344: Scott Carney: How Extreme Conditions Will Help us Reclaim Our Lost Evolutionary Strength

Investigative journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney has worked in some of the most dangerous and unlikely corners of the world. His work blends narrative non-fiction with ethnography. Currently, he is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and a 2016-17 Scripps Fellow at the Center for Environmental Journalism in Boulder, Colorado. “What Doesn’t Kill Us” is his most recent book; other works include “The Red Market” and “A Death on Diamond Mountain.”

Currently, he is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and a 2016-17 Scripps Fellow at the Center for Environmental Journalism in Boulder, Colorado. “What Doesn’t Kill Us” is his most recent book; other works include “The Red Market” and “A Death on Diamond Mountain.”

Carney was a contributing editor at Wired for five years and his writing also appears in Mother Jones, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Foreign Policy, Discover, Outside and Fast Company. His work has been the subject of a variety of radio and television programs, including on NPR and National Geographic TV. In 2010, he won the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for his story “Meet the Parents,” which tracked an international kidnapping-to-adoption ring. Carney has spent extensive time in South Asia and speaks Hindi.

Favorite Success Quote

“In the battle of man versus nature… nature will always win” ~Wif Hoff

Key Points

1. Stress is Essential to Achieve Your Potential 

If you want to achieve your true potential, then you need to expose yourself to stress.


Our lives are so easy today that our bodies react to relatively mundane and benign activities (like first dates, job interviews, and public speaking) by releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and other neurochemicals associated with our “Fight or Flight” response.

This keeps our minds and bodies in a constant state of anxiety and fear even though none of the activities we are undertaking are particularly dangerous.

By exposing your body to intense environmental stressors, such as extreme cold and heat you can reprogram your brain to respond to everyday stimuli more appropriately.

If you regularly suffer through freezing water, difficult physical challenges, and extreme temperatures, your mind will be able to see other “problems” for what they are.

2. Most “Extreme” Accomplishments Were Once the Norm

Our species has grown weak.

We no longer experience true challenge on a regular basis and as such our bodies have become soft and almost incapable of what they once could achieve with ease.

Our bodies are phenomenal adaptive machines.

The more stress that we expose ourselves to, the better we will be able to respond to stresses in the future.

Just think about weight lifting.

When you begin training, you will likely struggle to bench 135 lbs.

But as your body adapts to the external stimuli of the weights, you will be able to push yourself to new heights and achieve feats previously outside of your realm of possibility.

Things like 4-minute breath holds, withstanding sub-0 temperatures, and battling off disease are actually trainable abilities that your body has simply “forgotten” because of our modern ease.

Since we no longer have to run from saber-toothed tigers, suffer through nights of almost unbearable cold in nothing but a fur jacket, or go for days without eating as we hunt for our next meal, our bodies have softened.

However, the incredible evolutionary strength and prowess that our ancestors possessed is still within us.

We just have to be willing to bring it out.

3. Avoiding Stress is Avoiding Life

Problems are a sign of life.

If you do not have struggles of some kind, if you are not constantly being challenged and forced into uncomfortable situations, then you are likely dead.

Instead of avoiding this, embrace it.

Life is about overcoming better and better problems.

Accept that stress is inevitable and seek to ensure that you improve the problems you must overcome on a daily basis.

4. You Can Accomplish Huge Things by Doing Small Things Consistently

There is an old saying that goes “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

So many of us have these grand dreams and goals, our own proverbial elephants if you will.

And so many of us try and swallow the damn things whole.

We want to become a millionaire over night, write a best selling book in a month, or meet our dream girl tomorrow morning.

What you must realize is that great achievment is possible, but it requires that you take a number of small actions consistently over time.

If you want to become a millionaire, start by figuring out how you can earn your first $1,000, then $10,000 then $100,000.

If you want to write a book, start by writing 500 words each morning with your coffee.

If you want to meet your dream girl, introduce yourself to 2 new women a day for a month.

Real success is possible, but you need to be realisitic in the timeline that you set for yourself.

5. You Can’t Control Circumstances. Just How You Respond to Them 

Life happens.

People die, loved ones leave us, indutrsties tank, sicknesses occur.

That is an inescapable part of our ultimately tragic existence and anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to sell you something or completely delusional.

And while you cannot control any of these circumstances, you can control how you respond to them.

You are in complete control of the story that you tell yourself about what any event means.

You can either choose a story that empowers you and allows you to face life with a smile or you can choose a story that disempowers you and robs you of your power.

The choice is yours.

Influential Books

1. The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

2.  The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Valliant

3. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides


Connect with Scott Carney


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