point I’ve literally knocked all of those excuses off, I’ve done like a cold shower and put it on YouTube in Chicago during the polar vortex and so like it’s, again it’s a story that you know, you’ve done in your head and it is what it is.
Like when I was in in Antarctica earlier this year and I did a cold shower there and I took work to melt the snow into water and like put it in a [unintelligible] and then like suck all the water out. It’s like if you want to do it, you can do it. And I actually feel better on those days. I feel like, you know, I don’t know all theâ€¦ You know, people are really eager to project a ton of health benefits and I’ve talked about them a little bit but I think the mental benefits really outweigh it. But I feel like my body’s warmer like, Iâ€™ve already cold adjusted, you know like you white balance a photo, like I cold- adjust my day to the cold shower and then like everything after that my body seems to handle better and like you stepping out in the cold after cold showers like, â€œOh, this is like nice balmy temperatureâ€ and it sometimes feels better so…
Joshua: So now I want to switch, to jumping ahead, how big of a leap is it? I mean you talk about Antarctica and you were in Antarctica to run an ultramarathon, like not just like casual hanging out. And itâ€™s going from cold shower, doing cold showers to ultramarathons is that like a simple jump or was there other things along the way to enable that?
Joel: The cold shower, I always talk about the cold shower in relationship with businesses because that’s what Nick was originally challenging me on, it was like the business of my career. But at that point I think I’d only run maybe like a half marathon or something like that, like I wasn’t much of a runner, I was still pretty early on in the running and the fitness challenge phase and so, you know I basically started doing cold showers every single time, I had these big scary challenges like, when I first signed up for my first ultramarathon I basically took cold showers for couple of days leading up to it because I was like, â€œI don’t know if I can do thisâ€ and like you have to start getting used to that voice in your head again.
And so to me like, it’s been kind of an evolution, a lot of the things ties into itself because I find you know, the physical challenges whether just being cold or you know, some of the fitness challenges of like marathons or you know, different endurance races or just overall fitness challenges change your mindset in a way and then I would take those mindsets and apply them into my career or when I quit my job into my business and then it just snowballs and then like you kind of up-level your life in business and then you look at, â€œOkay, how can I set my game up on a fitness level or my endurance level?â€ and kind of just build and it basically snowballs [unintelligible] itself.
And so I went from you know, basically never running more than a 5k in my life to getting into marathons and running ultramarathons and then I got to this point you know, a couple of years back where I was like, â€œOkay, I did a marathon. We built the school.â€ It was really impactful but I want to see what else is next.
Joshua: Can you say more about building the school, I mean this is a school where and in what context?
Joel: Yes, so after I’d done I think my first marathon, Pencils of Promise which is a nonprofit in New York that builds schools around the world, basically I was looking at my [unintelligible] and came up and they’re like, â€œHey, what if we challenge you to run an ultramarathon. We saw you did a marathon, that’s cool but you say itâ€™s about pushing your limits. What if you did an ultramarathon and did it to raise money for charity?â€ And I was like, â€œHuh?â€ First I thought, you know, â€œThat’s what you want. I don’t want to do thatâ€â€ then I also thought like, â€œHey, it’s charity, I can’t say no.â€ And I started looking into them and I found out you know, they’re really legit, 100% of the funds go directly to the programs, they are completely transparent with a lot of their financials and the more and more I started looking into them, the more I was impressed with how they ran their nonprofit.
And so I agreed to do it and in 2012 I ran my first ultramarathon and we raised 26 000 dollars and built school in Guatemala and I went to visit that in 2013 and it was really impactful and it was one of those things, I was like, â€œOkay, you know, all these physical challenges are cool and like you know, having an online audience is interesting but like actually physically building something and making something and having an impact in the world is actually really, really cool.â€ And so I was thinking about how I could do something similar but again my set is about pushing your limits, now I wanted to do something push my limits and so I started looking around at what I could do. And I found this Antarctica race and I found a bunch of other races and at some point I’ve got an idea in my head, I was like you know, you’ve done one ultramarathons but there’s a lot more continents and so like the idea that came up was like, â€œWhat if you ran seven ultramarathons on seven continents and tried to build seven schools?â€
And as soon as I had that idea all those things started popping up in my head again, same excuses I had in the shower like, â€œOh no, that’s terrible idea. That’s way too far. Way too many ultras.â€ you know, â€œIt’s going to be really, really tough. That’s way too much time in general. How are you going to get all those places?â€ And that’s when I knew I had to do it. And I knew if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well until I figure out how I was going to make it happen. So I set out to do it, I ended up getting hurt my first race, then I had to deal with like a lawsuit and there were like all these other extenuating circumstances that basically took my timeline from being like 9 months to basically taking me two years.
