This post is about why you might want to start taking cold showers.
I’ve been doing it for over a month now and I really like it.
The seed was planted in my mind after reading an article about it on a blog called Getting Stronger. The thesis behind Getting Stronger is that rather than damaging you, that stress can, in the right conditions, make you stronger by forcing you to adapt and thrive under tougher conditions. Its an interesting premise and one I can easily get behind.
By the way, I love taking really hot showers and hate being cold in general so when I first read the lines:
Want to experience the benefits of hormesis very directly? Take a cold shower! And don’t just try it once, make it a habit and take cold showers daily. I have been doing it daily for the past six months and am loving it!
I was like “This guy is nuts. Why on earth would you take a cold showers every day?” But then there was a little voice inside my head that said “Well, if you don’t want take cold showers and he likes them, then maybe he’s just tougher than you.” Then of course I’m like “No freaking way. I’m not afraid of a little cold water. Maybe the guy IS crazy, but you know what, you have to be a little crazy to win“. And so a few days later I pumped myself up enough to try taking one.
I was gasping for air the entire time, my skin felt freezing. I was shivering. I couldn’t think about anything except how cold it was. At one point I honestly wondered if this is what it was like to die in the freezing cold water after the Titanic sunk. Yes – it was that bad.
Eventually I had to turn the water to warm because I couldn’t stand it.
And then I noticed something interesting – the act of warming up felt really really good. Way better than just in a regular hot shower. It was like defrosting. And because I was all tightened up from the cold water, I was able to relax twice as much when the water got warm.
After that, taking a regular shower just was never the same.
If you do a Google search for cold showers, you’ll find all sorts of articles about why they’re good. They supposedly boost wakefulness, increase your metabolism, make your skin better, etc. I don’t know about all this – I think for a lot of these claims, the data is just not there.
What I do know is that I like cold showers because I am actively putting myself in an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation. Like Rejection Therapy, I am actively exposing myself to a stressor and thereby building up my tolerance for it.
As Sebastian Marshall says:
Give me strife and suffering. And once I have grown stronger, tempered, hardened by the strife, give me MORE.
Cold showers suck, but every time I do one, I grow stronger. I can feel my self-discipline increasing. To be successful as an entrepreneur, I know I will have to make hard decisions, do things that are uncomfortable and work under stressful conditions. Cold showers are like pushups for my self-discipline.
It also helps me temper my emotional responses to things. I no longer have the panicky feeling that a ton cold water on your skin gives you for more than a few seconds when I take my cold showers – I’ve trained myself to calm down and overcome this natural response. And I’ve noticed this ability to temper my response overlap into other areas of my life.
The other day I was in a bit of a rush in the morning and when emptying out my coffee filter, hit something and dumped wet coffee grinds all over the floor. I felt my heart rising to my chest and I started to get really pissed at myself for being so clumsy – but then instead of exploding and swearing profusely – I suddenly felt calmer. I realized that my body had recognized this growing outburst and applied the same tempering response that it uses to help me relax during my cold shower.
So you could say I’ve become a cold shower believer.
You should give it a try. You don’t have to end cold – I don’t. I start cold and after a few minutes, switch over to warm. (I tried finishing cold but after getting out, I was more than just uncomfortable – I felt hypothermic – not a good feeling.) Anyway, I think the key is steeling yourself for that moment when you’re standing in the shower and you switch it on, knowing that cold water is about to blast onto you. That’s how you get stronger and build your grit and determination. And that leads to more ass-kicking.
So give cold showers a try and let me know how it goes in the comments!
Edit – August 8th 2011
There was a heated discussion of this on Hacker News.
As an update, I’ve continued to take cold showers all through June and July. I keep it on cold for two minutes before warming up – every single time. And yes, because it is warmer, it sometimes is more refreshing than miserable, but if I take them late at night or early in the morning, I am still sometimes shivering to the point of shaking because it’s so cold. It’s been great and I don’t anticipate stopping anytime soon.
Edit – December 28th, 2014
I ended up taking cold showers regularly (almost every day) for about two years and I think it was a valuable experience. They get better over time — it is really the first 30 seconds that sucks the most. I’ll throw one in here and there when I feel like toughening up a little. Still recommend it!