An ice cold shower in the morning has many significant health benefits, but the mental priming and the lessons it teaches us may be even more important.
I started my challenge – to have a one minute ice cold shower immediately after waking up – 22 days ago. Each day, without fail, I’ve gotten out of bed, taken a quick visit to the toilet and then jumped into the chilly embrace of an ice cold shower.
In addition to cold showers in the morning, I have finished with an ice cold shower every time I’ve played sports (2-3 times per week) and I took a plunge in the mind-numbingly cold Gulf of Finland last Friday.
How terrifying has it been? What have I learned? Does it get any easier?
Read on for my overdue update on how the challenge has gone so far.
1. How terrible was the first shower?
Words don’t do justice to how terrible the first shower was. It was just horrible. The water was SOOO cold and the minute felt like an eternity.
Well, see for yourself how my first shower went in the short video below.
2. Does it get any easier?
Yes…. and no. In the first days, I had really had to psyche myself to get in under the cold water. The best way I could get myself to do it was to simply refuse to think about it, to just turn the cold water on, set the timer and just walk under the water and only then allow myself go “FUCKKKKK! THIS IS SO, SO UNBEARABLE!!”
Luckily, after the first 4-5 days, the cold showers started to become easier. Even after three weeks, though, the first 10 seconds are still tough, but after you absorb the initial blow of the cold, the remaining 50 seconds isn’t all that bad.
The most difficult mornings have been those when I haven’t slept much and I am still tired, or if I am feeling cold before getting in the shower. On those mornings, I’ve really had to dig deep to continue with the challenge. I haven’t missed a single one, but more importantly, I’ve come to learn that it’s exactly the mornings that I’m tired that are the most important – in addition to a wake up that gets you ready to face the day, it’s these most challenging mornings that make it a habit. Letting myself off the hook in these cases only provides an excuse for next time as well.
So on the whole, yes the cold showers start to get easier. Apart from the first 10 seconds that is. That’s still brutal. But otherwise it has been surprisingly pleasurable.
On most mornings I now actually look forward to the cold shower because I know it’ll wash away the cobwebs from my brain, re-engergize me and prime me to tackle the day ahead.
3. Do you always wear shorts to the shower?
No, the shorts were just for you guys. Although that’d be a great way to wash my shorts at the same time. Hmmm….
4. What benefits have I experienced?
The immediate benefit of taking a cold shower in the morning is that it wakes you up and gets you primed for action. No more just rolling out of bed and seeing “how I feel today” – I just get out of bed, don’t think about the shower, step under the ice cold water and BOOM! – I’m awake and ready to kick ass!
The reason a cold shower wakes us up so effectively is because it’s a lightning bolt to your system: your blood circulation ramps up, your metabolism kicks into higher gear and your mind becomes alert.
Other benefits or effects I’ve noticed include feeling insanely hungry immediately after the cold shower, my skin is much smoother than normal, and I feel good about myself for having started the day “right”, which gives me added motivation to take on other tasks and challenges.
5. Any downsides to the cold showers?
The only thing I’d say is that on some mornings, I struggle to shake the deep cold feeling immediately after the shower. But luckily it’s not that bad, doesn’t last very long and only bothers me if I need to go outdoors immediately after the shower.
6. What have I learned?
One of the key reasons why I took on this challenge was to observe my resistance or acceptance to doing something that I didn’t like doing. In other words, this challenge is a test from a psychological perspective for any self development challenge.
So what have I learned?
Although this process is still incomplete, one hypothesis I feel strongly about is that time is the friend of fear. Allow me to explain.
Many times, when I’ve felt particularly cold or tired in the morning, I’ve dreaded the cold shower … more than normally. I’ve dreaded it to the point where my mind would start making excuses such as “I’m not sure I can do this today”, or the more common, “I need more time to prepare for this.” The normal kinds of excuses we all make regularly.
What the cold showers have taught me, however, is that every time I give into these fears and delay the shower in order to be “more prepared” by brushing my teeth or putting on a load of washing, I’d find the cold showers even harder to do.
Having more time to prepare does not help against fear. It actually makes it worse.
To put this into something resembling a formula, my hypothesis at the moment is that: FEAR + TIME = MORE FEAR
The best way to combat this is obviously to remove time from the equation, and the way to do that is to do whatever it is you are afraid of immediately.
The more time you allow yourself to think about doing something unpleasant – whether it’s going up and talking to a stranger in a bar, making a sales call, going for a jog, asking your neighbor to turn down the stereo or taking a cold shower – the harder it’s going to get. And far too often, you’ll talk yourself out of it completely.
So the lesson here is that when you feel the fear to do something (that you know is safe), do so immediately. Don’t wait, because it will only get harder and you’ll only get more scared.
This ties in with a second lesson I’ve learned: after 22 days of cold showers, I no longer have an irrational fear of cold like I once did.
I feel like I am now “acquainted with cold water” – I know what it is like and while it can be uncomfortable and a bit painful at times, it’s no longer the big boogey man it once was to me. This allows me to approach it from a far more rational and productive perspective.
What a liberating feeling it is to experience cold without fear.
Stay tuned for my final review of the challenge in about 10 days.