January 24, 2015

Getting Uncomfortable and Turning Down the Temps

On Wednesday, I wrote about making little changes to have a big impact. In that post, I focused on keystone habits – like how I now automatically hit play on a TED talk as part of my getting ready morning ritual. (This morning’s talk: How to become more confident — lay down on the street for 30 seconds. Basically encourages you to get comfortable being uncomfortable, which relates well to this post, though it’s not the main point.) However, I read a cool article last night that made me think about a new little change I’d like to try.

I have always been someone who gets cold easily, and also usually has a low body temperature. (I usually hover somewhere in the 97 degree range.) I remember one time, when I was a little kid, my mom kept me home from school because my temperature was 98.7 – that was high for me! I don’t really do anything special to make up for the fact that I am apparently slightly cold-blooded; I am just always the one in the room who has a pashmina wrapped around my neck for extra warmth (or sometimes am even using it as a blanket).

Now that I live in my own apartment, I can keep the thermostat at any temperature I like… and it’s kind of embarrassing how hot I like it to be in here. I think nothing of keeping the thermostat set at 74° F during the day, especially because my laptop workspace is in a corner flanked by two huge picture windows, so it’s one of the colder parts of the home. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself to pretend I’m not just elderly in my thermostat preferences.) At night, I do drop it down to 67° F when I start getting ready for bed, but that’s also in large part because I love curling up with a big stack of blankets on top of me. Right now, I have a regular comforter and a down comforter on my bed, because I love the extra weight of having both. At hotels, I’ve also been known to request a room with two queen beds, then steal the comforter from the other bed and double up on mine.

Bedroom Stacked Comforters
I like to pretend that the pink down comforter at the foot of my bed is just there for decoration, but really, I pull it up to my chin every night.

However, yesterday I read James Hamblin’s article in The Atlantic, Does Global Warming Make Me Look Fat? He talks about the health benefits of being cold, and in particular, the research of Wayne Hayes and Ray Cronise. I had heard of Ray Cronise before through Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body, but when I learned that he has a TED talk, of course I clicked right over. Here’s Cronise’s talk on What’s the Coolest Way to Lose Weight:

As I mentioned, I had read Four-Hour Body a few years ago, so I was already familiar with the concept of cold thermogenesis to boost metabolism. However, it honestly sounded too uncomfortable. I like to be warm, and even after all that evidence, I just don’t believe that being cold would have enough of an impact on my weight to trade in my comfort! But something about reading Hamblin’s article yesterday gave me pause. (Perhaps because last week a friend poked fun at me for just how hot my apartment is?) I’m not going to go full-on ice vest, but I’m going to start gradually dropping the temperature in small incremental phases.

Daytime plan:

1. Immediately stop setting the thermostat anywhere above 70° F. Allow myself to wear whatever extra layers I want to “survive.”

2. Start shedding layers until I’m comfortable hanging out in the apartment with the thermostat at 69° F, with regular clothes on.

3. Start slowly decreasing the thermostat one degree  at a time. Like a lobster in a pot of water, I’m hoping that change will be imperceptible to me, but that my body will naturally adjust. (Speaking of water: not going to take cold showers, because I love hot showers too much, but I’m going to try to not set it quite as high and also limit my time in there.)

How low will I go with the thermostat? Not the rather crazy 50° F that Cronise has become accustomed to! But I’d be happy if I were comfortable in my apartment around 65°/66° F. Still totally reasonable!

Nighttime plan:

1. Immediately stop setting the thermostat anywhere above 65°.

2. Ditch my down comforter so I am sleeping under just a regular comforter.

3. Like Cronise, start folding down my regular comforter so I’m using less and less of it each night.

Probably super pathetic that I have to lay out a game plan for myself to make this adjustment, I know! But hey, goals are much easier to achieve when you stop to think about your exact gameplan to reach them, so I’m spelling it out.

