For much of my life, they were a symbol of defeat.
Whenever a guy couldn’t close the deal with the object of his affection, he was sentenced to an icy stream under which he would not only extinguish his passion but reevaluate his standing as a man.
But over the last few years, cold showers have become the epitome of victory.
Taking cold showers can produce life-changing results, from a reduction of anxiety and depression to a boost in circulation, creativity, energy, weight loss and overall happiness, among other advantages.
Everyone’s taking them, and everyone’s succeeding because of them.
I can’t take cold showers. I just can’t. I want to — or more accurately, I want to want to — but I can’t go through with it.
Every morning, I stand outside the shower, convinced that today is the day.
And every morning, I can’t stop myself from dialing the dial to hot.
I don’t discount for a second the potential benefits that cold showers offer.
But given my repeated failures, I am beginning to wonder if the energy I’ve spent thinking about and trying to take them would be better spent elsewhere.
Granted, this could just be me playing devil’s advocate, or more likely, rationalizing my cowardice.
But self-improvement isn’t one-size-fits-all; we each have to find measures that fit us best.
And I’m not sure cold showers are for me — and they might not be for you, either.
I am not a morning person. I never have been.
While my mother taught me every day is a gift, when I first wake up, my days feel more like a prison sentence.
I’m tired. I’m hungry. And the only thing I care about is calculating how many hours of consciousness stand between me and getting back in bed.
And now I’m supposed to turn myself into a human popsicle?
At what cost?
The waking process is already, in a sense, traumatic, and I’m not sure injecting more trauma into my life moves things in the right direction.
I get that there’s value in shocking your system, in ripping the band-aid right off.
And I get that, when it comes to cold showers, pain is kind of the point — when you’re trembling in that stall, you’re training yourself to effectively manage your internal response to a surrounding world of hurt.
But there’s a fine line between pushing yourself and pushing yourself too far. Cross it, and your well-intentioned initiatives do more harm than good.
About six months ago, my water heater broke.
Between getting the plumber out to fix it; the plumber’s fix not fixing anything; the warranty company reluctantly agreeing to replace the water heater; the new unit getting delivered; and getting the plumber back out to install it, I was without hot water for about three weeks.
Which meant three weeks of cold showers.
Part of me was grateful for this, as it forced me into a personal growth experiment.
“Cold showers have helped others, surely they’ll help me,” I thought.
Unfortunately, my results didn’t support this hypothesis.
Yes, it was a minute sample size, but the experience was ultimately about surviving, not thriving.
While the freezing water did become more tolerable, it didn’t make me more productive, and it didn’t make me any happier. And it certainly didn’t embolden me to write one of those, “I Took Cold Showers for X Amount of Time” success articles.
And now, I’m writing this article.
Seriously, who doesn’t want to take hot showers?
They’re calming. They’re comforting. And most importantly, they’re restorative.
As someone who’s too often on edge, those few minutes I have each morning help walk me back to sanity.
It’s a cleansing process, and not just in terms of my ears and the gaps between my toes.
Standing under the nozzle, as the water rushes over me, against my face and down my back, I’m able to relax and reflect.
My mind is free to wander wherever it chooses — to new possibilities, to undiscovered insights, to joys as simple as my favorite song lyrics.
This almost meditative state has produced some of my best ideas and clarified some of my most confounding crises.
And who knows if any of that would’ve been possible had I been forced to focus on managing the exquisite pain that makes cold showers appealing.
As described above, early wake-up calls have never been easy for me.
While the reduction of REM sleep is debilitating, it’s the anticipatory disruption that’s just as devastating.
Not only am I worried about oversleeping, I’m weighed down by the apprehension of whatever’s waiting on the other side of my alarm, be it a big work assignment, flight to catch or daunting to-do list.
Or, as I found out when my water heater was out, a cold shower.
Even when my impending schedule was manageable, I’d still wake up in the night and eye my bedside clock, knowing I was getting that much closer to the wrath of that unforgiving faucet. It gave me one more thing to worry about.
I’ve heard people who take cold showers say one of the benefits is that not only are they more alert in the morning, they’re more alert in the mid to late afternoon, that time of day when they’d previously been desperate for a nap or a hit of caffeine.
My guess is these people either never shared my anxiety, or they overcame it through willpower, commitment and repetition.
A tip of the cap to them, because in my brief experiment, I was never able to. And that’s left me wondering:
In the long-term, which is more rejuvenating — a blast of frigid water, or an uninterrupted night’s sleep?
I am obsessed with self-improvement, mainly because I so badly need to improve.
In my morning routine alone, the majority of time is geared toward getting better, toward becoming the best, most productive version of myself.
I wake up early to develop discipline.
I immediately exercise, not only to get stronger physically, but emotionally; there’s a toughness that comes from digging deep to finish a workout, when your muscles are burning and all you want is to be back beneath the comforter.
Instead of reaching for the doughnuts I crave, I drink a shake that’s far more practical than enjoyable.
I meditate for 20 minutes to calm my brain, ease my tension and center myself in the proper mindset.
And before heading to work, I write in my Five-Minute Journal, which gets me into gratitude and helps me prioritize what I want to accomplish during the day ahead.
Do my showers need to be part of this cause, too?
I mean, we’re talking about basic hygiene. Nothing more, nothing less.
Am I really doing myself that much of a disservice if I enter the shower with no greater purpose than to get clean?
Admittedly, the questions from the previous section are emblematic of a loser’s mindset.
Winners, after all, never pass up a chance to improve.
They are relentless in everything they do, no matter how small a task it is or inconsequential it seems.
Their pursuit of excellence is a habit, a way of life.
While I am trying to build that habit, I’m not there yet.
My hope is one day I will be, though. And I know the only way to get closer is to keep pushing my boundaries.
This is why I continue getting up earlier than I want, doing more lunges than I want and eating fewer doughnuts than I want.
And at some point, if I can stick to the plan, these strategies will give me the strength I need to set new forward-facing goals — goals that previously felt impossible yet are suddenly within reach.
Like, say, taking cold showers.
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Originally published at medium.com