I tried taking cold showers every day for 30 days. I failed, but in failing I learned the most about myself.
Once again my dear friend, Porter Duong, made a biohack suggestion to me: cold showers are meditative! And now let me indulge with being overly curious and get carried away with 30 days of unnecessary torture!
I’ve heard people preach the benefits of taking cold showers in the past. The proclaimed benefits ranged from increased circulation, anxiety relief, faster muscle recovery, and boosts your energy. Embarking this is a challenge is far from my wheelhouse of comfort, which is all the more reason for me to explore it.
How Things Went
First, some ground rules:
- I would turn water to its coldest setting, get in, and let the water dose me. Lukewarm water is a no go.
- I have to perform my normal shower routine, rushing isn’t allowed.
- I have to take at least one shower per day.
It sucked. I condemned myself for being an idiot to take on a pointless challenge. My entire household knew exactly when I took a cold shower. Conversations looked like this:
Roommate: Were you taking a cold shower again? Me: Yes, how did you know? Roommate: I heard screaming.
A few things about jumping into a cold shower:
- My chest cavity is the first thing that tenses up when I get hit by water.
- I don’t like it when the cold hits my chest. My major organs are unhappy with me.
- Scrubbing myself in the cold feels like punishment.
- Shampoo and conditioning my hair in the cold feels relaxing.
- Cold showers actually feel great after a workout!
I’m beginning to notice that I’ll to adapt to the hurdles of my 30-day Challenges by the second week. I squealed less as jump into my frigid showers and accepted my cold fate.
During this week, I also started questioning the validity of the benefits of cold showers. Most studies that discuss the benefits are from cold therapy –not cold showers. Lots of the benefits of cold showers appears to be subjective. But, after going deeper Googling I came across book The Flinch by Julien Smith. The book is a manifesto on facing your fears and pushes taking cold showers as a way to help build mental and emotional strength. I became more curious on how forcing myself to confront a daily discomfort would change me.
The Bay Area also went through a heatwave during this week. I welcomed cold showers at all hours of the day.
I spent this week in Los Angeles for a photo gig. The client had put me up in a hotel suite that had a shower with not one, but two shower heads! A regular one and a rainfall one. And I persisted with the chilly showers. My week involved 12+ hour-long days on set with a beautiful commute in traffic on the 5N. It was during this week that I started missing my regular showers. After work, I felt physically exhausted, wanted to rest, but still had to trudge through a self-imposed challenge.
I got to Day 28 of this challenge and finally broke. My pride wanted me to stick it out for two more days. I received a gut-churning notice from the IRS (this is being handled, I may turn this fun situation into a blog post in the future), and my body flooded with anxiety. Oh F*ck! WTF?! My body started shaking and my mind starting going down thought traps, I put the brakes on the panicked overflow with meditation.
I felt calm again after taking a 10-minute walk through my brain. I collected myself, took the next steps to mitigate the IRS ordeal, and then I took a hot shower.
What I Learned
Cold showers are a metaphor for embracing the uncomfortably of life. The moment that we hesitate before facing a difficult situation is what Julien Smith calls “the flinch” in his book. We flinch whenever we’re about to do something uncomfortable with unknown outcomes such as a job interview, asking someone out on a date, or responding to an email. Cold showers are the most accessible way to practice facing “the flinch” daily. They’re physically uncomfortable, but once you step in and embrace the discomfort, you’ll realize that the pain is temporary –as with everything else in life. By forcing myself to endure this challenge day after day, I’m reminded that I have what it takes to push through any obstacle.
Health Benefits Need More Research
Studies have strongly suggested that there are health benefits from cold therapy, however most of these studies are conducted with ice baths –not cold showers. There’s just not enough extensive research to support that a cold shower would have equivalent effects.
Now if I had access to an ice machine I’d be tempted into taking ice bathes for 30 days… (anyone wanna sponsor me ice?)
Challenges Are About Growing and Not Torture
I broke my streak because I had a rough day. My day job got heavier than usual, I had to work over a 3-day weekend, and on top of everything else I had to deal with the IRS…
I got into the cold shower and had an epiphany. Why was I taking cold showers still? I had already conquered “the flinch.” It dawned on me that I wanted to complete the challenge for my ego and vanity. Adding another bullet point to a list of superficial things that I could brag about is against my ethos. The purpose of challenging myself is to gain a deeper insight into myself. The results of the challenge are rarely as important as the process itself.
After 28 days of cold showers, I concluded that pushing an extra two days would have diminishing returns. I ended the challenge on an emotionally turbulent day. For me to function and operate, I needed to decompress, and taking a normal shower is part of that process. Recognizing my needs and limitations is as crucial as facing challenges
I don’t foresee myself taking cold shower marathons again, but I have worked in taking a cold shower (singular!) once a week. I now also prefer ending my hot showers with cold water. Although, I can’t confirm if there were any physiological benefits from this cold endeavor, I can say that it helped me build more mental endurance.
Cold showers, paired with intermittent fasting, also really help me wake up and kickstart my day. They also feel relaxing and meditative –especially on a hot day or right after a workout.
|What I Liked||What I Didn’t Like|
|Meditative and Relaxing –after I got used to it||COLD!|
|Increasing my tolerance for discomfort||Cold Shower ≠ Ice Bath|
|Instant relief during a heatwave|
|Feeling awake after showering|
- The Science Behind Wim Hof Method
- TEDxAmsterdam – Wim Hof – 11/30/10
- Cold Shower Therapy: Joel Runyon at TEDxLUC
- What I Learnt From 365 Days of Only Cold Showers
- I took cold showers for 30 days | Matt D’Avella
- I Took a Cold Shower Every Day for a Month to See If the Benefits Were Legit | Runners World
- Cold Showers vs. Hot Showers: Which One Is Better? | Healthline