As I mentioned, I don’t expect this to really impact my weight, but I am hoping it will make me a tiny bit healthier – and the nighttime cold will probably help me sleep better too. (Great when I am not getting enough sleep lately! Work and house hunting is keeping me way too busy.) I have always thought of myself as someone who is just “naturally cold all the time”, but this article/video makes me think I might have some control over that. Even if there are no changes to my health, it would be nice to not be uncomfortable when I’m in an environment where I can’t control the temp (e.g., draft restaurant)… and it’s definitely going to be good for my home utility bill 🙂

Full disclosure: I am going to Puerto Rico/Florida later this week for work, so really only have to “endure” a few days of low temperatures before I jump on a plane to warm weather and get a break. But as I’ve written before, sometimes the best time to commit is when you can delay starting!


20 thoughts on “Getting Uncomfortable and Turning Down the Temps”

  1. That’s so interesting! My boyfriend always teases me that I have the smallest comfortable temperature range – I’m always either freezing or too hot. I can see the benefit, but it’s hard to be uncomfortable when it’s so easy to add a layer or roll down the window! I’m going winter camping for the first time next week, so I better get used to the idea of being cold. I’ll tell myself that it’s good for my health!

    1. I don’t mind heat as long as it’s dry heat. For example, I was totally comfortable in the triple digits in Dallas (even working out outside at lunchtime, in the heat of the day) because it was so dry. I hate humidity though!

  2. Do changes occur in the human body because of the thermal load, nutrition, and/or exercise, or in spite of some or all those environmental factors? Are perceived, measurable changes because of the stimulus, related to the stimulus, or purely coincidental?

    At the end of his TEDMED talk, Cronise states that much of the research on thermal loading comes all the way from the 1950s. From nearly that far back, there is some interesting work done by bio-feedback researchers that found humans can influence their autonomic body responses merely (ok, the use of merely here might be a stretch) from deliberate, focused attention.

    Which is easier: changing environmental factors or changing the way we think? And is there a method, or factor, that will promote permanent, long-term behavior change – with the least amount of effort?

    DISCLOSURE: my new favorite fad is using the ‘because of’/’in spite of’ dichotomy as often as possible!

    1. Changing your thinking is always hard; it requires lots of attention to it and lots of practice. So I think the question is, how hard is to to change your environment? In this case I think it’s easy to turn the thermostat down, because I can just not think about it once it’s done. (As long as I am doing it gradually enough where I don’t really notice.) Finding a way to achieve permanent long-term behavior change with minimal effort is exactly the desired end goal!

    2. Is changing the way we think really the hardest part? I’m not saying you are wrong, but I’m not saying you’re right either (because the beauty is we really don’t know!).

      How do we step outside and run the first mile? How do we progress to running 26 miles? Is it a bunch of small, incremental steps that progressively over time gets us to the finish line?

      Or, is it, sometime before we run that first mile, that some invisible switch that we don’t even really know exists turns on? Do we acquire the deep-seated emotion in the core of our being that tells our muscles that we can run not only one mile but as many miles as we want to? Perhaps once that switch turns on for the first time it is only a matter of time before records are set?

      How hard is it to turn that switch on? Twenty-four hours a day I can think about that switch, believe in that switch, focus on that switch. But I can’t run 24 hours a day. I can’t go around in an insulated bubble 24 hours a day.

      Yeah, I know it is not an either/or question. I am sure that the best answer combines the two philosophies. But could the best answer, the answer that leads to contentment, satisfaction and riches, lean more heavily on the mind and less on the environment?

    3. That is so interesting to think of the invisible switch – and I definitely agree with that philosophy. When I try to go for a long run, the hardest part is getting out the door. Once I’ve done one mile, it somehow makes sense to do the next 25 miles… even though logically, that doesn’t make sense at all. I don’t consider quitting at each mile marker; I really only consider quitting before I start.

      Part of me wonders if that is linked to an innate sense of commitment. I’m someone who sometimes clings to things too tenaciously – I’ve stayed in relationships that weren’t working too long, and if I start a book that I don’t like, I usually still read it to the end. Whereas someone who is arguably better than me at actually living according to the economic principle of sunk costs would not do either of those things… and perhaps they would find it more difficult to stick with a long run because they need to keep recommitting to it rather than making one decision.

