Just before the pandemic, I started taking cold showers in the morning.
I had been ending the shower with a few seconds of cold, but I decided to go all-in with the cold.
I was inspired by the “Ice Man” Wim Hof, who espouses the health benefits of cold exposure as he swims in the Arctic Ocean, holding his breath for minutes at a time. After watching him teach “normal people” to jump into Lake Tahoe (about 50 degrees), I figured I could do it too.
I didn’t realize it would turn into an 18 month experiment in physical, mental, and emotional health.
Barely a day went by where I didn’t stand in front of a stream of icy cold water negotiating with myself.
In those moments, my memory of past cold showers disappeared. I forgot that it was only shocking for the first few seconds, that my body’s warmth was more satisfying than a hot shower, that I felt energized and happy afterwards.
All I could focus on was how cold, shocking, and uncomfortable it would be when I stepped in.
There’s an interesting learning there.
It isn’t the cold water that is uncomfortable. It’s my anticipation of the cold water that hurts so much.
Even after a year of cold showers, I still anticipated pain from the cold water. I had 365 days of experience that it wasn’t that bad, that it was even good in the big picture, yet I still stood at the edge dreading the first step.
There is only one source of resistance and discomfort in the world. You.
It’s not the event itself. It’s your response to the event that matters.
My friend Robert was on this journey with me, and he was telling me how he focused on relaxing in the cold water. I didn’t realize until he said that how tense I was in the cold shower. My muscles were tight, and I rushed to get through the shower.
I tried Robert’s approach of relaxing. Was it still cold? Of course. But when I relaxed, stopped focusing on how bad it would be, and brought my attention to the pure sensation of cold, it wasn’t so painful. It was just cold.
If I summarized that approach in one word, it would be non-resistance.
That can be easier said than done.
Think of it like walking down the street when someone comes up and hits you. What would you do? Would you hit back, entering into a fight, or would you ignore the person and keep walking? If you enter a fight, you’re almost certain to get hit again. Once the fight starts it’s hard to know who is the aggressor. You’re an equal participant in the conflict.
If you turn and walk away, you are stepping away from the conflict—voting for peace with your feet.
With the cold shower, I could fight it. I could tense up, trying to conserve my warmth, rushing to get out of the shower. Or I could relax, acknowledge the cold, and know that a small discomfort is not a big deal in life.
I observed resistance in the cold shower, but it shows up every time you pursue a goal. Whenever you set your sights on something that is worthwhile, the first thing to show up is resistance.
You can try to talk yourself out of it, blame yourself, think it shouldn’t be so hard, question whether the goal really matters to you… but that is entering the fight.
Why not relate to resistance for what it is: a distraction.
And what’s the best way to relate to a distraction? Acknowledge it, but don’t engage with it. Walk away.
Resistance is part of every worthwhile endeavor, and you are the source. If you fight it, you are sure to get worn out and full of bruises. Why not try another path?