The 42.3 degree shower (5.7 Celcius): Trading fleeting discomfort for long-term reward and growth
[This post is part of a series on Cold Showers. If you donâ€™t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view that series, where youâ€™ll get more value than reading just this post.]
To people who haven’t tried and don’t get taking cold showers (or other punishing task like running a marathon you know you won’t win, climbing Mount Everest after others already have, meditating, or practicing yoga — none of which create results beyond you dong something challenging and the personal benefit that comes with it) today’s post might help them understand.Â you might understand why you’d challenge yourself with physical discomfort. Except a cold shower delivers comparable results needing no equipment or any deviation from your regular schedule, has no risk of injury, and pollutes less.
Two days after I finished thirty consecutive days of cold showers and finding my first warm shower anticlimactic, reinforcing the value of cold showers, New York City had a high of 17 degrees. I thought, “Even though I don’t have to take any more cold showers, how often will I get the chance to experience potential temperature extremes? Maybe I should try another cold shower on what might be the coldest day this winter.” So this morning, January 3, I tried another cold shower. It delivered like achieving any athletic personal best.
As usual before any challenge, I felt anxiety, fear, and trepidation. I also knew I risked only discomfort, not injury or suffering. After yesterday noticing the pleasure of warmth didn’t bring the happiness, satisfaction, emotional reward, or growth I expected, I felt a smaller longing for a warm shower, making the cold shower easier.
It felt physically cold, but emotionally good. Actually, this time the cold bordered on painful if I let the water hit any spot for too long, especially my hands and feet, I guess for being extremities, and the top of my head, because the water hit it most directly. I easily solved that problem by moving.
I’ve written on distinguishing pleasure, happiness, and emotional reward, including the relevant series I linked to yesterday “How to bring happiness and emotional reward to your life by analogy with pleasure â€” the series“. I can’t tell you how much more long-term value emotional reward and skills can have compared to physical pleasure. Of course I prefer both, but usually if I can get more of one at the expense of the other, I choose reward and learning over pleasure.
What else are we doing when we exercise, do sports, or any other challenging activity? You can talk about the health benefits of exercise, but to someone who prefers comfortably sitting on their couch, what does health matter if they don’t physically feel better? You can’t feel clogged arteries or high blood pressure. Getting fat doesn’t hurt. Exercise does. If you value physical fitness over obesity, you value reward over pleasure. Your life is yours to live by your values. Challenging yourself and experimentation helps you do it. Complacency doesn’t.
Edit: On January 7, New York hit 5 degrees outside. How could I not try for a new personal best? The water temperature was 42.3 degrees (5.7 Celsius). It hurt my hands and feet, but by now I have the skills to handle the discomfort. The challenge is like running or lifting. I know what to do, it’s a matter of doing it.
Edit: February 4, 2014: water temperature was 39.9 degrees (4.4 Celsius), though I didn’t time it, so I don’t think I made the full five minutes. More than uncomfortable. Couldn’t keep my hands in the water because they hurt. After the shower ended my skin felt cold. Still, the discomfort ended the moment I ended the shower.
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