Five simple but uncomfortable life hacks

Introspective Wallpaper on Life : The pain of Discipline Two pains of ...
Embrace the first, or suffer the second
There are any number of tips, tricks, and techniques that you can use to improve various aspects of your life, from mood, to concentration, to awareness, to physical stamina, and so on.

Most of them are pretty benign and require little more than a bit of ingenuity, or a little extra cash, to put into practice, along with maybe a smidgen of willpower.

And then there are some which demand discipline and a healthy tolerance for pain- I would call it outright masochism- to incorporate into your daily routine, and are painful enough that your brain will jump straight out of your skull and start yammering before it'll shut up and let you do them.

Here are five of my favourite uncomfortable hacks that, if you use them, will prove worth the pain.

1. Cold Showers

... Matt Lee during the ice bucket challenge at Boston's Copley Square
Imagine enduring that, for five minutes straight, without relief
So you wake up on a cold and frosty winter morning, look outside, and see the snow piled two feet deep on the ground. It's 7am and still dark outside. The wind is blowing hard enough that you can hear it howling through the window panes. You know that the moment you step outside, you'll feel the knives of winter's cold stab into every last square centimetre of exposed skin.

The last thing you want to do is to step into the shower and crank the temperature waaaaaay down. Surely it would be better by far to turn the knob up so high that you'll emerge from your morning ablutions looking (and feeling) like a broiled lobster.

In fact, taking a cold shower is actually very good for you, on a number of levels.

Quite aside from the health benefits of improved circulation, higher sperm count, and a general feeling of considerable health and well-being, the biggest benefit of taking freezing showers in the morning is that you really don't feel intimidated by much else.

The biggest obstacle to taking a cold shower is always mental. You always find yourself wanting to avoid facing the extreme discomfort of stepping into a freezing cold shower in the morning, and rightly so. But your anticipation of the unpleasant consequences always makes your brain think that the downside is far greater than it really is.

In reality, once you step into the shower, rapidly scrub off, and step out shivering and swearing a blue streak from the massive brain freeze you're suffering, you'll quickly realise that, as bad as it was, it still wasn't as bad as you thought it was going to be.

The after-effects of a freezing cold shower are significantly positive. Your circulation is jump-started, and as a result, your body warms itself up very rapidly. The shock to your system results in a feeling of warmth radiating outward from your heart to your extremities, and- while not actually pleasant- is actually rather a good feeling. You will be wide awake after dousing yourself in frigid water.

Most importantly, your confidence will be sky-high because you will have met a challenge that your brain was trying very hard to tell you was impossible to meet, and you conquered it.

Hey, guess what else this applies to? That's right- approach anxiety!

2. Shaving with Olive Oil

The use of olive oil as a pharmaceutical or cosmetic product
The Romans used olive oil in place of soap
This idea is very difficult to explain to anyone who has shaved using shaving cream or soap all his life. But once you start shaving with olive oil, you'll almost surely never go back.

I first learned about the idea of using olive oil as a shaving lubricant from Jeffrey Tucker's book Bourbon For Breakfast, in which he laid out exactly how and why to use olive oil to shave.

This caught on with a few fellow bloggers, and one or two of them have given it a try. As for me, I've been doing it for a couple of years now, and I've noticed a few improvements in shaving as a result.

First, your skin feels much better afterwards. It doesn't feel damp or soggy the way it will after using shaving gel or cream. This is because shaving cream is specifically designed to soften your face- which gives it a spongy texture, and which is why shaving cuts happen easily.

Second, your skin will become stronger and more resilient, because there is less artificial crap being forced into its pores.

Third, you won't cut yourself shaving very easily unless you're doing something very stupid.

(I damn near shaved my chin off 10 days ago doing precisely that. Lots of blood involved. It wasn't as bad as it looked- not that this is a recommendation to start flaying yourself in front of a mirror, you understand.)

That's because the oil forms a thick, viscous layer between the blade and your skin, providing further protection.