But in October of last year I kind of relaunched the project, I did the North America portion and then I ended up doing the last five races in three months which was a crazy accelerated timeline in comparison to what I even had planned when I launched the thing. So we finished that like, we talked about at the beginning, that was the most recent thing I did, finished the last race in April, we finished fundraising in June and we ended up, our goal was 175Â 000 dollars which is enough for seven schools and we ended up raising, I believe 193 000 and in change, so it was one of those things you know, we get a [unintelligible] on777 but a ton of ups and downs, a lot of things that came up that I wasn’t even expecting in relation to you know, I thought the top part would be the logistics and the running and a lot of the stuff that came up wasn’t even involved with either of those, it was injuries and you know, business related things that require time and energy. And it was one of those thingsâ€¦
But we just finished it, the schools are going to be getting built this fall and hopefully we get to visit some of the schools either this fall or early next year and again get to see the impact that we’re having on the ground with students from around the world don’t always get the opportunities to learn and get a basic education. So that was that was the most recent project, it was pretty cool. I still sort of don’t believe that I was able to do it but Iâ€™m pretty happy that it’s over and Iâ€™m excited to share whatâ€™s next.
Joshua: Youâ€™re one of the people that people read about and think, â€œThat’s not possible. Who can do things like that?â€ And before, I mean this kind of step by step of like, I think you said you were between jobs, I figured when you talked to Nick that first time like, it’s not impossible.
Joel: No, it’s one of those things like, I think that’s what I get, I love physical challenges so much as just because it’s it does bring me back to reality and I think people get stuck in their head and when you try to figure things out in your head like, there’s a time and place for it, you can make up these fantasies, you can make up these things that you want to do and the things you’re actually doing. But you know when you have to do a pushup test you can actually find out how many pushups you can do or if try to go and run 30 miles, you could find out if you can actually do it or not. And you know, it always makes me laugh, you know, bringing back to the cold showers and people that always say, â€œOh, I did four days, I could totally do that a whole month.â€ Do the whole month you know, like you can’t run three miles and be like, â€œOh, I could totally run a marathonâ€ and count that as a marathon. Like, you have to run that 26.2 miles so you have to do that distance. You have to put in the work and if you don’t do the work, you don’t get a medal, you don’t get the results, you donâ€™t get time, you don’t even get the internal satisfaction and I think a lot of people you know, they confuse themselves and they get satisfied with the fantasy that they tell themselves in their head and forget about the reality of the situation and so. You know, the funny thing, I’m like Iâ€™m 6â€™2, 190 pounds, like I’m not a typical runner still I didn’t run a 5k before I was like 23. Like I’d never run more than like two miles in my life and I think, I don’t have the official count but I think there’s only five people who run a marathon on every continent…
Joel: An ultramarathon on every continent in the world so like, that’s kind of cool company to be in….
Joshua: You’re one of those people, yeah.
Joel: Yeah, so it’s kind of like, you just have to be honest with yourself and know where you are and then work from there and that sounds really, really basic but so few people do that that it doesn’t take much more than that and then you know, a lot of hard work and a lot of planning and you do a lot of really cool things.
Joshua: Yeah. Something you didn’t mention of when people say they can do something and they only do part of it, they don’t do the whole thing. I haven’t run an ultramarathon but I know from one of the marathons that I’ve run that if I do less than the marathon distance and I say, well like how you feel at three miles or ten miles or 50 miles or 20 miles or even 25 miles, how you feel after that is not, it’s like all new. It’s not like, it’s a little bit harder, at least in my experience.
