I had my last cold shower in a series of 30 this morning. Boy, am I glad about that! Despite the numerous proven physical and mental wellbeing benefits of cold water, it’s been tough to learn about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I am not ashamed to say that this isn’t going to be part of any new regular morning routine.
My 30 days of cold showers challenge is the first in a series of eight such challenges I will attempt this year thanks to Live Creatively, an e-book I purchased towards the end of last year. Written by Dana and Lou of Wild We Roam, the most wholesome and warm couple I’ve come across over on YouTube, I treated myself to the book as I felt it was something that was worth reading, digesting, and learning from. I’ve always seen myself as a creative person, but there is no doubt in my mind that I’ve lost some of that over the years. While I have my now ten-year-old blog as a creative outlet, somewhere to share my words and pictures, I don’t often feel properly creative. I used to paint, draw, play music, and make and create other things. These days I do a lot more concentrating on the must-dos than the for-funs, and that was the reason Dana and Lou got me. The premise is that, no matter what role art or creativity plays in your life at this moment, the ideas in this book will help empower you to live creatively in whatever manner feels right for you.
This 30 day challenge has actually taken me nearly six weeks to complete, partly due to a false start in week one when I nearly gave up completely (mentioned in weekly blog episode 02), and partly because, well, I just don’t shower every day. That stutter at the beginning caused me to have a bit of a personal revelation, realising that this was supposed to be about learning to cope and forming habits, not whinging about being cold.
The reasons Dana and Lou gave for setting the cold shower challenge were around finding comfort in discomfort, breaking addiction to the easy life, learning how to persevere, and working hard at something. In turn, these things are said to help build good habits and routines, which allow you to grow. And growth is the name of the game, always. I did some reading around the subject, and discovered that cold water on the body – whether it be via a shower head or jumping into a lake – can promote fat loss, improve immunity, give better circulation, lowers stress, and, which is the primary reason for this challenge, promotes emotional resilience. There are studies galore on the topic, and I have good friends who choose to sea swim all year round because they are addicted to that feeling the cold water gives them.
I am hugely fortunate in my life. I rarely need to take a cold shower because I have the means to have hot running water at home, along with warm towels and nice clothes for after my showers. A cold showers challenge isn’t about slumming it to make a point on how much money I have and how much others don’t, but rather a project to develop my own mental tenacity; to choose to do something that isn’t entirely pleasant on a regular basis to prove to myself that mind over matter is a real thing that can improve my ability to concentrate, commit, and ultimately, my mental ability to strive for a goal.
The act of taking a cold shower is uncomfortable. It takes will power to turn the dial, honesty to not just say you’ve done it when you haven’t, and good solid breathing to avoid any kind of cold-water shock. It is also about practicing something regularly, not giving up when it’s not entirely pleasant, training yourself to handle a different kind of stress, and forming a positive habit that means you become so used to doing something it comes as second nature (eventually). Taking a one-minute cold shower every day for 30 days certainly looks to come with a lot of benefits…
I (naturally) chose the beginner’s version of the challenge, opting to have my normal shower to get clean, and then dialling down the heat to end with a one-minute shower on the coldest setting. That was perfectly doable. The cold water didn’t hurt, it felt incredibly cold when I went from hot to cold, but my body soon did its thing and warmed me up from the inside, and it took no time at all to warm up afterwards. I would even suggest that I’ve found my body temperature to be better throughout the rest of the day after having that one-minute cold shower in the morning; I’m often cold, relying on warm sweaters, good socks and gloves to keep me cosy, and I do wonder if the circulation benefits did start to take effect. I have also found that while I’ve not enjoyed the act of taking a cold shower, I have had the willpower to make it part of my regular shower routine regardless, which I guess points towards the development of better mental strength. I like to think so, anyway.
But it’s still been hard. I stood in the shower more than once, looking at the dial, wondering why I was bothering. Who wants to start the day stood freezing cold when you could be enjoying the comfort of hot water? I honestly and genuinely struggled to find the joy in the showers. That’s not to say I didn’t notice any good points of doing this challenge, but it is admitting that I didn’t like it, at all.
I generally shower in the morning when I get up as part of my morning routine, not every day, but most days. I started my cold showers challenge by in showers even on the days I wouldn’t normally, but to be honest I realised I was just wasting water for the sake of a tick in a box, so I went back to my normal routine and did the cold shower thing when I showered rather than making it an everyday event. In the same way, some days I might shower twice, once in the morning, and then again after exercise – especially after hiking in Tenerife earlier in February where it was hot and sticky. It kind of worked out in the end, and by the time six weeks came around, I’d managed 30 one-minute cold showers. Whether I’d learnt to be uncomfortable is a question I think we all know the answer to.
I don’t know if I’m a failure for admitting that even though I’ve completed the challenge and seen one or two real life benefits that could to help me grow, I shan’t be continuing to take cold showers. I believe that while challenges are great, learning to be uncomfortable is strengthening, and forming good habits is essential, life should be enjoyable. Maybe I’m declaring my love for comfort, maybe I’m conceding that I don’t have the drive or resolution to grow, or maybe I just appreciate what I have in that hot water tank and want to make the most of it. Who knows? All is not lost, though, you’ll still find me paddling in the sea at every opportunity, or occasionally jumping into a freezing lake to get a quick cold water fix.
Next up in the series of Live Creatively challenges is 30 days of meditation. While I find that certain types of more active meditation, such as mindful walking or praying, can work for me, I have never found the sitting-still-and-clearing-my-mind meditation to be useful. But I have also never promised myself I’d stick it out for 30 days. The beginner level is just five minutes a day, which sounds like it should be doable, everyone has five minutes, right? My plan is to get it done before work, ideally at home with my first cup of tea of the day, which should hopefully help me associate it with something that is already a pleasure. I’ll let you know how I get on next month.
Note that cold showers can be incredibly bad for you. Cold water shock is a real and nasty thing. Getting too cold can lead to significant medical emergencies. I was gentle with myself, got in slowly, concentrated on breathing. If you choose to take on the cold shower challenge, please be careful and kind to yourself.