The major downside to this is that your morning shave WILL be much more rough. It'll feel a bit like shaving with sandpaper at first. But take your time, be generous with the oil, and be sure to wipe or scrub away any residue on your face later with some sort of oil-free cleanser, and you'll be fine.

Note also- this method of shaving is far harsher on razor blades. You'll find that a disposable razor blade cartridge that might otherwise last you 6-8 weeks will last maybe half that time when shaving with oil. If this bothers you, consider using a safety razor rather than a cartridge-based system.

3. Myofascial Release/Trigger Point Therapy

This is just a pretentious way of saying "use a foam roller or a peanut to roll out knots and soreness".
Correcting the Foam Roller Thoracic Extension
Now with anti-gravity mode included free of charge
If you lift heavy weights of any kind, or are an active martial artist, a foam roller is an absolute must-have item. When used properly, it helps you undo knots of tension in your muscles, allowing blood to flow more freely to areas of soreness and pain. This speeds up the process of muscular healing and repair.

Unfortunately, it can be pure torture if you're really sore. Especially if you've shelled out a decent amount of money for a real foam roller, the kind that doesn't deform or collapse over time. Like this one:

Despite appearances, this is NOT a torture device- thought it feels like one sometimes
That thing there is knobbly for a reason. Rollers like these aren't cheap- they'll easily run you $40-$50- but they last longer than the simple cheap foam ones, and they're far more effective at releasing myofascial tension in your muscles.

Closely related to foam rollers are "peanuts". Now you can buy one of these for like $15 at a sports store- or you can make one yourself by taping together two tennis balls. (I prefer lacrosse balls, since they are solid and won't collapse or deflate over time.)

Peanut Roller - hart - rot
I know, it looks like a particularly strange sex toy
You use this by placing it directly under your back right where it starts to curve, and doing situps or crunches. This is a useful exercise to stop your back from rounding when doing deadlifts, for instance, and helps correct a nasty and very common modern phenomenon called kyphosis.

For hard-to-reach areas like, say, the back of your shoulder, or painful areas like your elbow, I recommend taking an old tennis ball and pushing it into and around the affected area for a couple of minutes. You can also use your fingers to probe and massage such points, though I've found this to be a bit less effective.

I warn you, though- this hurts if you're really sore or if you have tendinitis or an inflamed muscle.  If you're really sore, using a foam roller on your back or legs or thighs is going to feel like your body is being pulverised by a meat tenderiser. It is very painful- but it's vitally necessary to keeping yourself supple and healthy.

I strongly recommend taking five minutes every morning to do some trigger-point therapy. I can tell you that when I don't do it, I often pay the price later in the day; my back and shoulders stiffen up and it becomes harder to get into the gym or onto the training mat to work out.

4. Juicing

Post Holiday Juice Fast / Detox (Happy New Year 2011!)
THIS kind of juicing- what did you think I meant???
Now most people would find it odd to think that juicing can be unpleasant. I've written about the virtues of juicing before, and I stand by those comments. It is a great way to get some very useful vitamins and minerals into your system, and it's also a great way to clean out your liver and kidneys.

The reason I say this is unpleasant is because of the cost and time involved.

Let's be clear about this: juicing is not cheap, even if you stick to relatively "cheap" green juices involving kale or spinach.

The problem here is that vegetables like kale, carrots, or celery require a hell of a lot of produce to generate sufficient juice for one's needs. And that's before we get to the additional cost of fruits for taste.

On top of this, it takes time and effort to clean out your juicer after every use- which you absolutely must do in order to avoid picking up a nasty bug at some point.

And then we get to the really painful part of juicing: the stuff just doesn't really taste that good if you're just using vegetables. Which means that you have to add fruit to sweeten your juices a little bit, and that immediately adds cost to the process.

You can circumvent a lot of this by simply going to a local juice bar and picking up a vegetable and fruit blend. One of the things I miss the most about New York is the fact that, throughout most of the year, there is a mobile juice bar manned by a very nice Vietnamese couple standing right outside my office. Pretty much every day, I would stop by to pick up a juice smoothie involving carrot juice, beet juice, and some fruit (usually banana), all blended together.