Joel: Itâ€™s the pain, the pain that you go through this is part of it and learning like, you know like, it’s like when people say like, â€œI don’t like the coldâ€. Well, nobody does, like that’s the point, like you’re not supposed to like the cold. It’s not supposed to be funny. Maybe eventually it gets to the point where you’re like, cool with it like, the thing I like about ultras is that you know, most people like, if you say you run a marathon most people think you’re crazy, right? And what I like about ultras is like, a marathon is the start. Like it’s not an ultramarathon until you go past 26.2. And so you’ve reframed what normal is for 99% of the population you know, say you know, 10% of the population run a marathon, I think itâ€™s probably still high and you know, that’s like a training runs like, a lot of people want to run an ultramarathons like, okay run a marathon and then like two weeks later like, keep doing your training and then you run 30 miles or something like that. And it’s learning that the pain is a part of it and that pain is a part of the process and that it’s to be expected and you’re not going to get out of the ultramarathon without feeling some sort of pain in some way, shape or form and you’re going to have to deal with it or you’re not going to be able to get a reward, the end result. And it’s not the same as like, â€œOh, I’m tired after three milesâ€, itâ€™s not the same as, â€œI’m tired after 20 milesâ€ and â€œIâ€™m tired after 40 miles.â€ It’s a whole different type of tired.
Joshua: Yeah, I remember my first marathon. Somewhere around my twenty. I remember feeling, the physical pain felt like emotional pain, like maybe you want to cry and I was like, â€œThat’s new. I’m not used to that.â€ So youâ€™ve done ultramarathons, so after my last marathon, that’s the only marathon I’ve run after I’ve had my burpee habit, so after doing my marathon I still had 50 burpees to do. So does that compare with an ultramarathon [unintelligible] â€œOh, I can do thatâ€. Well I’m not saying I could do an ultramarathon but I don’t know.
Joel: Here’s the thing, here’s the thing: if you can do a marathon, you can do an ultramarathon.
Joel: Okay. So you’re at the same training level, you don’t need to do a lot more training to be able run the ultramarathon. You just have to think of like, our race two or three weeks later and go ahead and do it because you’re strong enough to, as well, you might not want to go for your PR in the marathon beforehand or like you’re strong enough to actually go out and run an ultra. So from strength-wise it’s not a big deal. From mindset standpoint when you get to 20 miles and you’re like, â€œOh, I have only six more miles, that’s fine.â€ If you get to 20 miles and you have 11 more miles to go, that’s like a whole different mindset game and that’s where most people you know, get caught up. And so, what I would say, the burpees will be tough because your hips are probably super tight and so then you’re like doing… I would say thatâ€™s a different type of pain, I would say if you do a marathon, you can do an ultramarathon, pretty much anyone but you have to have the mindset to, one, want to be able to do it and then two, follow through on it. So the burpee thing would be tough on ultra but itâ€™s an own sort of pain cave, so that might help with the mindset peace.
Joshua: Ok, now I want to bring this home for people who maybe aren’t, you know a marathon is not the only challenge one can take in life. I think all of what we said about you know, if you do a little bit and say you can do more, that doesn’t mean you can do more and you have to have this mindset shift, you have to take on that you have to do the work and so forth. I think at all, tell me, would you [unintelligible] or you could have just changed a marathon to start a company?
Joel: I think they’ll feed into each other too. I mean like it doesn’t even have to be starting the company but like looking at your job and looking at the areas we’re like, you can find ways to optimize that even in the context of like working for your boss. The thing is like, it’s all those reasons why you stop yourself are all the same reasons for not doing the shower and so once you recognize those voices anywhere they pop up in life, whether it’s the marathon, your business, you know, your job, your education or whatever it is, it changes your approach and that’s what I like most about it. It’s universally applicable to pretty much anything you’re doing.
Joshua: Yeah. Like, how many times are we in conversations, so when you see it getting into some contention that you really don’t want to get into, but you just can’t stop yourself from saying that little thing that’s going, in your mind, you feel like, â€œI’ll say that and they’ll just shut upâ€ and you know all it does is just pisses them off and they say something back to you again and to not say that takes a lot of self-control, which if you do cold showers, that’s what you’re good at. And you say, I want to say this, â€œIs it really going to help? I’m not going to do it.â€ Like, compared to a cold shower, that’s really easy but if you can’t do the cold shower, that might be too hard and people getting into fights and they get into annoying conversations and stuff and it’s like you said it’s the same, I think it’s a similar thing in your mindset is actually much easier than a cold shower. And so you developed the awareness and the tools to get around it and the tools to handle it. And then when it comes up you know, my life has fewer arguments in it as a result of cold showers, I donâ€™t know if that makes (sense)? I think, to people who havenâ€™t done cold showers, just listening to this conversation, I think that would make sense, I don’t know if that makes sense obviously otherwise. Or I mean a lot of people on your page wrote that they lost weight and it wasn’t obvious why that would be the case but then you realize, it’s because not eating the chocolate cake, itâ€™s like not putting on the hot water.
