Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The cold began to run through the extremities of Wim Hof’s body before she took her own life. The deep depression that his partner, Olaya, suffered and the voices he heard made the man paralyze with every step he took, terrified. Wim had four small children and his existence was not simple at all. The children, Olaya and he spent long periods in Spain where he tried to find a permanent job that could provide him with the financial stability that he so badly needed. But that did not happen and the father of the family was forced to get temporary jobs as a postman or tour guide to try to support his family.
To the economic difficulty was added the mental illness of Olaya who, little by little, seemed to lose the battle to lose herself within herself. In July 1995, the woman jumped from an eighth floor in the city of Pamplona to take her own life and tattoo an entire family with the indelible ink of sadness.
Olaya’s suicide was like a conviction.
Confused and devastated by the loss, Wim Hof set out on a quest to find meaning in his own existence.
The young man and the secret hidden in the ice
The first time Wim Hof felt the cold call was long before his suicide. At that time he was only 17 years old and did not understand what low temperatures could do for his body, his mind or his spirit. His instinctual reaction when strolling in front of one of the icy canals in Amsterdam’s Beatrixpark in the dead of winter was to strip off his clothes to go swimming in it.
The icy bath made him feel strangely alive.
Young Hof was a lover of yoga and meditation and was fascinated by the response of his body and soul to the extreme cold. Obsessed with the idea of being able to replicate what he had felt, he began to experiment with the temperature to which he could expose his body. Like a mad scientist, Hof began walking barefoot in the dead of winter, doing gymnastics in the snow without clothes, plunging into tubs full of ice to carefully record and study every reaction. In addition, he began to develop a breathing technique that made him feel strong, alert, alive. In the eyes of others, Wim was an eccentric, a deranged man who only sought to attract attention. Nobody understood what he was doing, nobody understood what he was looking for. Not even Olaya, who did not agree that he subjected the little ones to his experiments.
But back then cold was just a hobby. Wim Hof had to deal with the harsh reality of his wife’s schizophrenia, with unemployment and the difficult task of not falling apart, of not failing his wife, of being there for his children.
The power of redemption
After Olaya’s death , Wim began looking for answers. I wanted to understand what had happened; answer all the questions your mind asked; eradicate the sadness that was nesting in his throat, in his chest, in his voice and in his eyes. The only place where their existence seemed to make sense was surrounded by the cold. There man experimented, learned and observed. He went into a kind of trance that filled him with calm. In different ways, he inhaled and exhaled and then held the air in his lungs for as long as possible. Surprisingly that was enough to make the pain, deep and sharp, somehow lessen.
Little by little Wim Hof became convinced that breathing exercises, combined with exposure to extreme cold, had unmatched redemptive power. The cold allowed him to come into contact with a part of his mind that lay dormant before the comfort and passivity of modern life. The cold woke up the reptilian brain, that one that does not think, that only feels, but that can serve as a strange passageway to enter into deep contact with bodily reactions that might seem instinctive (like the secretion of adrenaline, for example). The man began to believe that Olaya could have overcome the disease that inhabited his body if he had subjected her to the cold and his breathing exercises.
Excited with his theory, Wim Hof began to communicate his practices to his close ones and to spread the benefits of his peculiar method. First to his children and friends, then to strangers who were intrigued by the feats that made him look like a true superman.
For Hof, the cause of the ills in the body and mind of his wife (and in all of us) was caused by a lack of contact with his own body and with nature . By combining exposure to extreme cold with adequate breathing, man promised to activate and control bodily reactions that lay in perpetual lethargy due to our comfortable and sedentary lifestyle, generating a profound impact on our mood and immune system. , in addition to allowing a mental control that would help us to be much stronger (perhaps invincible?) in the face of adversity .
The birth of the prophet of cold
Seeking notoriety , Hof began to perform acts that made the media turn to see him. On March 16, 2000, he swam 57.5 meters under the layer of a frozen lake in Finland, despite having his corneas frozen during a test dive the day before. On January 26, 2007, he ran a snow marathon completely barefoot in two hours and 16 minutes. In 2009 it was submerged for an hour, 42 minutes and 22 seconds in an ice-filled pond. In 2010 and 2013 he beat his own records for more than ten minutes. In 2007 he ascended to 7,200 meters above sea level wearing only shorts and boots to climb Everest (he failed to reach the top due to a recurring foot injury). In 2009 he conquered Kilimanjaro in shorts and barefoot. That same year he ran a full marathon in Namibia at over 40 degrees Celsius.
In total, Hof managed to achieve 26 Guinness records and almost without realizing it, the madman who swam naked on the ice became a kind of rock-star and a trademark that perplexed the doctors who, believing him a charlatan, studied their case and marveled at the inexplicable reactions of his body . He called himself The Ice-Man and began to swear to the whole world that with the right training anyone could do the same as him.
That oath would become the cornerstone of his endeavor.
It was his son, Enham, who had the idea of developing a business based on his father’s vision and creating the Wim Hof Method , a complete educational platform with tutorials, complete courses and even the possibility of scheduling an expedition to some icy place. to receive instruction from Ice-Man himself . In his own mission to tame pain and suffering, Wim Hof managed to create a business that seems to be in tune with the values of today’s world and with our desire to get in touch, in some way, with what lies hidden within. Ourselves.
The cold in your career
Beyond the health benefit that Wim Hof’s theory can offer us , the story of this unique entrepreneur also forces us to think about the state of our professional activity. Most likely, as with our bodies, over the years our own careers have fallen into a deep lethargy. Looking for safety and comfort, we end up doing basically the same thing every work day.
Week by week we follow the same routine: the meeting on Monday mornings, the call to follow up on the pending issues we have with a client, meals always in the same places, coffee at five in the afternoon. One thing or another is different, but in the end our working days end up being part of an eternal cycle that, year after year, will repeat itself over and over again. We operate in safe areas that could resemble the comfort of watching a thriller on television from an armchair, remote control in hand. We take few risks, we bet on the truth. We hardly move and, like our body, little by little our professional career is atrophied.
Wim Hof’s method is based on subjecting our body to extreme conditions to wake it up. Behind the suffering of frostbite is a sense of security that delights those who have tried it. Those who have tried swear to feel more alive than ever. What if we brought these same principles into the workplace? What if, believing in the strength of our own spirit, we took greater risks? What if one day we did things differently? Or if once and for all we dared to launch that product, to record that song or to publish the novel that we have stored in a drawer? What if we dared to face the fear of climbing, step by step, the slope of our own prejudices?
Perhaps what happened to Wim Hof would happen to us: we would discover that, despite pain, suffering and cold, we are really alive .