But this isn't cheap either. Those juices cost me $4 every day. If you buy lunch in New York city, the cost adds up quickly.

Despite the expense, I still recommend juicing for anyone of any age. It will make you feel better on a daily basis, and the health benefits are well known and well understood. The best investment that you can make is in your body and your health, and that's exactly how you should look at spending money on veggie juice blends.

5. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting to Lose Weight vs Diets
Land whale ahoy! Harpoons at the ready!
Intermittent fasting is exactly what it sounds like: you simply don't eat for set or regular periods of time. There are a few different ways to do this, but all of them involve denying yourself caloric intake and nutrition for certain periods of time.

All intermittent fasting approaches focus, quite simply, on regulating your insulin levels. As adherents of a Paleo/primal approach understand well, this is the key factor involved in regulating your overall body composition, fat levels, and ability to lose weight.

One way is to use, say, Martin Berkhan's LeanGains approach. Now as I understand it, this basically comes down to fasting for 16 hours, then feeding for 8, every day. This approach works to regulate your insulin levels throughout the day- and this is critical for weight loss and fat burning. Your body will burn through its stores of carbohydrates and fat, and then will start, effectively, burning itself in order to fuel its daily needs.

Another approach is to eat pretty much whenever you want throughout most of the week- and then use a single day of the week to reset your insulin by simply not eating anything for up to 24 hours.

I do a combination of these things. Most weekdays, I wake up in the morning and don't eat anything before 12pm. I use coffee, tea, and water to keep my appetite at bay. I then eat a lot of vegetables, fat, and protein for lunch, avoid snacking between meals, work out in the evening, and finally eat a big dinner around 9pm. I repeat this as often as I can during the week.

(In the interests of honesty and full disclosure, I should point out that I do drink milk with my coffee and tea.)

On Saturday nights, I eat a really hearty dinner, essentially in preparation for the fast to come. On Sunday, I simply don't eat anything, at all, all day long until about 7pm, at which point my feeding cycle begins again.

I've noticed several major benefits from this.

First, until fairly recently I would lift heavy and hard on Sundays, while effectively starving myself- and often found that my lifting results benefited from working out on a totally empty stomach with nothing to drink but water.

Second, your concentration does improve. Your mental clarity increases when you're fasting.

Third, you learn to tolerate low-level discomfort very easily. Make no mistake- there is NOTHING fun about denying yourself food. But if you build up the mental discipline needed to look at a cupcake or pizza slice while your stomach is growling and simply say, "NO", well, what is there that you can't do?

I do need to make it very clear, however, that an absolute prerequisite for intermittent fasting is some kind of high-protein, high-fat diet. You simply won't be able to do this if you're consuming a large amount of processed sugars and carbs every day- your body just won't be able to handle it. People who follow the "Standard American Diet" are often amazed to see me go long periods without food while suffering no apparent discomfort; when I tell them that I've gone as much as 28 hours without food before, they usually look at me with a mix of horror and incredulity.

Doesn't change the fact that I've done it before and could do it again if I so chose.

Don't kid yourself about this, though- intermittent fasting is NOT fun. It is NOT pleasant, at least not at first. It WILL demand discipline and iron will to follow. But the benefits are worth it.

Comments

  1. Intermittent fasting is awesome. You're right, though, it's very hard to pass up the cookies/ice cream/donuts when they're in front of you but..... You're also right on the comments of those who have either never heard of it or believe (cause Dr. Oz said so) that you have to eateateateateateateat all day. IF is much easier if you're keto, also. Lost almost a hundy pounds from IF/Keto.

    Cold showers are a bitch. Nuff said.

    If you could, although I'm not sure if you've ever done it to this point or not since I don't remember, could you scribble together something on beginner lifting and technique and such. I've never really been into a gym with any sort of regularity and I'm sick of being a skinny fatass.

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    1. Yeah, I wrote a post back in early 2013 about the benefits of lifting. It's a bit generic, though, and it's more about motivation than it is about an actual lifting programme.

      I'll put something together as a post later this week.

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