Joel: Well, there’s a discipline you have to learn to do anything for 30 days. And so just anyone who finishes it for 30 days is like automatically you proved yourself you could do something for 30 days. It could be making your bed for 30 days but then you know, it’s a discipline combined with it being something very difficult and being actively uncomfortable that all of a sudden it’s like, you kind of trick yourself into building this habit of resiliency, of discipline and all of a sudden you have a tool of discipline that you didn’t know you had and you go ahead apply it to not eating chocolate cake or making sure you work out that day, and you know it kind of forces you to you know, acquire these skills that you maybe didn’t know you had.
Joshua: Yeah and so many people are like, you know, when I teach and coach leadership I talk about… Everyone knows how important it is to be resilient, to be persistent, to have self-awareness, to have integrity. Everyone knows these are valuable. The reason people don’t have them is not that they don’t realize that the grid is useful or that perseverance is useful, they don’t develop it and they don’t realize how to develop it because you can watch a lot of TED talks and I can tell you, watching TED talks is not going to get you what the TED talk person talks about. You got to do it, like you say in your body it has to be something that you actually do and then you give them the thing that gives them that, take some cold showers, that will get you some integrity because if no one knows you’re doing it and you’re just doing it that’s integrity. I mean, what you do when no one else is around, when no one is there to see it and then they poopoo it and they don’t realize they’re missing exactly what they think is, what they know is so valuable. And then they keep watching the TED talks and the cold shower is actually… If a TED talk is like roughly what, 15-20 minutes and a cold shower is five minutes…
Joel: Watch a TED talk, just watch it in the shower.
Joshua: Just turn it on, [unintelligible]. Actually and you learn all these little tricks. Oh, this reminds me back when I was doing my 30 days of it. I set my phone to count down for five minutes but I don’t want my phone to get wet so I would set, and how I would get started: I would set it for five minutes and ten seconds and when I hit start I had ten seconds to turn off the shower and it was a nice little trick. I don’t know about you but I come up with lots of little tricks to get me to do stuff that’s really hard and it works. I think people underestimate how valuable these little tricks are that…
Joel: It’s like these outside like constraints on your life that force you, like the 10 seconds is like, okay well there’s no real reason you have to do it like, just hitting the button and saying like 10 seconds, like all of a sudden, like you have a boss telling you what to do and a lot of people have so much comfort and so much freedom in their individual life that oftentimes they don’t have to do anything uncomfortable throughout the day. And so if you set that automatic constraint on yourself, you’re actually providing that context in which you have to perform it, when human beings like, if you make it a situation where quote unquote you have to do something you don’t give yourself the option to not do it and then it’s a lot easier to be like you know, if your job was to take cold showers for 30 days like you would probably figure out a way to do it, but because in a lot of our own personal lives you don’t have to go to the gym, you don’t have to study or you don’t have to do you know whatever it is the thing that you want to do, a lot of times you’re more lenient with yourself than you would be if you were working for someone else.
Joshua: All right. So now Iâ€™m going to sag from there into the environment. I totally indulge myself in this conversation because I really love this conversation and I want to get to talking about a personal challenge. And so you and I, we talked over dinner and then your girlfriend, Jenny, do I remember that right?
Joshua: So she actually on her own began, I think she went a week without packaging for beverages.
Joshua: Which was a pretty big deal for her because she wrote about it on her blog and she goes through a lot of beverages and mindlessly just like, without thinking about the consequences and it seems to, sounds like she had a pretty cool, pretty good time of it.
Joel: Yeah, I think she had a great time. Itâ€™s easy in New York, just walking on the street you go to a corner store and grab a drink or whatever versus like something I started doing, I started just like, I had like a bunch of this, just a whole bunch of tea at the house. And so instead of just buying tea at the grocery or an ice tea at the corner store, I just brew like, entire gallon of teas at once and then just iced it and then just have it in the fridge and itâ€™s way more accessible like, but all it does is like, you have to think about it like you know, two or three times a week to brew the thing and then just have it ready. And once you have that then now it’s just as easy as going to the corner store, you know actually sometimes easier because it’s already in the house so that was kind of eye opening to actually just you know, try that out on its own.
