“Cold Showers? Really? I could never do that!”
“Oh interesting! I know xyz who does that”
“I tried it a few times but I couldn’t keep up with it”
“I do them everyday!”

These are some of the responses I usually get when I talk to someone about cold showers.

The last response is the rarest.

First Experiment

It was in late 2017 that I purchased a book called What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney (affiliate link). I must have been drawn to purchase the book because the synopsis mentioned Vim Hoff. I had read and seen videos of this superhuman whom they called “The Iceman”. Apparently, he could regulate his body temperature and withstand sub-zero temperatures for an inordinate amount of time.

Here’s Vim Hoff’s Ted talk

So naturally I was interested in this book. It’s about Scott Carney’s journey that began with debunking “The Iceman” Vim Hoff, all the way to him becoming a disciple and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in just his shorts and sneakers. That much was enough to get me to listen to the Audiobook which I really enjoyed.

Around the same time I came across another interesting Ted Talk. The speaker was Joel Runyon.

This video really inspired me. I liked the idea of spending 5 minutes everyday “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable”. I saw a lot in connection with other ideas and philosophies that I liked such as #SeekDiscomfort (YesTheory) and the concept of No Zero Days. I saw an overlap with some Tim Ferris articles and podcasts content on stoicism.

So I decided to try it. I used to live in San Francisco then. At that point, I had spent most of my life in warmer climates and was not yet used to the cold mornings in the Bay Area. The idea of taking a cold shower was just daunting. I thought it would be challenging to commit to everyday. So my compromise was to end my normal warm shower with a blast of cold water for as long as I could endure. I would typically take at least 1-2 minutes of a cold shower daily. Occasionally I’d go up to 5 minutes.

I remember that I really only had to push through the first 3 or 4 days. The water was ridiculously cold but I felt this endorphin rush after every shower that quickly got addictive. After about a week I actually started looking forward to it. About 2 weeks in, if ever the thought of ending the shower without a cold shower entered my mind, it felt strange. I couldn’t physically bring myself to do it. It felt wrong. About two months in I “needed it”. My shower was incomplete if I ended it without a blast of cold water. That winter, I took a cold shower every single day for 3 months.

Rewiring Thought Patterns & Affirmations

I really liked what Joel Runyon said:

I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I told myself something. I said, “If you’re not willing or able to be the type of person that is willing to be uncomfortable for five minutes alone in the shower, where the only negative outcome is you being cold for five minutes, and the only person affected by that decision is you, then how will you ever have the strength or the courage to choose to be uncomfortable in a situation where the outcomes are much, much greater, and the people affected by your decision far outnumber just yourself.”

Cold Shower Therapy: Joel Runyon at TEDxLUC

So a few days in, I started adding another element to the cold part of my shower – a statement. I started telling myself – “If you can’t be uncomfortable for 5 minutes everyday, you won’t be able to accomplish anything”. This was how i summarized the idea. I tried this mantra for a few days but it felt too negative. So I rephrased it. I began saying “I can accomplish anything because I am willing to be uncomfortable for a few minutes everyday”. I slowly peppered in some positive affirmations – whatever the need of the day or week and would say these silently as well.

Restarting Cold Showers

In retrospect, adding the affirmations was one of the most impactful decisions I’ve made. Writing this now, almost 3 years after that first freezing cold shower, I am confident that it has had a lasting effect on my resilience, adaptability and self-confidence.

The thing is, once your body adjusts to the cold water, it doesn’t feel that bad anymore. You almost start to wonder why you were worried in the first place. I like to believe that the repeated action of willingly experiencing a few seconds of fear (of the discomfort), the discomfort (of the cold shower) and then the calmness that follows (once your body adjusts) everyday can have a unquantifiable effect on your mental conditioning. It builds discipline and tolerance to stress.

You’re telling yourself that even though there are difficult challenges ahead of you, you can handle them. And whatever is on the other side, it’s probably not that bad!

I wasn’t as consistent with cold showers after that first winter. They weren’t as important to me the last two years as I was traveling. I was facing other moments of discomfort almost on a daily basis. It was challenging to keep up with the cold showers consistently for many very real reasons but it wasn’t impossible. I just never made it a priority.

When global lockdowns and shelter in place started due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, I started re-evaluating my daily routine and added this back in. The easiest way for me to start this again was to tie it to my workout routine. It’s a method that I like to call habit chaining (also called habit stacking). I also started taking my entire shower cold. Not just the last 5 minutes. The entire shower from start to finish.

Good For the Planet? 🌎

This was also much lower on the list of reasons I started taking cold showers. But as my views have changed and my concern for the planet and climate change have evolved, it is a probably the second reason that I continue take cold showers.

Living outside the United States right now, most places I’ve been I have needed to use a water heater if I cared for a warm shower. This is very different from anywhere I’ve lived in the United States where the water heater was on by default all the time. So now, if I don’t turn on the heater, I don’t have hot water (unless the water is naturally heated as it can be the case in certain countries).

As a result, if I take a 100% cold water shower, I end up taking way shorter showers (saving water) and never turn on the water heater (saving energy) except for one day of the week when I want to “reward” myself. Typically this coincides with my workout rest day.

Potential health benefits 🤷🏽‍♂️

This is actually much lower on the reasons that I take cold showers but for what it’s worth, cold showers are supposed to be good for your immune system, blood circulation and for your skin. I think it’s better for your hair too (scalding hot showers are not recommended if you want to prevent hair loss). Actually I’m pretty sure a dermatologist told me that.

There’s tons of other potential benefits outlined here https://impossiblehq.com/cold-shower-health-benefits/. I recommend giving it a quick read.

So do I never take warm/hot showers? No, ofcourse I do. There are some days when I just feel like it. But it almost feels like a reward now. In my head it’s the same as a cheat day when you follow a healthy diet. It also teaches me to appreciate the little things (like a warm shower) in life a bit more!

Tips

Here are some tips if you’re actually interested in trying this out:

  • Push through the first few days. Once you cross the 7 day mark it becomes so much easier.
  • Try habit chaining. Tie it to a workout when your body temperature is already slightly higher. Disclaimer: I have no idea if there any adverse health effects of taking a cold shower right after a workout but I’ve been doing it for 3 months now and have not fallen sick!
  • If the above two methods don’t work, do it at the end of the shower and increase the duration by a minute each week.
  • Add at least one affirmation to the cold shower. Or if that doesn’t work for you, use the moment when you are hit with the cold water as a reminder to be grateful for something.

TL;DR

Inspiration:

  • What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney
  • Joel Runyon at Impossible HQ
  • Vim Hoff

Benefits (100% my own personal experience):

  • Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable
  • Increased resistance to cold weather (when combined with breathing techniques).
  • Endorphin rush leading to a better mood
  • Better for the planet (less energy and water consumption)

Thanks for reading! I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now. It’s an attempt to get into the habit of writing more and flexing those muscles without letting perfection get in the way. In some ways, for me, writing is another way of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.