Cultivate Discomfort with Cold Showers

Suffer Through a Cold Shower: Why We Should Cultivate Discomfort

Do you willingly embrace discomfort and do hard things simply for the sake of doing hard things?

I think it’s a great habit to get into, or maybe that’s just the masochistic mountain climber in me talking.

The past few days I’ve been taking cold showers every morning, and it’s been quite an exhilarating practice. Literally!

I’ve written before about the value of doing hard things.

Just like going to the gym, you don’t get stronger by lifting some itty bitty weights, you get stronger by pushing yourself to the point where you can’t go on. Until you’ve literally tore your muscle fibers which then need to rebuild stronger.

We grow and improve by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, and we find that what was once difficult becomes easier with time.

Why Cold Showers?

So why do something as seemingly pointless as taking a cold shower?

Turns out there are actually a number of real physiological benefits and reasons that you should do it, such as:

  • Cold showers boost recovery after exercise. You know you’ve heard of professional athletes taking ice baths after a hard game or tough workout. The cold water reduces soreness and speeds up recovery time.
  • Cold showers improve mood and alertness. You’ll be awake much quicker with a cold shower than two cups of coffee, believe me! It’s a shock as the cold water pours across your body. You start breathing harder, and your heart rate increases which sends a rush of blood through the body.
  • Cold showers help burn fat. Apparently there are two kinds of fat in our bodies: brown fat and white fat. Brown fat is activated in extreme cold to burn calories which keeps us warm. Researchers have found that exposure to cold can increase the metabolic rate of brown fat by 15 times.
  • Cold showers help boost immunity. The same increase in metabolic rate also activates your immune system which releases more virus-fighting white blood cells. The increased blood circulation also helps to avoid hypertension and the hardening of arteries.
  • Cold showers are even good for your skin and hair. Cold water helps tighten your pores which helps them avoid getting clogged.

But that’s not why I do it…

So those benefits are all well and good, but for me none of those reasons are the primary reasons to actually take a cold shower.

No, the main reason is simply because it is uncomfortable.

Do It Because It’s Difficult

There are two main approaches to taking your cold shower:

1) Don’t use hot water at all, start cold and stay cold.
2) Start with hot water and finish your shower with the last few minutes icy cold.

I personally use the second approach. To me the contrast between the comfort of the warm water and then turning the handles to pure cold is even more shocking.

You can use whatever approach you like.

Each day I have to fight my inner voice when making the transition from hot to cold…

“Oh god, are we really going to do this again?”

“But the water’s so nice and comfortable…”

“Why?! What’s the point?”

In my mind, comfortable = complacent = unchanging. Which is NOT what I want. I want to be constantly, incrementally improving in all aspects of my life.

It’s Effective

At first cold showers just sound stupid.

But I tried it. It was exhilarating and challenging. So I did it the next day, and then the day after that.

There really is something to it.

For one, yes, it definitely does wake you up and give you energy unlike anything else.

For two, doing something challenging that you DON’T want to do, first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.

Sure, you may be saying but I already do things I don’t want to do in the morning, like get up when my alarm goes off and then go to work.

But the point of this exercise is that it is a self-inflicted discomfort that you choose to do. Not something you “have to do” like going to work (though that’s debatable).

Just watch how long your mind tries to talk you out of switching the water to cold… This is what it does right before doing something we know we should be doing but don’t want to, like exercising or not procrastinating.

If you can shut your mind up and just do it, you realize that it isn’t as bad you thought.

I’ve found during these cold shower days that I’m more energized, quicker to get started with what I need and want to do, and over the course of the day I procrastinate less and accomplish much more.

If you want to do anything at all in life, like launching your own business or even fun things like learning a new skill or traveling long-term, at some point you’ll be confronted with difficult moments.

Some people confuse “follow your passion” for thinking it’s supposed to always be pure joy and come easily. Then when they meet their first struggle, they quit, thinking “well, that must not be my real passion, gotta keep looking.”

We must be able to push through those difficult moments and do the things we don’t want to do. That’s when we grow.

Simple as that, but easier said than done.

Cultivate Discomfort

Sort of like mountain climbing, you have to be able to suffer though quite a bit to arrive at the summit. Let’s not kid ourselves and say that walking up a big glaciated hill is pure unadulterated “fun” but it’s certainly worthwhile in what it can teach us about perseverance and pushing through our perceived and self-imposed limits.

We can’t all go climb mountains every day. But every single one of us can take 2-5 minutes to suffer through a cold shower.

Every. Single. Day.

Once you’ve done one sucky thing that’s hard to do, you know you can accomplish other things that you’ve been putting off or that sometimes aren’t always fun in the moment.

I’ve mentioned here before that I am training for a 10k. I’ve never participated in a race, I’ve never really considered myself a runner, even at times when I was running frequently in the past.

Running to me isn’t much fun.

I know it’s good for me, I know it’s worthwhile, but it still kind of sucks. But I know that doing the hard things (for me) is what gets results.

Thanks to a bit of discipline I have run every other day consistently since January 24th.

I just ran 7k, the farthest I have ever ran in my life. I’m seeing real progress thanks to doing the things I didn’t want to do.

I’m also learning to play guitar this year. Like actually learning it, not just being able to knock out a few riffs. Learning to read music isn’t that much fun. Doing finger exercises isn’t that much fun.

It’s much more fun to just crank out a familiar old riff that I can do easily or stick to tablature which is easy to read. But doing the difficult parts and mastering the fundamentals is what will take me well beyond simple riffs.

“Practice what you can’t do, don’t practice what you can.”

I make my living by writing. I generally enjoy writing, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy for me. It’s kind of like running—I try and give myself plenty of excuses to start, but once I lace up my shoes, I always get out the door.

