You are comfortable sleeping in a warm bed. The alarm rings.
What could be the hardest way to get the day started?
A winter cold shower!
Two years ago, after watching a documentary about Wim Hof and his method I started considering taking cold showers to try and see for myself if the benefits are worth the discomfort.
I say “consider” because as you can imagine, jumping in a cold shower during winter is the last thing you want to do upon waking up.
There was something fascinating in this practice that really attracted me.
So I started really looking into the benefits of cold showers in search of further much-needed motivation.
There have been a lot of speculations over the last years about the alleged benefits of cold showers. Some of them are backed by science, others are not. Health and longevity specialist Dr. Rhonda Patrick from Found my fitness wrote a report explaining the current state of the science regarding cold exposure. Among the science-backed benefits of cold showers are:
- It improves the immune function
- It reduces chronic pain
- It has an anti-inflammatory effect
- It increases the amount of brown fat (having more brown fat is associated with lower body fat percentage)
- It may have a neuroprotective effect through stimulating a special cold shock protein known as RBM3
On top of these health benefits, many regular practitioners claim it has other benefits:
- Reduced levels of stress
- Increased willpower
- A higher level of alertness
After reading and doing my research about cold exposure, I found all these benefits to this practice and a growing community of people sharing their positive experiences with cold showers. I decided I needed to try it for myself!
How I started
I have to admit it was much harder than I expected. For me, switching from the morning hot shower to a cold one for the health benefits was just impossible.
But I still wanted to incorporate them into my life... I found that taking cold showers just after resistance training was much easier so I started to do so.
Unfortunately, a few months later, I realized this trick undermines greatly the benefits of resistance training.
I was stuck because I wanted to take these cold showers, but I wanted to make it easier to incorporate them into my daily routine, and “cold showers” and “easy” usually don’t go well together. I decided to try to move the cold showers back to the morning.
I remember myself, just after waking up, staring at the shower for 5 minutes thinking about how hard it will be, and immediately inventing an excuse that will justify getting a hot shower instead!
I have to say at that moment, my creativity was the best it ever was. I can recall coming up with excuses like:
- “Oh, I feel a little pain in my throat, the cold shower will for sure make it worse…”
- “I feel very cold, this cold shower will for sure make me sick…”
And many others…
I was just unable to get under the shower, turn the water cold, and stay there.
Until I changed my perception of cold showers, and what I was expecting from them.
How I finally managed to take morning cold showers
You see if you want to start cold showers for the long term benefits, you will easily be stuck in a situation where short term pain will be far more intense than the perceived long term benefits. As humans, it’s already hard for us to think long term, so expecting a long term benefit to be a sufficient reason to jump in that freezing cold water in the morning is just not realist for most of us.
I understood that I had to find a short term motivation to overcome that seemingly impossible cold shower.
For me, that was all I needed. Understanding that the ability to do things you don’t want to do is “the biggest generator of long term results”.
It resonated a lot with me because without formulating it, I was convinced by this concept. The reason why I think motivational speeches, videos, and articles do more harm than good is that they promote the idea that the feeling of extreme motivation when you think everything is possible, and you feel adrenaline running in your body is the fuel for achievement.
In my experience, relying on this feeling is a perfect way to get the exact opposite of what you want. This feeling doesn’t last, and most meaningful achievements take months if not years to get completed. How relying on an ephemeral feeling of motivation could possibly be the solution?
I think the biggest factor in long term success is the ability to follow your plan, do the next thing you have to do today and overcome the inevitable feeling of not wanting to do certain things.
So I decided to consider the ability to do things I don’t want to do but have to do as a skill I could improve, and to me, a morning cold shower was the single best way to train it.
What could possibly be worse than going half awake from a warm bed to a freezing cold shower?
I gave myself the challenge to take morning cold showers for 30 days during the month of January as a way to start the year outside of my comfort zone.
The first 30 days
As expected it was not easy. But it was the goal of it. I was taking cold showers because I don’t want to take cold showers, as weird as it might sound.
For me, the game-changer in my ability to get under the cold water was to stop thinking. It’s a common mechanism of the human brain: finding great excuses really fast to justify not following your program.
With this shower experiment, I started to develop self-awareness, notice all the little lies we could tell ourselves and observe the dishonest explanations to our failures we often come up with. Lying to ourselves is a huge inhibitor to self-improvement.
As soon as I get close to the sower, I quickly get under it and just let the water flow. The first seconds are horrible, but then it gets a bit better.
With time, my tolerance for cold water increased a lot. However, the first seconds are not easier now than they were a month ago!
How I feel
Now that I tried cold showers regularly for a month, I can tell the benefits I experienced. I didn’t change anything else than the showers in my lifestyle during that month so I can attribute the benefits I felt to cold showers.
1. Better confidence in my immune system
I am a huge believer in the interconnection between mind and body health. To my mind, my belief in the strength of my immune system is as much important as my actual immune system. This belief was increased and confirmed by the experiment Wim Hof and some of his students went through: they showed that “through practicing techniques learned in a short-term training program, the sympathetic nervous system and immune system can indeed be voluntarily influenced” and overcome a bacterial injection without medical treatment.
2. Completely awake in a few minutes
If you usually struggle to get fully awake in the morning, stop looking at nootropics and other stimulants to fix your problem. Jumping in a cold shower is much more powerful than 300mg of caffeine and will get you from sleeping to fully awake in less than 5 minutes.
3. It feels easier to do things I don’t want to do
As I expected, “doing things you don’t want to do” is a skill, and cold showers seem to be an excellent way to train this skill. By getting used to discomfort and by improving your ability to go from comfort to discomfort, getting stuff done becomes easier.
4. Enhanced mood
Mood swings can be very frequent, and we all go through those mornings where nothing goes as planned. I found having this hard ritual first thing in the morning made it easier to get over bad mood days. Overcoming the shower gives a sustained feeling that it’s not that hard to get through the day and respect what I said I was going to do.
5. It lowers stress & anxiety
There is something that happens between the mind and the body when you experience a very uncomfortable feeling. It has a meditative effect and forces you to be present in the moment and be grateful for what you have and for your day to come that will most likely not have any harder physical component than this cold shower. Experiencing physical adversity is a great daily reminder to enjoy all the great things we have and contributes to less stress and anxiety.
After a month, my challenge is completed. Now comes the question of what’s next. I found the benefits and the experience of cold showers so positive overall that I decided to stick to it indefinitely.
As I got even more interested in cold immersion during this month, I came across a great video from Yes Theory at the Wim Hof camp in Poland. I think cold showers are a great first step in the world of cold immersion and I would love to participate in such an adventure in the year to come!
For the moment, the water is pretty cold in Paris during winter, and the same quote for Wim Hof motivates me to jump under the cold water every day:
“If you don’t go to the cold, the cold will come to you”
It’s not for everyone, but if you feel like you need to practice your resilience it’s a great place to start!
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