April Cold Showers

And I'm back! Excuse my absence...it's been a busy summer full of rad stuff like successfully funding a Kickstarter project (Pen island is now on sale thanks to all the supporters), a new gig with KiZE Concepts, traveling to Haiti, vagabonding on a bunch of people's couches, moving across the country to San Diego, and most recently, starting up grad school. But more on those #roguemoves some other time.

This is a post about a moderately crazy thing I did back in April.

NOTHING BUT COLD SHOWERS FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH.

Every day. Morning and night. Shivers and shrinkage galore. It would be an understatement to say this was my most daunting "challenge" yet.

I've thought a fair amount about this post and what I should talk about. After all, there is a laundry list of supposed health benefits…things like improvements in energy, mood, immune system functioning, circulation, muscle recovery, testosterone production (in males), skin and hair health, fat loss, and metabolism…(just to name a few).

While those things are definitely interesting and I did start to experience a number of them, the lasting effect for me 5 months later is how it affected my mindset. If there was one big takeaway, it was about overcoming weakness, temptation and self-indulgence, or as Joe Rogan (one of my favorite bro-philosophers) likes to say, "Conquering the Inner-Bitch". The **Inner-Bitch** is the devil on your shoulder that constantly tempts you to take the easy, non-threatening, and least challenging paths in life...a malaise commonly referred to as living in the Comfort Zone.

**for any PC Police out there I mean this as a purely gender-neutral/non-derogatory/safe-space term**

My I-B, probably like most people's, is a rationalization master…a cunning s.o.b. with a roladex of excuses.

It could make Richard Simmons consider the merits of a week-long Netflix bender.

It could conjure up evidence for Tom Brady that life isn't fair and nothing ever goes his way. It could probably even sway Elon Musk to just play it safe and sensibly live out his remaining years on a quiet farm in Idaho. 

Basically what I'm trying to say it that its a lazy, self-pity enabling stick-in-the-mud. And its very convincing. There's a good chance it sells timeshares on the weekend.

Back to cold showers. So here's the theory: just like you can exercise your body to become physically stronger, you can train your mind to become stronger in a slightly different sense. By exposing yourself to a little physical discomfort (in this case cold water), you can learn how to manage, re-frame, and overcome the negative experience. Studies have shown that our brains respond to nearly all types of stress in the same manner (i.e. the fight or flight response). Therefore, by improving your ability to deal with something like physical discomfort, you can also improve the way you deal with stresses that come up in "normal" day-to-day life - things like a tense situation at work or a burning desire to eat a plate of cookies at 10 pm on a Tuesday.   

Sort of makes sense right? As much as my I-B tried to stop me, I decided to give it a go... 

The answer is yes. It sucks. 

For the first few days, I felt like a cat getting repeatedly thrown in an ice bath.

Then I went through a phase of complete apathy.

Then I spent a few days in Iowa, where I experienced a new, cruel taste of what real cold water is (I was treated to an April snowstorm while there).

Finally, around half-way through the month, something began to change. It started with legitimately feeling the elevated mood and energy levels that many others had claimed...almost like having a noticeable mental buzz immediately afterward. When I first started, the default reaction went something like this: This water is cold…I don't like being cold…get me the f out of here…this sucks…this sucks…this sucks…(on repeat until it was over). Nothing but negative thoughts.

But eventually I convinced myself that cold water is just cold water...a temporary sensation on my body that is actually neither good nor bad. The real reason it was so unpleasant was because I was comparing it to something I find very pleasant - hot water. However, if I could just re-frame the whole experience by focusing on the benefits, it seemed possible to actually find enjoyment in it...sort of like a Swedish massage or a hot sauna session. 

It was sort of an obvious revelation. Every experience in life is shaped by our perception of it. If you're dealing with a difficult experience, looking at it in only a negative light is a terrible thing to do. Instead, why not try to objectively re-frame it so that you can not only overcome it, but actually find enjoyment and potentially get a benefit from it? This is similar to a concept that Nassim Taleb refers to as "Antifragile". If fragile means being susceptible to breaking under duress, antifragile is the ability to actually become stronger, more stable, or more capable under duress. As far as skills to cultivate, this seems like a pretty solid one.

Back in March I wrote about my month of practicing meditation and searching for the elusive state of "mindfulness". In non-woo speak, it's just a way of saying that you're consciously aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions so that you don't go off into a tailspin of drone-like behavior. This is important because your old I-B loves to put you on cruise-control in the comfort zone when you're not paying attention. If you're always running on auto-pilot, your Inner-Bitch isn't just tempting you to eat a muffin from time to time, its running the whole damn show. Before you know it, your entire life is about futilely attempting to remove all forms of discomfort, giving in to every little temptation, and never pushing your limits or taking risks.

Enticing, but no thanks.

Here's my theory: mindfulness + the paradigm-shifting mindset above are the keys for turning the inner-bitch into an inner-badass.

Easier said than done for sure, but it's pretty obvious which one leads you to a better, more fulfilled life.

Armed with this insight, I went on to make it through the rest of the month with relative ease. Some mornings were definitely a struggle, but overall I actually looked forward to it. In fact, on May 1st I woke up feeling a little groggy (aka hungover) and guess what I did? I took a cold shower. And then I felt like a new man.

It sounds crazy and completely un-doable, but it's really not. I highly recommend trying this out. It's a little odd for me to admit, but I'd potentially put it up there with one of the more personally gratifying things I've ever accomplished. My Inner-Bitch is far from conquered, but it really was an excellent way to gain some perspective on discomfort, stress management, and life in general. Plus, I'll never take the sweet sensation of a hot shower for granted again.

And if nothing else, it probably is the ultimate hangover remedy.


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