Joshua: Cool, I’m glad to hear that. So now you have, you’ve already taken lots of challenges in your life and found a reward from them and it seems like this challenge is like, you said, â€œI wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself if I didn’t…â€ You know, once you realize that this is what you’re going to do and that’s not even the reward. Like others might say, â€œOh, he’s just trying to fill in some gaps or something like that.â€ But then we talked about the students in the schools, I think that that reward, that’s a sort of reward that I think can sustain someone for years. So you know the parameters for a challenge and you don’t have to do it but are you up for a challenge?
Joel: Ah, yes. Well what’s the timeline on the challenge? That’s my question actually.
Joshua: All right, so here’s the deal: what I ask is voluntary. It’s not me giving one to you and there’s one constraint that I take away, which is you don’t have to solve all the world’s problems overnight all by yourself. And so you don’t feel like, because a lot of people are like, â€œWell if I don’t change this whole industry then what I do is a drop in the bucket, it doesn’t make a difference.â€ Okay, I’m not asking for that. It’s just something that you have to come up with, it’s based on something that you find valuable, which could be you know, global warming, it could be pollution, it could be overpopulation, it could be lots of different things. And so it’s you interpreting it how it works for you and it’s whatever time that you thinkâ€¦ It has moved the needle on that thing somewhat. So you don’t have to solve everything but it can’t be zero effect and then it can be whatever timeframe is enough for it to kick in.
So say if you are a big meat eater and you felt like factory farming was like a big pollutant, then you wanted to not eat meat and you said, â€œI’m going to skip one mealâ€, I’d say â€œWell that might not be that much.â€ Maybe you could do a bit more but that doesn’t mean you have to do like a full year but I do ask people to think about while they’re doing it. Even if you do it for a short time, still think about if you have it with a mindset of like doing more in a long term. I’m not going to ask you to do that because we’re going to have a conversation to follow it up. But those are the big things. It doesn’t have to do everything, you don’t have to solve all the worldâ€™s problems overnight. Your values, something that moves the needle, you know more than zero. Think about it being permanent even if you don’t do it permanent. So if it’s you know, Jay, this one guy who did the picking up trash every day for a month, that was for a month, but some people have done things that were a week and it depends on the thing that you do. And some of them don’t require anyâ€¦Alright. Sorry. Some of them, like one guy, he and his wife moved to Belgium and when they got together they went from two cars to one and now going to Belgium they’re going to go to one car. And so there’s not real time thing on that. They’re just, they’re actually making a big lifestyle shift.
Joel: Yeah, I like the time back to that because it gives you a reflection point even if it’s going to be a long-term thing and lets you check in and a week or two weeks or month or whatever it is. I would say my life is in a little bit of flux right now but I’m going to do a challenge. I would like to either do the likeâ€¦ When Jenny was doing the no-containers thing, I liked the idea of it, because like it forces you to like, everyoneâ€™s always like, I don’t have anything in the house to drink immediately and so Iâ€™m like thinking about like, â€œOkay, I’ll just get like a jug and then brew tea in that and that then drink from that like, it’s better than anything the stores, it doesn’t have as much crap in it.â€ And you know, not going through twelve things a week.
And then the other dayâ€¦And I don’t know this is just you osmosis, osmosising, whatever just being around you, I was at the park the other day and I just saw like a [unintelligible] bottles all over the place. I was like, â€œReally? Really?â€ And just like picked a bunch of stuff up because, why is that in the park? Like what are you doing? So I would say like, I don’t know if there’s like a multipronged thing but what if I picked up like three things a day and I didn’t try it or try to do no like, no bottled beverages for you know, a week. Is a week too short, do you like to do things longer than a week? If we could do a week and then check in?
Joshua: Yeah, that’s great!
Joshua: For me that’s fine. I think that, I mean for some people a week is like a really big deal and for some people a week is not a big deal and almost everyone is finding out after they start, it’s what they anticipate is notâ€¦ Those are issues but other stuff comes up just like, when you’re running a marathon you think maybe it’s going to be your legs that get tired but it’s your mind that starts playing tricks on you. And like you might find that a week, itâ€™s not that it’s a week, it’s that if you happen to be visiting some friends and they’re like, â€œHey, let’s do thisâ€ and you’re stuck getting a bottle or you know, something happens that you didn’t predict and now, â€œWhat do I do in a social situation?â€, like that kind of thing, unexpected stuff that tends to be what gets people. Like do you know, I think you know [unintelligible], right?
