(Scott: Please welcome James Ranson to One Week With/out! He was one of the first people to reach out to me about the challenge, and is a writer and lifestyle experimenter in his own right. Today, he shares his experience of One Month Without Hot Showers. Many thanks, James.)
I’d heard all the benefits. Better metabolism. Easier to wake up in the morning. Stronger immune system. Better blood flow. Higher testosterone. More energy.
But all the benefits I’d read about added up to a whole lot of nothing when I was standing outside my shower, having just turned it to the coldest setting and promised myself and the world I wouldn’t leave that bathroom until I’d gotten in that icy shower for at least long enough to wash my hair and scrub down with some bodywash.
That was me on New Year’s morning 2014. I’d committed to the 31-Day Cold Shower Challenge, and there was no un-committing.
So I took a deep breath.
I counted one, two…
…and before I could chicken out on three, I pulled back the curtain and practically threw myself under the chilly spray.
I immediately gave a very manly bellow, which very probably came out as a countertenor shriek because (1) I actually AM a countertenor, and (2) it was freaking COLD!
Needless to say I got in and out of there as quickly as I could. That’s the first thing I learned from this challenge: while I love my long hot showers, when the water’s cold, I can get in and out squeaky clean in under two minutes. Look at all this extra time I have now!
I felt pretty proud of myself for having gotten through day one. That feeling lasted, of course, until the next morning. That was when I found myself outside the cold shower spray once again, learning lesson #2: the second day is always the worst.
The first day I at least had the element of surprise on my side. On day 2 I knew EXACTLY what was coming. I stood outside that shower for a looooooong time on day 2, let me tell you. But I had one day’s momentum going, and that was enough to eventually get me in and out again.
On day 3 I had to shave. And I almost always shave in the shower. You see where this is going, right? What for the last two days had been a two-minute sprint was at least doubled by the need to do something I don’t do every day.
And that led me to lesson 3: if you can stand something for two minutes, you can stand it for five minutes. (That doesn’t mean you want to stand it for an hour, but the point is you can always do just a little more than you think you can.)
After the third day, I started to settle in. The cold showers weren’t fun, but they were part of my morning routine now, and I was getting better at just getting in already instead of standing outside trying to psych myself up for the icy shock. I eventually figured out two lessons from these next few days. First, when you make something part of a routine, it’s easier to do it without thinking about how much you don’t want to do it. And second, the sooner you jump in a cold shower and get the freezing water all over you, the sooner the cold stops bothering you and you become a guy (or girl, this is an equal-opportunity challenge) just taking a quick shower.
After the first week or so, I thought maybe I’d learned everything I was going to. I felt like I was growing my character by sticking with the challenge, but I definitely felt like after January was over, I’d go back to hot showers faster than you can say “turn it up!”
But then one day I noticed something interesting. For some reason, I’d waited a bit later than usual to take my morning shower, and as I got ready to get in, I realized that my feet were really cold already. My first thought was “oh great, now they’ll get even colder,” but when I stepped under the cold water I received a different kind of shock: my cold feet, under the cold water, felt warm.
Wait, what? Whoa. Hold on a sec. Warm?
Yeah. My feet were warm. Now, a physicist I ain’t, but it seemed to me that my feet must have actually been colder than the water—or if they weren’t, they at least felt that way to me—so the water warmed them up! And that got me thinking about differences in temperature.
So for the first time in the challenge, that day I paid special attention to how I felt—not just in the cold shower, but also after I got out. Was I shivering? You bet. But once the water was off and I’d had a chance to towel off a bit, I realized that I felt…comfortably warm. And that confirmed my hypothesis: the water wasn’t just cold, it was actually colder than the air in my apartment.
Okay, maybe that’s a no-brainer, but before you file it under D for Duh, stop and think about this: how many of us always feel cold and lethargic after a hot shower? How often do you step out of a morning shower and wish you could curl up back in your warm bed instead of starting your day? Warm showers make us feel cold afterwards because the water is warmer than the air. So it’s only logical that cold showers make us feel warm afterwards for the opposite reason, the water is colder than the air so the air naturally warms us up. Only most of us never know or think about this, because we don’t push ourselves through the cold showers to find out.
I don’t know what it was about that lesson that tripped a switch in my head, but from that point on, the cold showers stopped being torture and started being normal, even enjoyable at times. The remaining two weeks or so passed uneventfully, and I soon congratulated myself on completing the 31-Day Cold Shower Challenge. I was all ready to celebrate by taking a long hot shower on February 1. With mounting excitement, I turned the shower on hot and stepped in.
And it felt wrong.
It wasn’t painful or uncomfortable, exactly…it just felt off somehow. After a few moments of confusion, I turned the faucet back to cold. And suddenly it felt right. Apparently I’d unwittingly broken myself of the long hot shower habit. Who knew?
It’s now almost six months later, and I’m still taking cold showers. In fact, since it’s now late June, and I live in western Florida at the moment, my apartment complex actually has a problem keeping the water cold enough for me—it only seems to stay cold for a few seconds before moving up to decidedly tepid. But I persevere. I may not have started this habit with the idea of making it permanent, but I’m pretty happy about how things turned out, and I can’t wait till fall when the cold water works again.
So to recap: the lessons of one month without hot showers…
0. Reading about something is nothing next to actually doing it.
0.5. Count to two and go. If you wait till three, you’ll psych yourself out and still be standing there in ten minutes.
1. Even if you’re used to doing something slowly, you can do it lightning-quick when you have to.
2. The first day of anything tough is a breeze. The second day is the one to watch out for.
3. If you can stand it for two minutes, you can stand it for five. If you’ve made it this long, you can make it a little longer.
4. Make your difficult thing part of your daily routine. Don’t think about it, just make it the thing you do after you go for a walk and before you brush your teeth.
5. Jump in, don’t ease in. Once the initial shock fades, you’ll be fine, so why prolong that initial shock?
6. Like cold feet feeling warm in a cold shower, everything is relative depending on your situation.
7. You can define a tough activity not just by how you feel while doing it, but by how you feel once you’re done. Cold showers make you feel warm.
8. As a corollary to #7, you’ll never know how to do that unless you do the tough activity enough times to be conscious of how you feel afterwards other than “glad to be done.”
9. You can start to do something temporary and find yourself permanently changed when you’re done.
10. Challenge yourself to something you dislike long enough, and you may end up loving it.
Now, who’s with me? If you’re reading this, I challenge you to take the Cold Shower Challenge for the next 31 days. If you’ve done it already, substitute something else uncomfortable and see how it changes you. Bet you anything you’ll look at yourself differently when you’re done.
James Ranson is an avid wordsmith, all-purpose tenor, and professional giver of feedback. Connect with him at www.heldforranson.com.