One month into the year of clarity, and I’ve completed a challenge I never thought I would do, take a cold shower every day for a month. If you’re like me, your first response to hearing such news will be followed by a thought similar to, good for you–I have zero interest in doing that. In fact, that was my attitude until I met Jesse Harless, the author of Smash Your Comfort Zone with Cold Showers. Meeting Jesse in December at the Best Year Ever Blueprint was inspiring. His story of overcoming addictions resonated, and cold showers were part of his recovery. Again, I had zero interest in taking any cold showers. I began telling him about how I had tried something similar in Florida for a few weeks, falling out of the routine of ending warm showers by turning them cold for the last few seconds. That admission opened the door to his challenge. Instinctively, I declined.
Not five minutes after our conversation, I began to notice a response that closely resembled fear. Could I take a cold shower every day? I knew at that moment, there was something I was afraid of, and I wanted to address the subconscious barrier that was lacking information. I took a look at the book and thought to myself if there are benefits to taking cold showers, and I've fallen out of routine, can I at least be willing to find out what information Jesse knows that I don't? My habit of being comfortable with warm showers would soon be disrupted, agreeing with myself that if there is something useful, I will implement that for good. After hearing his story from the stage and having brief conversations with him, I began to feel I could be more willing to give this a chance starting January 1st.
As February tests the will of resolution warriors, I am proud to say I haven't missed a cold shower yet, even after four days in a hotel attending my company's national sales meeting. This challenge taught me something about myself, and I think there's something here worth sharing for the mindset of everyone.
For two weeks, I thought about how I could implement this challenge and follow through with doing it consistently every day. I journaled, "It doesn't have to be all or nothing, so I don't need to jump into an ice bucket to complete this challenge. What is important is to find the edge of my comfort zone and to start moving it." By not just jumping in and immediately doing this type of challenge without putting thought into my commitment to follow through the process, I found to be a benefit. Instead of rushing in without taking a look at what is the first step, I asked myself a series of questions. How will this best serve my needs? What am I trying to achieve here? Thinking about my previous experience falling out of routine and how cold the showers were going to be, I started taking colder showers by a few degrees each time the last two weeks of December. There was also advice in the book about doing push-ups or some movement and playing music that you like to set up the experience to be more enjoyable. You don't just jump in and blast yourself with a miserable experience. It's about creating a positive experience as much as possible, and doing something that your mind is telling you is uncomfortable that it doesn't want to do.
It’s Only Water
Just to be clear, large bodies of cold water are dangerous. Jesse writes, "for most people, water that is below 70° F is going to feel cold." Reading information available about water temperatures and how people respond was helpful in getting an idea of what I was getting into. Thankfully, I was dealing with the shower in my bathroom and not the deep blue sea. As I began the challenge January 1st, I read Jesse's words saying, "by taking a cold shower and ignoring the impulse to preserve your comfort zone, you're telling your mind who's in charge." That was all fine and dandy until I felt the first exposure to my commitment.
For that first week, I would describe my Cold Shower Challenge as five minutes of chaos set to music. The cold temperature had significantly increased my sense of urgency to complete my purpose in the shower, and I began to notice by day 10 I had started saying out loud, "it's only water." Even my hesitation before getting into the shower was met by, "it's only water." I thought to myself, "jump straight in-no delay. The point of this is not to think about it." The longer I stood outside the shower, hearing the water running, the more my subconscious won the mental tug-of-war. So, I began getting straight in the shower.
By day 12, dropped bars of soap were happening less, and I started to become more focused and efficient with showering. "The water was already cold enough," I journaled, "and I'm not in there to hang out and get comfortable. I was there to get my system primed for the day." Jesse also mentioned that cold showers helped him kick drinking coffee in the mornings, and I see how the shock from cold water gets your attention.
