Lessons from a Year of Cold Showers

The tile above the faucet in my shower was a slightly different shade of white than the tiles around it. The pipe coming out of the wall was twisted a bit to the left. The shower-head itself looked angry as it stared at me...

I'd never noticed these things, living in the apartment Nick, his girlfriend (now fiance!) and I rented a month earlier in Barcelona.

But now I was standing naked on the cold porcelain, committed to stepping forward and twisting just the cold knob... Suddenly I had time to notice the details.

Because, really, I was just standing, my mind spinning with thoughts, scared and afraid of what would follow if I went through with this.

There was a wall there, keeping me from stepping up to faucet. It was a wall of fear but it felt physical and so real. The only reason it slowly, slowly disappeared was my absolute refusal to leave that shower before experiencing the cold water.

5 minutes more and I was standing with my hand on the knob, at least trying to get myself comfortable by taking that tiny step in the right direction.

And as silly as it sounds it was really 5 minutes more before I just let go, twisted the knob and commenced shivering and screaming as the freezing cold water covered my body.

That was the first of many, many cold showers for me - in fact, it was exactly a year ago, last November that this all began.

Since, I've spent about 5 minutes or more experiencing the wonders of a cold shower just about everyday.

It's been one of my greatest teachers so I thought I'd pass on some of those lessons to you (shivering not required!).

If You Want to Influence, Just Open The Door

You probably think I'm pretty crazy for subjecting myself to cold showers.

I get that - it's exactly what I first thought of Nick when he told me, about 2 years ago, that he takes them everyday.

I was even a bit defensive, worried that he would try to convince me to take cold showers as well. But, he never did.

He just kept telling me how awesome they were and what he got out of them and how they'd influenced him.

When I found myself, months later, unproductive and in a bit of a rut I remembered that door he opened for me and decided to walk through on my own.

If you want to infuence people just be the living example and allow them to make those same choices for themself.

You're Not Cold, You're Tense.

A mysterious thing happens as you start taking cold showers.

At first, the water is so excruciatingly cold and painful. Your body closes up and you just want it to stop.

But a few minutes later, your body relaxes and that same water begins to feel just normal.

At first I thought this was merely a factor of time and that something magic was happening in my body to regulate temperature. But, shower after shower, I noticed something:

It wasn't that I would get used to the temperature and then I would relax.

The relaxation came first and then I felt comfortable with the cold.

The pain wasn't the cold, the pain was the tension.

Once I realized this, I stopped trying to warm myself up, I just let go of my body and relaxed. The pain went away.

This works through-out life when I am feeling any physical or mental distress. If I stub my toe on furniture, my reflex is now to say, "Nicky, you're not in pain, you're tense."

My body relaxes, the pain goes away.

Next time you're in any kind of uncomfortable or painful situation, can you ask yourself, "Is this really so painful or am I tensing up my entire body as a response?"

The Before Mind and the During Mind

For the first several months of freezing showers, it really wasn't a pleasant experience.

Eventually something strange happened, though, and I started to actually get pleasure out of the extreme cold. It cleared my mind and left me feeling more awake than caffeine ever has.

Now, as soon as that chilling water hits me, I just feel so, so good. Sometimes I can't help but start laughing (it's weird, I know).

The interesting thing is that I still hesitate at the thought of taking a cold shower. I sometimes put it off and put it off only to finally take it and think, "This feels so good, why was I avoiding this?!"

What I learned is that I have a Before Mind and a During Mind and they have difficulty communicating with each other.

My Before Mind is inflexible and it's mission is to protect me. My During Mind adapts and tries to make the most of whatever situations it finds itself in.

The first 3 months created a vivid image in my Before Mind of how horrible cold showers are. It's stubborn as hell and isn't interested in listening to the new experiences my During Mind has to share.

I appreciate my Before Mind but now realize that it keeps me from so much of what I yearn for. And yet, it's who I am most of the time.

This realization is allowing me to explore two things that I think will be very powerful:

  1. How to nurture a more flexible Before Mind
  2. How to live from my During Mind more often

(Anyone out there have experience with this one?)

The Fastest Way Out is Going 100% In

The cold water taught me about places on my body I didn't know existed:

"Ahhhh!! The back sides of my neck behind my ears are so sensitive!"

You quickly realize there are places on your body that are more resistant to the cold and others that just light up with sensation once exposed.

At first it's your reflex to avoid the sensitive areas but I started playing a game where I'd try to find as many as I could and feel a sense of achievement when I discovered a new spot.

Eventually I would start my showers by just focusing on all the places I'd discovered: my face, my arm pits, the sides of my abdomen, the back of my hands, behind my neck, some unmentionable areas...

And what I learned was that the faster I exposed myself to the cold, the faster I could accept it, relax and feel comfortable.

Avoiding it just made the negative experience last longer.

It's Just a Sensation

It seems to make so much sense. When something is a threat to your body, you feel pain so you understand not to do that thing.

But after constant exposure to that sensation of pain from the cold and not having any negative physical effects suddenly it dawns on you: Pain is just a sensation.

Being uncomfortable is just a sensation.

Being bored is just a sensation.

Feeling uninspired is just a sensation.

These sensations sort of hum throughout your life, controlling your behavior and everyday mood. And when you subject yourself to the extreme and pull through just fine, suddenly you realize:

These things are full of shit! They don't know what they're talking about!

This has been such an incredible discovery for me. It's just a sensation, keep going.

Metaphors are Teachers

When Nick first told me about cold showers he made the case that the cold shower was simply a metaphor for "the thing you know you need to do but don't want to do."

So when you have to make that tough phone call for your business, you have the reference in your head to say, "Whatever, this is just another cold shower."

Many of my lessons above have been said before but cold showers finally gave me the opportunity to experience them and create metaphors that I could apply all throughout life.

I hope that reading these lessons gave you some new perspective and understanding. But, deep down I know that isn't how it works.

What's more important to me is that this writing serves as a reminder to be open to the experiences that allow you to create your own metaphors that you can carry with you throughout life.

Consider the door opened.