What I've Learned After 3 Months of Cold Showers

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - 05:53

No, I'm not a masochist. I enjoy warm showers just as much as everyone in this world privileged enough to have access to clean water and cheap electricity. However, I am willing to play the part of a guinea pig if there is some compelling long-term payoff in exchange for short term discomfort.

This fascination started back in November 2015 when visiting my family back in upstate NY for Thanksgiving. My brother Dan raved about a documentary featuring Wim Hof (aka "The Iceman"). At the time, I felt this was a series of tall tales. How could a guy hike above the death zone on Mount Everest with nothing but shorts on? How could someone submerge themselves in an ice bath for over an hour and not die? However, Wim has done a fantastic job of chronicling his feats, as evidenced by his 20 world records.

Beyond Wim, I came across two other articles written on the subject matter that were authored by people I highly respect. Tony Robbins starts his morning routine submerging himself in a cold tub every morning as a way to get his nervous system firing and prime his state to get ready for the day. In The Four Hour Body, Tim Ferris discusses the virtues of cold showers and/or baths as a means to accelerate weight loss and to trigger various biological processes in the body. Given all of these factors, I decided to give cold showers a whirl.

My Experiences

This isn't my first rodeo with cold exposure. In college, it wasn't uncommon for me to spend 10 minutes in 55-degree water with a jet circulating the water for that extra level of discomfort. However, that was only waist deep and it was justifiable because I had to recover from the damage of many months of 2-3 hour/day practices. In short, this is something I had to do in order to compete and help my team. By contract, self-inflicted cold showers were something that I could easily quit at any time without anyone knowing or without any repercussions.

That said, I'm proud of myself for the level of commitment I kept. For the past 3.5 months, I've ended each shower with at least one minute of the shower on the coldest setting possible. I only missed a single exposure, and that was because I ran out of time and literally had to run out of the shower to get to work on time.

At this point, the habit is so ingrained in me that I will never go back to taking warm showers again, mainly because I've benefited from many ways from the experience. Here is a summarized list of my experiences, lessons learned, and takeaways:

  • By forcing myself to always end the shower with a minute of cold exposure, it dramatically cut down the length of time I spent in the shower. Sure, it is enjoyable to just stand there in soak in the warm, relaxing water. It's also incredibly wasteful regarding the amount of water that is wasted.
  • It's an incredibly useful gauge on how tired I am. Studies have shown that our self-discipline wanes as we are more mentally, emotionally, and physically fatigued. If I find myself hesitating or trying to delay the cold exposure, I know that I'm already crossed a threshold that means I should take some time to recharge.
  • It's invigorating. I used to have trouble getting started in my day. A cold blast of water to the head forces me to take a deep breath and gets the blood pumping. Ironically, cold exposure before bed doesn't seem to wake me up in a manner that prevents me from falling asleep.
  • It helps me battle procrastination. Every time I take a cold shower, it reminds me that I can take on things that make me temporarily uncomfortable. So when something else comes up in my day that I've been avoiding, I can remind myself that it's the same process of just going at the issue head on.

Your Mileage May Vary

This process may not be for everyone, and you shouldn't expect to get instant results (except for initial gasps for air, which tend to happen immediately). And before you get started, I would highly recommend watching the documentary on Wim Hof or reading the article regarding Tony Robbins's morning routine. Both will give more context as well as motivation to keep going when the going gets tough.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.