Cold Showers

September 26, 2013

Just a little over a month ago I saw this TED talk. The guy spoke for 10 minutes about how one day he was convinced by a friend to start taking cold showers. These showers, in turn, motivated him to start doing all the things in his life that he was afraid of doing before. Start a business. Run a marathon. Get in shape.

If you look the guy up, you’ll see that he runs a self-help website, where he makes videos and sell books and equipment to help people  “push their limits.” And what better way to promote this than by providing your own personal success story?

What I found interesting though, was that unlike other self-help guides, where the first step is inevitably to buy some book or device. His first step didn’t cost anything. Not money, or time, and it wasn’t a commitment of any kind. You just changed the way you shower everyday. However, I think what hooked me was his closing remark:

“If you’re not willing … to be uncomfortable for five minutes alone in the shower, where the only negative outcome is you being cold for five minutes and the only person affected by that decision is you. Then how will you ever have the strength or courage to be uncomfortable in a situation where the outcome is much greater…”

It was a challenge. And I accepted. So that night, at almost midnight, I took the very first cold shower of my life. And let me tell you. It was every bit as miserable as I thought it would be.

After turning the cold knob and feeling  the frigid water with my hand. I spent the next 5 minute just standing there going through every possible rationalization for why I shouldn’t step in:

“This is dumb, what will I prove?”
“It’s just a gimmick to help promote his products.”
“It’s late already, I should start this tomorrow.”
“Don’t people catch hypothermia from staying in cold water?”
“I’m busy with work, I don’t have time to get sick right now.”

And I think if it had been any other time in my life. If I hadn’t been going through whatever this is I’m going through. I would’ve walked away and never thought about it again. Instead, I stepped in and spent the next five minutes cowering at the side of the tub, slowly inching into the water. Eventually, I was able to stop shivering long enough to wash myself and then dry off.

The next day was even worst. Not only was I convinced now that this is dumbest thing I’ve ever attempted to do, but the previous night’s shower was still fresh on my mind. I started shivering before I even walked into the water.

Well. Today marked the 30th day, and my 30th cold shower. Technically the end of challenge. And you know what? The shower was still every bit as miserable. The water didn’t get any warmer. If anything it’s gotten colder with fall setting in. What has changed, however, was my attitude towards it. There was no doubt, no hesitation when I stepped in. Just a general acceptance that it sucks and moved on to washing.

It’s hard to say if doing this the past month has been worth it. It definitely wasn’t the life changing event the speaker made it sound like. I don’t suddenly own a business or a six pack. Nor did I expected to. That kind of change doesn’t come from something like this.

However, it’s unfair to say that it had no effect at all. Staring down that icy nozzle and walking into the water everyday for the past month has given me a perspective I wasn’t expecting. I realized, after about two weeks, that I was starting to become more aware of the distinction between being uncomfortable because I dislike something (taking a cold shower) and because I’m afraid of something (anticipating a cold a shower). Prior to this, I’ve always considered those feelings to be the same. What’s more, I’ve noticed that very, very rarely am I in a situation where it is the former. I live an easy enough life where I am almost never in a position where I truly dislike what is going on. Most of the time I am simply afraid. Afraid of new people, afraid of change, of being judge, of failing, of disappointing the people around me.

I’m not saying this realization makes those things any less frightening. They still scare me just as much. But it gives me a chance to face it. When you see the world as things you like or dislike.  Then there is little opportunity for change. You like what you like. Such things define you. But if you see the world as monsters to face, and demons to conquer, then such things become a challenge. And change comes when you’re ready to tackle it.


2 Responses to “Cold Showers”

  1. klaygenie Says:

    This is pretty awesome. I would never do this. The idea of doing something uncomfortable without a benefit/outcome seems to disregard that outcomes are huge motivators.

    That being said, I have read multiple things (diet books) that would seem to encourage cold showers. Specifically Tim Ferriss’s 4-hr Body – where he discusses how cold affects fat loss.

    • Min Says:

      Yeah, there’s also a few other studies that supposedly suggest cold showers also improves circulation and raises your immune system.

      But it’s weird, I took my first hot shower today. And it was strangely unsatisfying. I ended up turning the water back to cold for the last couple minutes.

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