Climbing a mountain in shorts – and what I learnt about empowering others

You don't climb a snowy mountain every day, not least half-naked only wearing shorts and boots. Neither do you usually walk barefoot in snow, do snow angels without clothes or jump into an ice-cold river. Yet, together with a bunch of great human beings I did all these things last week as part of a Wim Hof Method experience.


It has been a truly memorable week with many learnings, one of which was around empowerment: how do you empower people to perform out-of-the ordinary but certainly challenging actions and grow from it?

These are my reflections as a participant on what our trainers did and who they were as leaders:


  • They found the right balance between on one hand giving input and setting guardrails, and on other hand having us experience things for ourselves and moving within the guardrails, perhaps sometimes crashing against them. We chose how long to stay in the cold water, but were told that 2 minutes is all you need for the health benefits. They gave us several techniques how to get warm in the cold and we picked what suited us. But they also knew how to switch gears and direct us in critical situations: telling us to put on our clothes when we arrived on the peak of the mountain and helping us get into them.

  • They had an acute awareness, and were committed to learning and adapting the experience to the group. Every evening they would gather to review the day and see what would be the right course of action for the following day, taking into account the performance and state of the group. They were role models in being acutely aware of what was going on. That awareness put them in control to make things even better.

  • They exuded trust. It wasn't anything particular they did (at least that I could notice), but rather it was who they were – you could tell they lived this in their own life: the power of cold exposure, breathing and mindset. And you could feel that they really cared and had the best in mind for you – for your physical health and mental growth.


The trust I placed in my trainers, their awareness and commitment to learning, and the skills I learnt from them and the guardrails set by them meant that I took full responsibility for my experience:

  • Accepting what is and what is not in my control. When I accepted the cold as given, I could then fully own how I dealt with it: how I dealt with the thoughts running through my head, how I reacted to other people's reactions, and how I could still keep my body warm. Why take the cold as given and not just put on clothes? Because sometimes life doesn't give us clothes, we cannot always control what life throws at us, but we are always in full control over how we deal with it. And the harsh simplicity of the cold is a great teacher for that reality.

  • Setting an intention. Every day, we were encouraged to set an intention for what we wanted to do, try out or how we wanted to approach things. It gave me focus and put me in the driving seat. I would jump into the river, stay longer than 2 minutes in cold water, or do a snow angel without clothes not because others around me would do it, but because that was my intention for the day.

  • Being more aware of what is going on, e.g. being aware of the time the body needs to warm up once you are out of the cold and keeping focus in the meantime (as our trainers said, “it's not over till it's over”). Beside the increased physical awareness for what is going on in my body, I also became more aware of what is going on in my mind. What the cold showed me was that what is going on in my mind is not what is 'really' going on (whatever that 'really' is): when I stepped into the ice-cold river, all the stories and thoughts in my head (e.g. How should I best go into the water? Is this really healthy? What if I can't handle it?) vanished and what was left was the cold – and the moment of being in the cold. It was a moment of being aware of the present. And it was a lesson in being aware of what is thought and what isn't it. I believe our trainers were role-models in being more aware as the basis for learning.

I am grateful to our trainers - Douwe & Josephine - for what was a journey of personal growth and a lesson in how to empower others. I am also grateful to the other participants with who I shared this journey. I will write another post on what I learned from our group dynamic about how teams can climb the metaphorical mountain.

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