You’ve heard about the trend of taking a daily cold shower, right?
And maybe you’re intrigued, even though stepping under ice water seems like the most painful thing on the planet you could do to yourself.
I was intrigued too but cautious when I took Wim Hof’s course based around breathing techniques and cold therapy.
But I also went into it anything but a virgin. Years previous, I’d undertaken many cold water rituals taught as part of the Russian Martial Art Systema.
But Wim Hof has a significantly different take on what to do while taking cold showers, so in October of 2015 while living in chilly Berlin, I started an adventure without end. True, taking cold showers now that I live in Australia holds a slightly different dynamic.
But here’s the thing:
It’s not necessarily any easier and the benefits remain intact. So the question really is:
Why On Earth Take Cold Showers?
For me, taking Hof up on his “just do it” challenge begins and ends with health. My psoriatic arthritis had started interfering with my productivity. Depressions outnumbered the manias. I felt fat and hated the look of myself in the mirror.
Plus, my life was lacking a certain je ne sais quas. I needed to reinvent myself – or at least revisit an earlier portrait of Anthony Metivier I’d enjoyed before.
And you know what?
Taking cold showers almost every day proved revolutionary.
Yes, even if some people run instantly to Google and type in “cold shower benefits myth.”
You may find some compelling reasons for not learning how to take a cold shower as taught by this or that self-help guru.
But for your convenience, I’ve extracted my personal and biggest realizations into one of them fancy, fandangled list posts like you see whizzing all over the Internet.
Not because I’m against the benefits of hot showers.
Not because I think cold shower testosterone gifts are going to bless you from on high.
None of that jazz. These are 7 surprising reasons you’ve should give this technique a try and the lessons I’ve learned from being a disciple of the daily cold shower:
1. Taking Cold Showers Creates Mental Discipline
For some reason, no matter how routine certain activities become in our lives, the mind always resists. Getting up early, drafting book chapters, exercising … We throw up barriers between ourselves and the things most likely to get us the results we’re looking for.
And it’s all so odd.
You’d think the things we do repeatedly would get easier with time. Yet, for some reason, the level of difficulty in getting started … always seems to be about the same.
In fact, the only two settings humans come with by default seem to be:
“Difficult” and “More Difficult.”
I found that taking a daily cold shower helped break down the habit of throwing up mental barriers between the paths I created for myself to take and actually taking them.
Because getting myself into the cold shower required something rare and special:
And it turns out that the mental toughness needed to goad a naked body into ice cold water is a transferable skill to making my clothed body get other things done.
Lots of other things done. Ritualistically. Mechanically. Quickly.
And I’d bet money that taking cold showers would have the same effect for you.
2. Some Pain Is An Illusion Created In The Mind
Unlike some of the over-the-top commandos you hear from in Wim Hof’s Facebook group, I wasn’t interested in entering the wilderness in search of extreme cold.
For me, the cold turns out to be a metaphor more than anything.
I mean, think about it:
Although I never measured the temperature of the water in my shower, I doubt the shower water even on the coldest day in Berlin dipped lower than 14-15 degrees.
But it sure feels cold! Far colder than it really is, and the more I expose myself to colder showers the more aware I become of how my mind creates so many of life’s seemingly intolerable temperatures.
I find this experience-based and experience-reinforced realization empowering. It demonstrates just how much suffering in life takes place only in the mind.
And in the case of taking cold showers, here’s the best news of all:
Taking cold showers cures the pain! (Maybe due to interactions with the vagus nerve – thanks Ben for sending this link on perhaps a coincidental wavelength in timing some hours after I published this post.)
Just as jumping into the water and getting acquainted with the cold negates the pain of it all, the same thing applies to work. The cure for the pain of having to do things is to sit down and start doing them!
And taking cold showers helps you develop the mental toughness and sheer discipline to get past the pain of your illusions and just get down to the business of getting stuff done.
3. Mini-Accomplishments Are Good For The Soul
It sounds stupid, but taking a cold shower is an accomplishment. Nothing earth shattering. It doesn’t build new schools or feed the poor.
But if you ever feel down on yourself for not getting enough done or put yourself through a myriad of other complaints, hopping into a cold shower helps eliminate that negative hamster wheel.
It’s unpleasant only at the start, but getting yourself to take the first step is an accomplishment – even if it’s just your fingers and toes.
And you feel good about taking each step. And it’s so easy to see how each microscopic inch forward helps make all the steps that follow easier.
