Bottom Line — Cold showers will jolt you out of a funky mood. I take them from time to time.
Update as of 2020 — I don’t religiously take cold showers everyday. Some days I take cool showers, others I don’t at all. However, when my mood is down, I’ll take a cold shower to get me out of the funk.
I take cold showers daily because it works on getting me out of the comfort zone. I found them to also restore will power. You can’t help but feel optimistic and happy after taking a cold shower. The body releases endorphins and whatever problem you had an hour ago is suddenly put into perspective and it matters less.
You could compare cold showers to alcohol in that it takes your mind to a better place, but alcohol does it with detrimental short and long-term side effects of depressing your mind and inhibiting your decisions. Cold showers don’t have that side effect and are not addictive. Let me give you some history before I go into personal stories with my cold experimentation.
The cold won’t judge you on what you did or didn’t do during the day. It doesn’t care that you’ve been feeling lazy or that you have been feeling sad. It is there for you day and night. It is ready whenever you’re ready. The cold doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re king or beggar, it will shock you just the same. The cold doesn’t care about your whereabouts. It is like a father at a playground that asks you to do something daring and temporarily scary to mold you into a stronger person. It is like a mother that will then hug you and bring your spirits up. It is a redeemer for those who are constantly hypnotized by mindless action throughout the day. It breaks that hypnosis and asks for nothing in return.
My introduction to the cold water dousing was in 2006. I heard about Porfiry Ivanov who practically walked barefoot in his shorts regardless of the season. In 1933, he was ready to die. He was 35 years old. According to him, doctors told him that he had cancer and a short time to live. He decided to willingly end his own life by freezing to death in the cold winter.
He went outside to succumb to the bitter Russian winter in only his undergarments and poured water on himself in order to get hypothermia. He then went home. He was sure that was the end of it. On the next day, he realized not only did he not get sick, but he actually felt much better. He reasoned that the cold is what made him healthy again after illness. He had escaped cancer. Since then, he created an almost cult-like following, stating that he reached immortality and that everyone can reach it as well. Porfiry died in 1983 at the age of 85. As with any ideas, cut out what seems irrational, and take only what works for you.
There are people in the Baltic countries, Finland, and Russia who call themselves Walruses (Моржи). They swim in freezing cold waters, walk barefoot in the snow, but they have no need for an enigmatic leader or dogma to practice this hobby.
My Experiment with Cold Dousing
In 2006, I decided to try out cold water dousing. I figured what the hell, at the very least, it’ll make temper my body to be more resistant to the cold. I started the process in the summer months in order to get my body adjusted to the cold gradually. I started dousing with cold water twice per day, once in the morning, and once in the evening. I poured cold water into two buckets and went outside in my swimming trunks to pour that water on myself. I quickly noticed a radiant feeling right after the dousing. Any lethargic feelings melted away and the body took on a pink color. I felt as if I could do anything in that moment. I’d jump into snow right afterward and stay outdoors for about 5 minutes. Guess what? I didn’t get sick that year. I don’t know why, but I stopped cold dousing the next summer, and it wasn’t until 10 years later (2016) that I picked up cold showers.
What happens to the body from cold exposure
There are three things that occur when the body is exposed to cold water. First, blood capillaries tighten up on the surface of the skin as the body tries to prevent losing heat to the elements. The skin looks pale at this point.
Second, the blood capillaries widen to send blood to the surface of the skin in order to warm it up (skin turns pink). Third, as the body continues to be exposed to the cold for extended periods, the skin will begin turning blue as the body loses temperature. The part where it turns blue is dangerous. To an untrained person, this is the danger zone where they become sick. It’s fascinating that in human walruses, their bodies don’t reach the third point. Through their training, they extend the amount of time they can expose their body to the cold. Their skin stays red for longer periods and steam radiates off their skin. Of course, no human is impervious to the cold in the long term. The difference between human walruses and normal people is that the former can temper their bodies to withstand cold temperatures for longer periods.
Enter Wim Hof — The Ice Man
I stumbled upon Wim Hof in early 2016. In this vice documentary, he took two journalists, and within one month, all three of them hiked up a mountain in Poland with only their shorts while it was snowing. All three made it just fine.
Wim also holds about 20 world records for withstanding cold. In 2007, while he didn’t summit Mt. Everest, he did climb to 22,000 feet wearing only shorts and shoes. In 2009, he ran a marathon in Finland dressed in shorts that lasted a little more than 5 hours. The air temperature during that marathon was -4 Fahrenheit.
My Adventures with Cold Showers
I’ve been taking cold showers since early 2016 and it’s become a useful habit. There’s a flinch in all of us. It’s the fight or flight response that makes us freeze instead of making a decision. It is that flinch that keeps us comfortably numb. Once you recognize it, you’ll be able to feel it and do something about it. Julien Smith wrote about The Flich. He also mentions cold showers as a practice to condition you to act on things that might bring discomfort in the short term but will reveal a greater reward down the line. I highly recommend giving it a read.
When I look at the cold shower in front of me, I feel the flinch. I feel it, but I recognize that it is an illusion. When I step into that cold water, my body feels a shock for 5 seconds, and I quickly realize that the shock is only temporary. My mind made up stories about how uncomfortable it would be but it was all an illusion. By recognizing the flinch before a cold shower, I can then recognize it in my life when I feel nervous about presenting to an audience, or doing something ballsy that day. Since a cold shower causes a release of endorphins in the brain, I feel a radiant energy that’s hard to describe without feeling it for yourself.
I noticed that cold showers restore willpower. Willpower is a limited power within that lets us do things that matter with little resistance. If you’d like to know more about willpower, The Willpower Instinct is a great book on willpower with experiments on how to increase it. I find that my willpower is highest in the morning and that’s when I’m most creative. That’s when I do most of my writing. When I reach the evening time, my willpower erodes and I’m done working. I won’t be able to do creative work productively. Although working out and meditation helps energize my body and refresh the mind, I haven’t found those two to restore Willpower. This is why I decided to experiment and take a cold shower after I workout in the evening time. I quickly realized that after the cold shower, I was able to sit down and do creative tasks with zest. Cold showers had the unique ability to restore willpower!
How I take cold showers
I turn the water all the way down to the coldest temperature as I’m now used to it. If you’re just starting, you need to gradually decrease temperature with time. Initially, go take a normal warm / hot shower, and at the end of the shower, make the water colder and stay in the shower for a minute. Turn the water off, and get out of the shower. Within a two week period, you’ll be able to turn the water down to the coldest level. You can continue with this warm-cold regimen. If you want to step it up a notch, begin taking purely cold showers without turning on the warm water. Once per week, I’ll still take a warm shower just because it feels nice.
As always, if you feel good and it works for you, do it. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. Take what works and throw away what doesn’t. Good luck!