If I sit down and shut out the distractions of Facebook, election news, etc and just start writing then I will write.

If I only wait for inspiration to strike, I might go a week or two or more without writing anything.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

― Stephen King

Far better to cultivate the habit of small daily progress, especially on this big book project I’m working on.

1,000 words every day (even if the first draft is junk) is 30,000 words in a month. If you only write once a week when you’re inspired and then crank out 2,000 words, you’re looking at 15 weeks (nearly 4 months) to reach the same level of output.

We’ve always got to keep the end result in mind and push through the difficult parts.

Eat the Frog

Brian Tracy has a book called Eat That Frog. In it he tells us to just do the most difficult thing (eating a frog) first thing in the day, otherwise you can let it hang over you for the rest of the day and impact all the other things you need to do.

Then, more often than not, you don’t even get around to the big thing that was looming largest in your mind and it gets put off until tomorrow.

Do something challenging first thing in the morning, and you’ll be less likely to put off that other hard thing that you actually need to do to advance your interests.

All of this is to say that taking a cold shower is a great way to start your day.

If you can’t take two-minutes to do a silly thing like take a cold shower, you probably don’t have the wherewithal to do the hard things when it actually matters.

We must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you’re unhappy with a life in the status quo, it’s the only way you’ll ever break out of it.

Some people think that my life of travel and location independence is “easy” but that’s not really true. It’s far easier to remain comfortable and complacent while inertia holds you in place than it is to break away and embrace the uncertainty that this life entails.

I started this blog to hold me accountable so that I wouldn’t take the easy path in life, that is to say following the traditional path of 9-to-5 employment.

Take the Challenge

So here we go, I challenge you to take on the 30-Day Cold Shower Challenge. One month of starting your mornings with a cold shower and seeing what it does for you.

The beauty of this challenge is that it costs you nothing, you don’t have to pay anything, you don’t lose any time since you’re already showering (hopefully).

There are absolutely no excuses and no downsides for not doing it.

The real test is whether you will even attempt it, and then whether you will follow through.

Will you commit to the challenge? How else can we embrace discomfort on a daily basis? What other habits can we forge to train ourselves?

I’m looking for real answers from you all about little things that can be done (like a cold shower) that will push us out of our comfort zone. Sound off in the comments below.

More Reading About Cold Showers:

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Ryan

Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, and wanderer. Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out living in his pickup truck and road tripping across the American West. Since then he backpacked through Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. Right now you can find him driving his old truck across all of South America -- support the adventures by visiting the D2D Shop. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

Comments 6

  1. This post is so true! I used to take cold showers and go canyoning (canyoneering for Americans) regularly, and at those times I was my at a peak in my health and fitness. I’m definitely going to go back to that again after reading this, and I wouldn’t mind taking up cold water swimming once I do my own dirt bag move to New Zealand in a few months (Australia is too warm at the moment for any cold water haha). Another good tip I read a while ago was doing things like brushing teeth with the opposite hand you usually use ect. Essentially just switching the normal things you do around. Great post, you got me keen again to embrace the cold!

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      Author

      Do it! I don’t do the cold showers every single day now, usually I take a break for awhile, but I just took one this morning and found it so invigorating and refreshing again. Love the little tips about just mixing things up, that’s basically like embracing a more adventurous spirit during the day to day life, kind of like when traveling…

  2. Funny timing. I’ve been thinking about taking cold showers for a week or so and did it for the first time this morning. I really liked it. It was a shock to the system for the first ten or fifteen seconds, but then it wasn’t so bad. I also like that taking cold showers uses/wastes less water than hot showers because I’ll spend less time in there. I went out for a hike in the afternoon and took another cold shower after I came back. Felt great.

    Also funny that you mention writing 1000 words a day. I made that a goal for 2016 and am still on track and going strong. Today I wrote 2422 words. I take one day off a week but make up for it by writing more than 1000 words for the other days. It’s been amazing. Sometimes the writing is torturous and it takes me three hours to write those thousand words. Sometimes it’s easy and I bang it out in 45 minutes. But overall it makes something potentially as daunting as writing a book pretty easy, and I’m writing more now than I ever have before. Best habit ever.
    Tristan recently posted…Climbing 3 of the Wasatch 11,000-Foot Peaks in a DayMy Profile

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      Author

      Hey Tristan, awesome to hear that you just started cold showers as well. Totally agree, the real battle is just switching over to cold, once you do it though it’s really not that bad. Your body adjusts quickly, kinda like jumping in a cold pool.

      So cool that you’re doing 1,000 words a day as well. I’ve missed a day or two here and there. Particularly on the weekends, but I’ve definitely managed to write an incredible amount. Helps tackle the first part of book writing, though I’m still struggling with revisiting content in order to edit, organize, and improve it.

      Just imagine, you’ll have written more than a quarter million words by the end of the year if you can keep it up.

      I also experience those same fluctuations in productivity where it’s like torture or flows like water. Glad to hear I’m not the only one!

  3. Cold showers… not too cold if your current location is Columbia. I took cold… maybe I should say “unheated by man’s technology”… showers everyday in the Philippines. Not cold at all really, just unheated by man’s technology. But I hear ya’, and I think genuinely cold showers for 30 days would be a challenge, as I am in northern California. You are an inspiration, Ryan.

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      Author

      Oh the water up here in the mountains of Medellin is surprisingly cold! Maybe not the coldest I’ve ever felt (I think that was probably in the Alabama Hills in California–but still not sure if it was just because it was 95 degrees out, because it was a creek from the High Sierras, or both) but it’s still a shock every morning just how cold it is. If you give the challenge a try, let us know how it goes. Thanks Troy!

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