Firewalking: A New But Dangerous Motivational Technique

Firewalking: A New But Dangerous Motivational Technique

Fire running, i.e. walking over glowing coals, is a controversial motivational technique that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Some see it as an effective method while others say it is total bullshit. And there are a lot of issues that come up with firewalking.

People are promoting it as a new technique, but the fact is that the earliest references to this practice of walking on burning coals are more than 4,000 years old. Such a religious ritual was followed in India, among others. It was part of ceremonies of initiation, purification, healing, invocations for a good harvest, and much more. We also know that there are ancient peoples who still practice walking on coals, such as the kahunas (priests) in certain indigenous Hawaiian tribes. Nowadays they walk on burning lava. The indigenous people of the Kalahari in Africa practice similar rituals.

So firewalking is anything but new, although we may assume so for the modern world. It resurfaced and became popular in the United States in the 1970s. Its main proponent was Tolly Burkan, who said he read an article in Scientific American   and since then he has walked on hot coals with no problem. He has published books about his experiences and says that aliens abducted him.

“An unexciting truth can be overshadowed by an exciting lie.”

Aldous Huxley

Man with rain cloud over his head

The basics of firewalking

Firewalking advocates say it is a motivational technique that promotes personal growth. In their minds it is a useful tool to build their self-confidence, confront their fears and increase their motivation. They all draw these assumptions from a feeling of unique empowerment when they manage to walk on burning coals, which gives them a better picture of themselves.

You know that almost everyone is afraid of stepping on hot coals. But those who overcome this fear and take their first step will be able to take the next steps too. A radical change will be initiated that will erase negative beliefs and cultivate positive ones.

There are also life coaches, coaches and gurus who are great advocates and sometimes even practitioners of firewalking. They usually use metaphors to instill or reinforce positive beliefs. Walking on the burning coals would be a metaphor for other challenges that their clients face.

Walk on coals

Those who practice firewalking state that both successes and failures during the exercises would affect theirs. That is, their values ​​and beliefs are subject to change as they put their feet on the hot coals. And when that happens, they can get a realistic picture of what they are capable of. This then affects their self-confidence.

They say that walking on coals of 480 ° C helps reprogram the mind. If you master this dangerous challenge, you will surely be able to take on any other challenge.

Feet on hot coals

There are three steps in the process of firewalking. These are:

  • Identification. This step is for the practitioner to define their personal goals and find out which of their limiting thoughts are preventing them from achieving them.
  • To learn. Firewalking is designed to help them overcome fears and learn to trust themselves so they can move forward.
  • Change. In this step, they nurture their desire for change, because running successfully on fire means learning to break the barriers between them and their goals.

The fire walkers hope is to empower themselves to face difficult situations. They want the experience of walking on the hot coals to internalize the idea that if they didn’t move, they would be burned. If they didn’t move on, they’d be hurt even more. Instead, you need to appear confident and move forward no matter what.

Firewalking is now common in companies trying to “empower” their employees. Some examples of companies that have tried this technique include Microsoft, American Express, and Coca-Cola.

What happens when people walk on coals?

The whole idea is that a person is strong enough to walk on burning coals and make it to the other side unharmed. Success proves to the fire walker that he is stronger and more capable than he thinks. But from a physical point of view, there are some aspects that simply cannot be ignored.

Person during fire running

According to Luis Alfonso Gámez, a fire- walking critic and author of the article 254 Euros por aprender a caminar sobre brasas  (in German: 254 Euros to learn to walk on coals,  not available in German), the reality is less altruistic. In fact, he says that anyone can, that there is no need to prepare, and that there is definitely no need to pay anyone to be shown how to do it. He bases these claims on physical facts, which we summarize here:

  • Walking on hot coals is like putting out a candle with your fingers. And the flame of the candle is actually hotter than the coal because it rises to temperatures of more than 800 ° C.
  • The embers are less dense than the human body and are less conducive to heat.
  • The process of warming your feet is very slow and the temperature is still very low when you lift your foot to move forward.
  • The advocates of firewalking put a thick layer of ash on top of the embers, which additionally blocks the transfer of heat.
  • Gámez points out that this supposed motivational technique is nothing more than a plan to pull people’s money out of their pockets. He mentions the skeptic John Nevil Maskelyne, who said, “People with a lot of money and without mind are perfect for those with good sense who are lacking in money.”

An interesting experiment

Richard Wiseman is an English psychologist who wanted to put this controversial motivational technique to the test. He performed a simple experiment on his BBC show Tomorrow’s World  . He prepared a carpet of burning coals, but not the standard four and a half meters. Instead, it was 18 meters long. He invited three well-known proponents of the technique to cross the coals live on television.

The first person went off and made it almost six meters, but had to jump off because he was burned. The same thing happened to the second person. The third person then no longer wanted to participate. The first two subjects had to seek medical treatment because they had second-degree burns on the soles of their feet.

So Wiseman could prove what he had planned: The “mental strength” of the gurus ended after about 5 meters. This is the reason why fire walking is only demonstrated over short distances. No positive thoughts, motivation or other spirit can help you if you are supposed to walk more than 5 meters over burning coals.

Outline of a male brain with neon colored dots

A “trick” that still works in the end

Most of us love to dream and believe that extraordinary things are possible. There are many myths about “the power of the mind,” which, while quite large, may not be enough to bend the laws of physics. And certainly not after a beginner’s course, which sometimes only lasts 3 hours.

But there are still a lot of people in the world who claim they have gotten unimaginable results from firewalking. They say their life has changed radically. There are some companies that have made claims that their employees improved their performance after walking over the burning coals. Of course there are more people who got burned : “I wasn’t ready,” they say – but maybe firewalking is simply not for humans?

After all , one of the privileges of the human mind is to believe, even against all evidence. If we want to believe something and it helps us resolve some kind of discomfort, then we believe it is true. This is also called the placebo effect. If it makes us feel better, who are we to question it?

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