"Boom! Every cell in my body wakes up. It’s like training your nervous system to rock. I don’t give a shit how you feel, you have to perform… That simple discipline that reminds me the level of strength and intensity that is available at any moment, at will."
- Tony Robbins on the Tim Ferriss Podcast
Today is my 100th day in a row taking a cold shower. Most of my friends think I’m nuts, which is fine because I think that Tony Robbins is nuts, and he is the reason I started taking cold showers in the first place. If you’ve ever watched or listened to Tony Robbins you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you need to. The quote above is Tony talking to Tim Ferriss about his morning routine, cold showers and hydrotherapy.
My first cold shower was just a fun experiment. I wasn’t too serious about it, but was curious to see what Tony was talking about. I jumped in, and it was exactly what I was expecting: freezing cold and miserable. After a couple minutes, I got out, and felt great. I felt awake, I felt energized, and I felt proud of myself for getting through the pain and misery of my first cold shower. I decided right then and there that I liked it, and I wanted more.
After a few more cold showers, it started to get tougher. The newness and excitement was gone. It became a mental challenge. I would lay in my warm and cozy bed a bit longer in the morning, knowing that as soon as I got up I’d be subjecting myself to the agony of ice cold water. I would stare at the shower nozzle for a few seconds longer each morning wondering if I should just end all this and go back to nice warm showers. After turning the cold water on, I would pause, and just think “why am I doing this?” But every morning I would get in and get it done. And every time, I would get out of the shower feeling great. I could literally feel myself building mental toughness.
I started to research the health benefits of cold showers. There are a number of benefits of cold water to the body: increased alertness and energy, better looking skin, improved circulation and immunity, fat burn, muscle recovery, and reduced stress. This definitely provided reinforcement that the discomfort was worth it.
But as I got longer and longer into my streak, the discomfort became worth it because of the discomfort itself. The ability to purposefully accept the discomfort, and stick to it each and everyday, has become why I enjoy cold showers the most. It’s about the ability to silence the mind right before getting into the shower. It’s about starting my day feeling like I am in control. I get out of the shower every morning feeling if I can do this I can do anything. I am conditioning myself to be able to step outside my comfort zone. It’s a freezing cold daily reminder to step out of my comfort zone.
The cold is my teacher. - Wim Hof
This post was written in February of 2015, shortly after day 100 of the cold shower streak. The streak ended up lasting over 260 days. Today is almost 4 years after the streak ended, but I all of a sudden felt compelled to jot down a few more thoughts on the streak. I do reflect on the streak all the time, and this was my first major habit experiment. Since then, I have done many similar habit experiments, I did over 100 days of no snooze alarm, I did over 60 days of no alcohol, and a few others. But cold showers remains to be one of the most impactful for me.
What did I learn from the cold shower streak? Like I wrote above, I learned to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. The cold shower is maybe the perfect small example of it of the comfort zone cliche. It's a daily habit for stepping out of your comfort zone.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes about how many people are too focused on the finish line and should instead optimize for showing up. Don't worry about the marathon, just worry about lacing up the running shoes today. If you optimize for lacing up your running shoes, aka the start line, eventually you'll get to the marathon. Cold showers is training for getting to the start line of stepping out of your comfort zone. It's a daily practice in showing up. A couple cold showers is meaningless, but showing up for 260 days in a row is not. If I could show up for 260 days in a row of doing anything - sticking to a diet, exercising, waking up early, learning a new skill, meditating - that would be significant.
I also learned the skill of mental override. At the time, "mental override" did not exist in my vocabulary, but once I heard the term a couple years later, I connected the two. Every single morning before my cold shower, I would hear the voices in my head begging me to spare myself the cold torture. "Why are you even doing this? This is pointless. This is stupid. No one will know or care if you decide to take a warm shower instead." And every morning for 260 days in a row, I was able to mentally override myself, and get it done.
We are our own worst enemies. Are ancient brains are wired to seek comfort, pleasure, and immediate gratification, but these things often go against long term progress towards our goals. Learning how to mentally override our brains when necessary is a vital skill.
Going back to Atomic Habits again, Clear talks about outcome-based habits vs identity-based habits.
Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe. Outcome-based habits start with what you want to achieve. Identity-based habits start with who we wish to become. The key to building habits that last is to focus on creating a new identity first.
With cold showers, there literally is no outcome. "I'm sticking to this diet (process) because I want to lose weight (outcome)." "I'm running 6 miles today (process) because I want to run a marathon (outcome)." I'm taking a cold shower today because... Uh...
I'm taking a cold shower today because I want to be successful like Tony Robbins, because I want to be a badass like Wim Hof, because I want to be the type of person who does crazy shit like jump in a freezing cold shower on a cold winter morning because I'm not afraid and I'm in control, and the type of person who has discipline.
The identity change is the outcome. With every cold shower, that identity was further ingrained. It's not about what I got from taking cold showers, I was about who I became by it.
So, to sum up how my cold shower streak impacted me... I developed a daily habit of stepping out of my comfort zone, I learned the skill of mental override, I learned the power of identity-based habits.