[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 just took my first warm shower after thirty days of cold showers. It was different than I expected, reflecting some growth and change the experience brought me.
Before the warm shower
The first change I noticed was that I looked forward to the warm shower. It’s hard to look forward to a cold shower in winter. Maybe people who keep their houses hot feel differently, but it’s about 68 degrees inside here, probably colder at night, so not exactly cold, but we wear sweaters inside. Looking forward to the warm shower, I got out of bed sooner and went almost straight to the shower after my burpees.
Then another change happened just before entering the shower. Before getting into a cold shower I would psych myself up and start to feel excited. Before getting into the warm shower I didn’t get excited. I didn’t have to get over any fear. I didn’t set my timer first, which I’d been using to motivate my jumping in.
For the cold shower I would get into the stall, then turn on the water, which would hit me cold. No need to wait for the water to warm.
For the warm shower I was torn between getting in right away, like I’d been doing for the past month, or to let it warm up first. I ended up getting in first. When the cold water hit before the water warmed up, I jumped out of the stream. Since I had looked forward to warm water, I couldn’t stand the cold water. This felt weak — to become so reactive and timid.
Obviously, the warm shower felt more physically pleasurable than the cold shower, but only physically pleasurable. My mental state didn’t feel as good as I expected. While physically the water felt warm, emotionally it felt indulgent. It made me think about the common American advertising message: “Because you’re worth it,” but I kept asking myself, is this making my life better (I forgot I wrote a post on the topic that I just looked up and found relevant, “A question to ask all the time: “Is this making my life better”“).
I concluded a few things.
Pleasure feels good in the moment, but it has unintended consequences. I felt deserving but hadn’t earned anything. I felt indulgent, but what was I indulging for? Sure I could say there’s nothing wrong with feeling indulgent and deserving, but I could feel the warmth of the shower lulling me into complacency. It felt great to stay in the cocoon, but at the expense of actively living. Pleasure creates complacency.
Cold showers invigorate, excite, and activate you. Warm showers make you feel lethargic, indulgent, and deserving. I kept thinking about what I’ve told people over the past month:
Challenging yourself risks hurting yourself. Exercise and sport leads to injury. Challenging yourself socially risks rejection, shame, and humiliation. Business challenges risk failure and bankruptcy. I don’t see any way to avoid risk if you challenge yourself. If you want to avoid risk and injury, the best way I can see to do so is to take it to the extreme: buy the most comfortable couch you can, the most full cable subscription you can, buy ice cream and cookies every day on the way home from work, and watch television from your comfortable couch eating delicious ice cream and cookies. You won’t risk injury. Any time you start thinking about what your life could become if you did anything risky — physically, socially, business, etc — just find a show more funny, dramatic, or otherwise gripping to stop you from those thoughts. Anything less still risks injury.
I also noticed that warm showers feel a lot more pleasurable than cold showers, at least in the winter — enough that I could see myself choosing warm showers over cold showers a lot. If I went long enough without a cold shower, I might get too scared or complacent to take a cold shower again. I could see the value of the full thirty days and the full five minutes for developing the skill to enter a cold shower. One cold shower changed my life, which I could only have found by experiencing the sense of accomplishment, thrill, and excitement I felt after finishing it, but thirty days of them built a life-improvement skill I can use forever.
I also couldn’t help think about people who live without warm showers any time they wanted, which probably includes most people now and throughout history. How did my culture come to make hot showers standard? How has that affected us, to make indulgent normal? Have we trained or lulled ourselves into confusing pleasure with happiness and emotional reward? If you like warm showers, why not go full on to the couch, cable, ice cream, and cookies? Is that what my culture has mostly done, with its two-thirds obese population?
I also couldn’t help think of how much heating up all that water pollutes, which doesn’t go away because I don’t see the fossil fuels heating the water. The pleasure of a warm shower causes asthma, mercury poisoning, and so on.
The end of the warm shower hit me most. After a cold shower I felt invigorated, excited, and ready to go. When my five-minute timer went off, I turned of the water, flung open the shower door, jumped out of the shower, quickly got dressed, and headed out to do things, to act, to live by doing. My heart pumped fast, I laughed at the crazy thing I’d done and felt great.
Not so after the warm shower. Turning off the water was hard. I didn’t want to open the shower door since the air outside was colder. Since the towel was out there, I quickly opened the door, grabbed the towel, and re-closed the door. Then I huddled inside the stall, wrapped in the towel like a blanket, and didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay protected and comfortable, reinforcing my thoughts during my shower.
Taking the warm shower reinforced the value of cold showers and of action and excitement over indulgence and complacency. The experience has more emotional content and lessons than I expected. Years ago when I played ultimate five or six days a week, practicing in the rain until my body ached, playing four or five games a day two days in a row, being sore and painfully scabbed for months. The experiences made me a better person. A lifetime of warm showers felt good too, but didn’t change me.
When you indulge you want to keep indulging and you fear losing what you have. When you choose to challenge yourself, you elevate your mood and feel capable.
I’ll still take mostly warm showers, at least during the winter. I might not turn the water up as high as I used to. I’m deciding on how often to take cold showers — maybe a couple times a week or every third or fourth day. We’ll see.
Cold showers are a perfect SIDCHA. They give the personal development value of the best others, for most people saving time, money, pollution, and other resources. Physically uncomfortable as they are, they make you more capable and the rest of life easier.