[This post is part of a series on Cold Showers. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view that series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
I haven’t written about cold showers lately, probably because the water hasn’t gotten below fifty degrees since last winter, but this morning it did, so I am. The thermometer said the water was 48.9F (9.4C) this morning.
People ask me why I do it. Other people who do cold showers understand. Taking them develops skills and perspectives that apply elsewhere in life—actually, everywhere in life. I like hot showers, which account for three-quarters of the showers I take, but physical pleasure isn’t everything in life.
I can’t explain why I like exercise, healthy food, and physical fitness either. Maybe I can illustrate it with a story.
I stood outside a Cheesecake Factory the Monday, waiting for a train. The temperature was well below freezing and the winds gusty. Through the restaurant window I could see giant pieces of cheesecake slathered with chocolate, strawberry, and other sauces on display. I know if I went in that eating one would bring me physical pleasure. It’s not obvious to me what material benefit not eating them brings me. I mean, I’ll stay more fit and I’m more likely to live longer than if I make a habit of eating them, but if I value pleasure, eating more cheesecake might lead to a life of more pleasure.
But I don’t value physical pleasure over the emotional reward that comes from physical fitness. I once did. Physical pleasure is fleeting, but even a lifetime of cheesecakes and other pleasures don’t measure up to the long-term, rich and complex emotional reward of something I work for, like muscle definition on my abs, or being able to swim across the Hudson River on a whim, or to come in second in a footrace for the fun of it.
People associate not eating desserts with willpower and avoidance and fitness with deprivation. I didn’t find those cheesecakes appetizing in the least. I think cold showers has something to do with that. The cheesecakes looked gluttonous, gross, sugary, and fatty. What does that say about the people eating them, or the society that leads to the restaurant chain’s national success? Do they not seem gluttonous, gross, sugary, and fatty too?
Meanwhile, I’m cooking with more vegetables picked from local farms than ever and I don’t remember loving what I eat more. I’ve found more in life to enjoy from fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and legumes.
The train I was waiting for was to meet a friend at a gym. He’s a personal trainer and showed me some new exercises I plan to start making a habit of. I’m still sore from that workout.
I can’t explain why I choose to go out in the cold to work at something with no material benefit and will make me physically sore two days later while I’ve lost interest in cheesecakes, but it’s the same reason as the cold showers. Each builds on the other. To me they create an integrated life.
I think people who have experienced it get it and don’t need explanation. Until I experienced it I didn’t get it either.
EDIT: four days later, the water temperature in my shower was 46.7 F (8 C), with February still to come.
EDIT: January 28: 46.4 F. Still a ways from my record: 39.9 F
EDIT: February 12: 45.9 F (7.7 C)
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