A Dutch extreme athlete, famous for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures, and breaking world records along the way; Wim Hof is a man on a mission. Millions swear by his simple, accessible exercises, known as the Wim Hof Method. He believes this method, the basis of which dates back centuries, is the key to unlocking the unlimited power of the mind and he’s collecting the science to make that a fact.
The Wim Hof Method, outlined in the book of the same title, involves a combination of breathing techniques and cold exposure with benefits including cognitive function, stress reduction and overall wellbeing. The method has application for endurance and strength athletes, but also for entrepreneurs and business leaders.
After probing Hof during an exclusive interview, he assured me that his method was replicable: “What I can do, anybody can do.” Here’s how it can be applied to your success.
Keeps you sharp
As business leaders, we want to be alert throughout the day. To be sharp, quick, and not miss a trick. To think of those great ideas and find the solution that no one else can. How much more can you achieve when you have slept well, are in great health and feel ready to take on the day?
Carrying out the method’s breathing techniques each morning, which Hof recommends, involves 30-40 deep, conscious breaths followed by a breath hold after the final exhale. Repeating this, 3-4 times in a row, helps the body replace its oxygen supplies faster, leading to new levels of alertness. “Your decision-making capacity enhances and you win time because of the method” he told me.
Hof also recommends the breathing practice when hit with an afternoon slump. “If you feel tired in the brain in the afternoon, which is logical because of the chemical residue that has built up; give yourself 20-minutes to do the breathing and you are sharp again!” It changes the physiological makeup of your body and, according to the book, helps oxygen get to parts of the brain that are not usually reached.
Health, prosperity and happiness are intrinsically linked, and each can serve the other. Stress in the body manifests itself physically; in dandruff, migraines, acne, and other inflammation-related concepts. If you’ve ever felt shattered after a week working, or noticed physical changes when you’re stressed, it’s likely due to this link. According to Hof, “Through these tools [within the method], we are awakening the power to deal with physical stress.”
According to the research and studies that back up Hof’s method, the breathing techniques work to change the PH value of the blood, from acidic to alkaline “and stay there for almost all of the day”. Participants were tested after carrying out the method over time, and this was proven to be the case. Acidity is the cause of inflammation. Science suggests if acidity is reduced, inflammation is also reduced, and the body could be less susceptible to becoming ill.
The book describes how Hof himself participated in a medical trial. He was injected with a form of e-coli and was tasked with resisting its impact. Of everyone injected; Hof was the only one who was able to resist the endotoxin, by using his breathing techniques and meditating. He later taught 12 volunteers how to do the same, proving it was no fluke.
A strong mindset
What do you believe you are capable of? After you’ve heard adverse news and had a tough month, do you believe you’re capable of achieving amazing things? Possibly not. The trials and tribulations of the everyday can wear down even the most strong-willed of leaders.
One element of the Wim Hof Method is cold showers. In Hof’s own words, “A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away!” The method recommends starting by adding 15-30 seconds of cold at the end of your normal shower, before progressing to an entire cold shower and then being able to sit happily in a bath of icy water.
Hof agreed that the cold water could be a metaphor for running a business. The journey is going to be relentless. Whatever is thrown at you will feel like it’s on a mission to bring you down. It will come at you and keep going and your only recourse is how you manage your mind to deal with and even enjoy it. Followers of the method control their breathing and learn to not only tolerate the cold but relax into their ice baths and feel invincible.
Hof has worked with entrepreneurs including “lots of billionaires” and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who now takes daily ice baths. Exposure to the cold can serve to reduce someone’s resting heart rate, leading them to feel refreshed and better able to withstand the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship.
The Wim Hof Method app guides users through the breathing practice and teaches someone to learn what their body is capable of compared to their mind’s limitations. During the breath hold, your mind will give up far faster than your body. Learning how to control your impulses has carryover benefits wider than the breath.
Every business is better run by a resilient leader. One that stays calm and collected and responds rather than reacts. The hot-headed boss who stomps around on the warpath is likely not in control of how they are acting. Neither is the salesperson who blurts out the wrong words, the writer who can’t focus, or the start-up owner struggling to remember their pitch.
When receiving news of the economy, government instruction, or sales figures; the best leaders process the information and decide on the way forward without being held hostage to their impulses and emotions. Those who have already had practice, in their daily breathing method, might just have an edge.
Leading with love
Running a business is mostly about getting on with people. If you can develop and sustain great professional relationships, you can do better work and go further together. The strength of someone’s network is directly proportionate to the strength of their character and quality of their professional relationships.
I learned from Hof that the combination of breathing, cold exposure and meditation, the three main elements of the method, develops a spirituality and oneness in its devotees. By going deeper into yourself, you develop a deeper understanding of other people, which helps you resonate and relate to them. Aren’t the best leaders those that not only understand what others want, but how to provide it? In Hof’s words, “You meet people in their depth, in their soul, and the business is done already. It’s smooth from there.”
Not only that, but when you feel great within yourself, you are leading from a solid foundation. Your needs have been met, so you focus on serving your audience, customers and team. You’re not looking over your shoulder at competitors or desperately haggling for the sale; you’re on the same team as everyone who crosses your path. You ooze confidence and it translates effortlessly into strength and prosperity.
Overcome your scepticism
There was a point in time in which no one understood the concept of electricity. It took a few people with a newfound idea and a vision to harness its power into the appliances and applications that we have today.
I remind myself of that story constantly, as a nudge that we probably still don’t know what is possible. The method faces its fair share of critics, but Hof isn’t fazed. “Even the toughest of people come to me, and within a couple of days, I make them bloody stronger! Body and mind.” Testing out new concepts and seeing if they bring benefit is part of the journey of continuous improvement for myself and my work. It’s not “Why?” but, as Hof himself roared, “So why not?!”
Sometimes the simplest answer is the best. Could it be that we have overlooked the simplicity of the breath and the cold in favour of more complicated interventions? Are we conditioned to believe that significant change must involve convoluted measures? The Wim Hof Method is certainly worth a try.