A Somewhat Shocking Technique for Embracing Discomfort
Last time in this blog post, I discussed how we don’t actually “need” to be comfortable, and in fact, how it often stops us from growing and developing.
At the very end of that piece, I said that I would share one technique that I have personally used to overcome the “need” to be comfortable.
It’s a technique that has helped me when I needed a simultaneous reset and a push forward. It has broken bad moods, erased lethargy, and even reduced physical pain.
This technique has been used throughout history, and throughout various cultures.
It is purportedly useful in a number of ways, including the improvement of the immune system, easing depressive symptoms, and even some weight loss.
Now, before I mention what this technique actually is, be prepared, for it’s not as exotic or rare as you might guess.
The technique is a cold shower. (keep reading)
Now, before you write this off and click out of here and head over to Amazon or Pinterest or wherever else, hear me out.
I had heard about cold showers before, but it wasn’t until I watched a TED talk on it that I was intrigued enough to consider it.
Now, full disclosure, I didn’t think the TED talk was all that spectacular, but it did spark my imagination and got me inspired to do my very own 30 day cold shower challenge.
I would suggest that you begin instead with a 4-day commitment and see if you’d like to continue (unless you’re a masochist like me who likes to dive right in).
[Also, as a warning, if you’ve got a bad heart or blood pressure problems, start with turning the shower temp down a little instead of going straight cold. The effect on the body of cold shock include rapid breathing, constriction of blood vessels, and the heart working harder.]
After I had committed myself to 30 days straight, I had some second thoughts. I knew I could use some social support in case the whole thing turned out to be a huge mistake (but one that I had committed to completing anyway).
I honed my most persuasive rhetoric and asked my 14 year old daughter if she was interested in the challenge.
To my great pride, she said yes (!), and we began our respective 30 day cold shower challenges the next day.
As a side-note, my wife is way too smart to agree to something like this. She is missing the critical genetic code that strangely enjoys a struggle of this magnitude.
I was looking forward to the claimed benefits that I mentioned above, but for me, the real point was slightly different, and a bit more inline with the man in the TED talk.
For me, the point of showering in cold water was to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
There are plenty of things that I need to do to build and maintain my business that I’d really rather not do. Things that don’t come naturally to my personality or disposition. Things that are uncomfortable and things that I maybe even actively dislike.
Now, I often do them anyway, because I know what it takes to make a business run, but I also wanted to see if I could make doing these uncomfortable things easier – if I could somehow acclimate or adapt my body and mind to a degree of discomfort.
And so I began the challenge…
The first shower was a bit brutal. Ok, maybe I’m understating it. It actually was brutal.
After turning on (only) the cold water and waiting for it to begin coming out of the shower head, I got in the back of the tub and stood there for a second. My mind was racing thoughts like “maybe I should re-think this…”
The freezing splashes of water bouncing off the floor of the tub were spattering on my feet and legs and the longer I stood there, the less ambition I had to actually put myself under the water.
Thankfully, I only hesitated for about 3 seconds before moving fully under the shower head.
The moment the cold water hit me, it took my breath away.
Then I started breathing quite quickly (and deeply) as my body processed the bracing shock of it.
After a couple of minutes, the nearly overwhelming intensity had somewhat subsided, but it sure never became comfortable.
It was probably one of the most efficient showers I’d ever taken, and afterward, I felt great!
Instead of the usual chill when getting out of the shower and getting dried off, I was greeted with much warmer room air temperature.
My body warmed itself back up within a few minutes, and after the excitement had waned, I had a deep feeling of peaceful accomplishment.
The next day, I did my second cold shower – and my third the day after that. While it didn’t get easier every single shower, the first 4-5 were the hardest, and every group of 5 after that (more-or-less) got a bit easier.
Around day 20 though, even though I didn’t start this way, I realized that I had grown accustomed to contracting or scrunching up somewhat, as if I was trying to avoid the savage chill.
A counter-intuitive idea came into my head which was to simply relax into it, to accept it, to be “easy” with it, in a way, to befriend it.
The difference that little tweak made was instantaneous and dramatically positive.
I was instantly more comfortable.
As it turned out, that little tweak was probably the most important lesson in my entire little experiment.
My daughter and I both finished our challenges successfully.
To celebrate our triumphs and “winning at life” (her words), we had a fun dinner out, picking some interesting foods we wouldn’t normally order and spent a couple of hours laughing and goofing around at an adult-style arcade.
We had a blast.
But, did it work?
Did these cold showers allow me to be more comfortable with discomfort?
Here’s my take: it absolutely worked for me in the short term, and it seems to have had a beneficial residual effect since.
That means that I’m glad I did it and that I found it useful.
It also means that cold showers are a technique that I can use when I need it (as opposed to a habit I would build into my life on a daily basis).
But the real lesson is the one that I learned around day 20 of the challenge.
Instead of acclimating to discomfort (in a sense, using the shower to create an abiding desensitization to discomfort), I used the power of my mind to relax INTO the discomfort whenever it came up.
It’s a variation on a theme I’ve been learning and re-learning for some time now, but some how in a new way.
I’ve been using it to great effect in a variety of situations since.
I hope you’ll try something similar.
P.S. If you try the cold shower challenge, send me a message and let me know. I’d love to hear how it goes.