For the last five years, I’ve only taken cold showers.
This always gets baffled reactions when I talk about it, but I’m not alone: there’s a whole subreddit dedicated to cold showers, and it’s often discussed in self-improvement circles.
Fans of cold showers often talk about the physical benefits and mental benefits:
- Cold showers are better for your hair and skin, and help with weight loss and muscle recovery
- Cold showers are unpleasant, and doing something unpleasant first thing in the morning builds mental resilience
I’m not going to talk about the physical benefits, because I’ve not looked into them enough to know if they’re real. But I do buy into the mental benefits, and there are some practical advantages too…
Hot water not working? No problem! This has actually been useful when staying in certain Airbnbs where there’s only enough hot water to last for one person’s shower: my wife and I don’t have to negotiate about who goes first, or limit our shower time.
Mirror steaming up? Not an issue! And the lack of humidity means mould is less likely to grow too.
Not got much time in the morning? Well, you’re far less likely to linger in a cold shower than a warm one.
And not a “benefit” but kind of interesting: I notice differences between locations and times of year. From travelling around a lot, I’ve noticed that some showers are far colder than others – presumably because of where the water tank is located. And even within the same location, cold showers in winter are colder than in summer.
Mental benefits of cold showers
I’m sure I’ve failed to blow you away with the practicality of cold showers – so is it worth it from a “mental toughness” perspective?
I’d say an emphatic “sort of”.
There’s certainly something to be said for forcing yourself to do something unpleasant – especially first thing in the morning to set the tone for your day. I have no evidence for this, but it seems likely that setting a pattern of “faced a choice, and chose the less comfortable option” will make you more likely to make the same difficult-but-better decision in other situations throughout the day.
And even if it doesn’t generalise to other activities, there’s a benefit in the moment to facing “the flinch” and overcoming it. Overriding your brain’s resistance to stepping into a stream of freezing water creates an almost euphoric feeling. Then for bonus points, you can make it harder by standing so the water falls directly onto the top of your head and down the back of your neck, and challenge yourself to stay in that position for a certain amount of time.
Why I’m only “lukewarm” on the benefits
Like with anything you do repeatedly, it starts out being challenging and ends up being routine. For me, having cold showers is just normal now: my body and mind have got used to it, so there’s no “forcing yourself to make the difficult choice” aspect. Anything above lukewarm is actually less pleasant for me now, because I’m so used to the cold.
With other challenges, you can continue to dial up the intensity – say from running a half-marathon to a marathon to an ultra-marathon. With showers though, unless you start emptying out trays of ice cubes into the bath, once you’ve habituated mentally you’re stuck with just the (pretty thin) practical benefits.
Have you given cold showers a try? Do you have any other similar small challenges you use to push yourself? Let me know!