    4. Hey Laura, you did it to me again. You mentioned one thing (sunk costs), and got me to look into something else (subjective value theory). SVT is something on my list to understand better, so it was a pleasure. It sounds like you are just more optimistic of future value (i.e. bfs, books, marathon fees [?]).

      In regard to developing the motivation to do something: do we need to arrange the environment to encourage the desired behavior, or do we just need to find the internal switch inside ourselves to just start doing it; consider this:

      Most of the things everybody does on a daily basis, that is, most of the decisions that we all make, are not made with conscious thought (even the big decisions). I believe it could be argued that most of the decisions that you and I are going to make tomorrow, next month, next year, we have already made (but we don’t know it yet). All of our life experiences, habits, and thoughts are forming subconscious decisions about the future before we even get there. If this is true, then it puts the oft asked question in a new light: what are we doing today, for tomorrow?

    5. To your last question – I think that’s where it gets to changing the default value. Maybe our habit is to not change our 401k plan from whatever it’s set at… but if you work for a company that automatically cranks it up another percent each year, you’ve changed what you’re doing without having to make any conscious choice about it. That’s where I think that changing my default thermostat setting will help me to instill healthier behavior – I can “set it and forget it”. While I agree with your point that we make a lot of decisions without conscious thought, that’s exactly what I would like to change about myself – ensure that the decisions that matter are things I have given thought to and not just something that I’ve let happen. (Which is why I love reading cool articles and listening to podcasts that give me a new point of view and encourage me to change my thinking and habits!)

    6. I’m going to try to wrap this up…I hope. 🙂

      Quick question: I try to keep the conversation on a ‘higher’ ground, that is, to speak in generalities and theory, but you seem to like to speak in specifics or direct context. Do you get frustrated/annoyed/bothered by my deliberate choice of not speaking through my personal experiences or with specific examples? I probably could, but I don’t think it would further the depth of conversation.

      (BTW, the 401k was a good example. I had the option of choosing how much I wanted to pre-tax contribute to an HSA last year. As the new year was coming around we had the option of modifying our benefits choices – all I was thinking was how much more can I contribute each month? Once you start seeing it add up so quickly it kinda snowballs…in a good way!)

    7. I don’t get bothered by the generalities/theories at all; I think you pose things in such a way that it really makes me think, and I love it! I hadn’t noticed it before but I guess I do tend to give my examples as specifics… and hopefully that doesn’t bother YOU either 🙂

  3. This is extremely interesting. I’m always quite cold but lately, I’ve gotten warmer and turn my air conditioning on in the car. I’m getting used to being a little cold. I’m interested to see how you feel in maybe a week or two.

  4. This is hilarious to me! I like to keep our place on the chilly side in the winter… ’cause it’s winter, you’re supposed to be a little cold. Plus the heat is so drying to my skin! We have our heat at 64 during the day when we are home, and 58 at night & when we are at work. But I’m thinking about turning it even lower at night because I get sooo hot & sweaty! I’ve usually got a couple of body parts hanging out of the bed covers at any given time during the night to try to cool off.

    1. Sarah, you are totally allowed to laugh at me; meanwhile, I am loving your comment because it shows me that I can push this a LOT farther than I first anticipated 😉

  5. I’m working on this too! I had my thermostat set at 68, am down to 62, and plan to go down to 58-60. I thought it would take longer for me to get used to the temperature change, but it’s been about 2 weeks and I’m very comfortable at home now. I definitely need to wear socks or slippers or else I start getting chilly. I’ve found that I sleep better at the lower temperatures, and am having an easier time turning off and settling down at night. Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! After your comment and Sarah’s, I think I need to adjust my expectations and plan to go even more aggressive than I am. Right now, though, it’s hard to see progress, since outdoor temps have been in the 70s so my apartment has been really warm even without the heat being on.

  6. Oh my goodness! I can’t imagine keeping the house that warm! You will definitelt adjust though. I used to always feel cold in my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s condo (plus I have an under active thyroid) but eventually his temps became mine, too. We kept our house at 59/62 (night/day) until our son was born this fall!

  7. Eh, you’re used to it and you’ll adjust. I remember mentioning it felt warm one day and it was 62. Ugh. We can’t wait til the baby can better “fend for himself” so we can crank it back down 🙂

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