Joshua: So he was doing one with not having food packaging and they had to go to this Marine camp for something and he wasn’t able to do it. Obviously, the guy can do a lot of things, it’s not that he couldn’t, it’s just that he didn’t anticipate that and so maybe for some people it’s the time, for other people it’s social or interacting, like interacting with other people seems to be something that gets in the way for people or travel when there is less control of your environment. And that’s part of it. I mean, the reason I’m doing this podcast is I think a lot of people out there, theyâ€™re like, â€œWell, I would do something but I tried it and it was just too hard. I couldn’t do it.â€ And I want people to hear, some people they have an easy time of it like, this is no problem, but a lot of people I’m finding surprisingly it’s the people hitting these challenges but they’re not saying, â€œAnd therefore I can’t do it.â€ And I think people get to hear, like they might hear you and think, â€œOh all these ultramarathons, he’s got the special abilityâ€ or something like that and maybe you do and it’ll be easy for you but I think more likely you’ll come back and youâ€™ll say, â€œThis came up and I really didn’t expect itâ€ or something like that. And I think people who have a public persona being very accomplished will, they’re ending up sharing vulnerabilities that I think make them more human and their achievements more accessible to people. Thatâ€™s what I thought. Maybe I am giving away a little bit too much. But everyoneâ€™s unique in their situation. So is a week too short? I don’t think so at all. If the virtue of you asking means, probably not and if it is, then in a week you’ll say, â€œThis was easy.â€
Joel: Let’s do that and then letâ€™s check in afterwards.
Joshua: So you said no bottled beverages and then there was picking up three pieces of trash.
Joshua: Okay, cool. And so, a week for each?
Joel: I was going to do both of them over the next week.
Joshua: Sounds good. So can we scheduled the next conversation for a week from now?
Joel: Yeah, letâ€™s do it.
Joshua: So I have my calendar out. Is four o’clock on next Thursday good?
Joel: Yeah. The same time as this one?
Joshua: Yeah, all right. So Iâ€™ll send you, you’ll get a calendar invite from me after I hang up.
Joshua: And yea,h anything before wrapping up? Anything that we missed?
Joel: No, I think thatâ€™s good.
Joshua: I really enjoyed the conversation, it was really like, I hope that doesnâ€™t sound too fawning or anything but I really rereading your stuff recently, I realized how much of an effect that stuff and you’re, what you put out there had on me. And it’s really enabled me to do a lot of things that I probably wouldnâ€™t have done otherwise and I’m really happy that I’ve done, so thank you for that.
Joel: Awesome! I’m always happy when people get something out because sometimes you post stuff and you’re like, â€œAll right, anyone going to get a thingâ€ and I was telling someone the other day, like the stuff, you donâ€™t think like, â€œWhy am I posting this?â€, like that always seems to be like stuff that takes and the stuff you’re like, â€œOh, I just put so much work into this thingâ€, you’re like, â€œOh, it’s going to be awesome.â€ And people are, â€œYeah, I donâ€™t know about that.â€ It’s always something like, â€œI donâ€™t know why I am posting thisâ€ seems to affect people so, Iâ€™m glad that had an impact.
Joshua: Cool, I’m glad to make that connection and I’ll talk to you in a week.
Joel: Cool man, awesome.
Joshua: Okay, bye.
Again, I highly recommend watching Joel’s TED talk to see how much you can change your life and how much so simple a thing, as not turning on the hot water, can change these things. I don’t think Joel would mind my saying, he went from very little to world-class accomplishments. Seven ultramarathons on seven continents to start seven schools, these are world class achievements. If you want to leave the environment you’re going to deal with people who feel, â€œIf I do X but the whole rest of the world doesn’t, then it doesn’t make a difference. So why should I bother?â€ You have to be able to change yourself if you want to be able to change other people. As you heard, it’s worth it. These cold showers are really nothing compared to the achievements that Joel has made. SIDCHAs make this possible. SIDCHA: Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity, check out www.sidcha.com. But watch Joelâ€™s TED Talk and for that matter listen to Joel’s podcast. Cold showers are really easy to do. Yeah, it’s hard, but you can do it. Youâ€™re not going to get injured, itâ€™s not going to cost any money. I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to achieve with this podcast, I hope a lot, whatever I achieve it’s going to be a lot due to SIDCHAs, especially cold showers. So you don’t have to do them but you always can and you’ll always get the benefits of resilience, discipline and all those other things that so many people think that you can’t learn.
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