4. Cold Showers Create Clear Thinking
Berlin is often cold, gray and cloudy. Turns out Brisbane is that way sometimes too. And for whatever reason, my thinking follows the weather patterns … even in paradise, my mood can turn to mud.
But hopping into a cold shower helps wash that mud away.
The cold also sharpens the edges. I feel more alert, capable and responsive in tactical ways.
Of course, you don’t want to face the world as if it were an enemy and every little thing needs a strategy. That can put a drain on your ego.
Speaking of which …
5. Cold Showers Invoke The Buddha-Smile
I don’t know the science behind it, but sometimes when I meditate, I burst into laughter. I think it’s due to the release of endorphins or something in the pituitary glad.
Until I get a chance to do further research, I call these bursts of laughter “The Buddha-Smile.”
And they happen during cold showers too, without any need for meditation.
Unlike meditation, where the laughter comes and goes without any influence from me, in cold showers, the Buddha-Smile happens every time after the four-minute mark.
By contrast, in meditation, you can influence it a little, but ultimately never really know when or if it’s going to come. But in the shower, four minutes of exposure provides (at least for me) a guaranteed blast of Spray-on-joy.
Any shorter than four minutes, and the laughter never comes. I’ve also noted that the laugher comes in sharper and more edifying blasts if I’m dowsing my head during the shower. And if there’s any truth to my fast and loose theory, it may be that the cold water is stimulating the pituitary gland.
More importantly, the Buddha-Smile reminds me of life’s absurdity. That in turn reminds me that we all create our own meaning.
I’m not pitching you on existentialism. But think of it like this:
Only you can give your existence the significance it deserves. You are, after all, the only one conducting the conversation going on in your own head.
And it’s worth testing to see if cold showers help you hold better conversations thanks to some kind of chemical release. Check with your doctor first, though, and then make an appointment with your nearest cold shower.
6. Cold Showers Are A Great Icebreaker
A lot of people struggle to have things to talk about – I’m sometimes one of them. But the cold shower routine always gives me something interesting to add to conversations.
For one thing, feeling so alert and sharp helped my brain find topics to talk about. Plus, I feel far more outgoing since I started learning to break the ice nearly ever morning of my life in isolation.
And let’s face it: “Hey, have you heard about taking cold showers?” is a great ice-breaker for any kind of conversation that begins or turns chilly.
Not only that, but the topic of cold showers connects to so many other topics. And having lots to talk about can improve your luck:
In addition to talking endlessly about memory, as an often reserved person, I can also talk about my previous history with cold exposure in Systema …
Wim Hof’s book …
The whole culture of video courses …
Self-improvement as a topic of interest …
There’s really no end to the conversation when you can start off with an intriguing topic like the power of a daily cold shower!
7. You Don’t Get Annoyed When There’s No Hot Water
I’ve traveled a lot and nothing is more annoying than being in a hotel, having an appointment you need to reach and having no hot water. Except …
… when you don’t need hot water to get the job of cleaning yourself done!
Self-congratulations for those who shower cold aside, the point of annoyance is important. Just as having a regular meditation ritual helps ensure you don’t get blown into irritation by the little things in life, cold showers make tiny annoyances easier to cope with. You’re just not as readily bothered by discomfort when a core daily ritual involves exposing yourself to discomfort on purpose.
And that’s one of the core takeaways from the podcast interview Tim Ferriss offers with Wim Hof:
There’s great comfort to be found in seeking discipline from temporarily uncomfortable practices.
Plus, you learn a lot about your personal psychology and how to shape your response to things while motivating yourself to take action, day after day.
But Wait! Aren’t You Risking Sickness Or Death?
But in the entire time I’ve been taking cold showers since October of 2015, I’ve fallen ill from the flu just once.
Now, I’m not a medical scientist or professional, but it seems clear to me that I got the flu from a virus, not the cold.
And if anything, taking cold showers strengthens your immune system. And isn’t it the case that viruses lurk in warm places?
In any case, except for truly stupid cold exposure stunts that risk loss of life and limb, let me be clear:
I’m only advocating cold showers at home after getting the green light from your doctor.
Again, the cold you’ll experience is most likely a psychological effect first, a physiological one second because the temperature at home cannot be too terribly cold. It’s just enough to create the kind of mental discomfort that creates mental discipline.
And if taking a daily cold shower boosts your immune system too and creates the other 7 benefits I’ve experienced in your life – what a boon!
And get this:
Without having to wander around the wilderness or hop in a cold shower, there are other ways to enjoy the cold. For example, I often wear no clothes at home.
“Aren’t you cold?” is one of the most common questions I hear from my wife.
And I love it.