Commit to the Process
As my calendar began to reflect a consistency streak, I still had days where it felt like the water was so cold that I had to remind myself again that, "it's only water, and it's here to serve me." My mind was telling me that it was going to be colder than it was, and I'd remind myself, "this is why I'm getting right in. It's only water, and it's not as cold as I'm making it out to be." On day 14, when I got in the shower, I shrieked immediately!
As I danced around, fidgeting, and singing to myself, I had my first profound thought and asked, "where else does this show up in my life?" Where can I continue something that I know is a bit uncomfortable, but by not thinking about it and committing to the process, it begins getting easier? What benefits could come to my life going through an exercise like this? Even if I don't take cold showers for the rest of my life, what will having experienced this month of discomfort and the willingness to still proceed lead me? On day 16, I felt like making more noise about how cold the water felt to release the energy from the initial shock. I thought to myself, "if I need to shriek or to make some sounds while getting in the water, then the make noise. That noise is your reminder that you are there and with a purpose." "It's only water" became, "scream if you need to!"
Do the Best You Can
Approaching the final week of this challenge, there was one experience I was looking forward to seeing how I responded, staying in a large hotel for four days attending my company’s national sales meeting. By that point, I was looking forward to continuing to take cold showers and could see the finish line. To my disappointing surprise, the shower in the beautiful hotel I was in would not get as cold as I wanted it to be to stay as consistent with what I had been doing at home. Imagine being disappointed that you couldn’t take the coldest shower. On January 26th, that was me. As I turned the dial as cold as it would go without shutting off the shower, I decided that all I could do is the best I could with the situation. I could still show up and make the shower as cold as it would go, even if it was warmer than I wanted. On the second day in the hotel, I was still showing up, and the shower felt colder than the day before, so the lesson remained the same for the rest of the trip, do the best I could and try.
As I thought about how things don’t always go 100% as expected returning from this trip on day 29, I felt mentally prepared to get back in my shower and get uncomfortable. In a short time, however, my body had forgotten what the morning shock from a significantly colder shower was, and it was a doozy jumping back into reality. Jesse had a point to this challenge, and I was finally starting to understand the meaning when he wrote, “once you begin to take a daily cold shower and to continually push yourself, you get used to the discomfort. And we need discomfort in order to change. You begin to look forward to the discomfort because you know growth is inevitable.” When I got in the shower on day 31, I proclaimed, “because it’s the last shower of the challenge!” and jumped in.
There were several moments during this Cold Shower Challenge, where I felt encouraged to practice the lessons I was learning outside of the shower. After the beginning of the new year, I had begun reaching out to people in my network to wish them a happy new year and start reconnecting with those I've met at some of the events I had attended that had fallen out of touch. Sending text messages was quick and convenient, but there was one conversation that revealed we had more to talk about than a quick text message, and we agreed to speak on the phone at a later date to continue our discussion. After a year of not seeing or talking to each other, I felt apprehensive about making the call a few weeks later. The mental tug of war began again, and I chose to focus on the potential benefit of us reconnecting and decided to be uncomfortable for a few minutes while the phone rang. It sounds easy in writing, but in the moment, I was squirming and waiting for the voicemail, which I did leave. When I immediately received a returned call, we spoke for almost an hour, and it was a great conversation full of laughter, stories of what we'd gone through since we last saw each other, and support for each other. My mind wanted to make the conversation out to be worse than it was ever going to be, but thankfully the practice of a few minutes of discomfort, in this case, was the willingness to hear the ringing of a telephone.
Smash Your Comfort Zone with Cold Showers only takes a couple of hours to read, and I can guarantee you'll be better for having read and accepted this challenge. For 39 days in a row now, I've done something that a year ago would've had no chance in me doing. But that's the beauty I see in stretching your comfort zone when I find challenges like this. I won't do right now does not mean I can't do forever. Recalling such an experience reinforces that I commit to the process because my hesitation is my comfort zone. Join me where the change happens and drop the temperature in your shower. Your comfort zone will not be the same.
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