“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” ~ Mark Twain
For a lot of people I know, it’s pretty much the only thing that tips the scales and forces them out of bed in the morning: a nice, long, steaming hot shower.
It’s wonderful. Basically a refreshing extension to those cozy sheets you just had to toss aside to get started on another damn day.
And have you ever had to go without? Maybe you’ve got some visitors at your place, everyone needs to shower so you can go out, you’re last, and there is zero hot water left. Or your hot water heater finally gives up during the night. The worst! In those cases, your choice is to take a cold shower or cancel your plans.
So why in the living hell would anyone willfully subject themselves to something that is so undesirable and steadfastly avoided by almost everyone in modern society? Why would you pull the shower curtain back and turn only the cold knob??
Well, if you consider it for a second, your toasty warm and comforting shower is really a relatively new convenience of life. The nearly, or completely, on demand hot water running from a faucet that we take for granted hasn’t been around all that long. Before it, bathing with anything other than cool or cold water took quite a bit more forethought and effort than just turning a knob.
It turns out there are a number of reasons to take the plunge into an icy cold shower or bath:
- Increased metabolic rate, both from shivering and from activation of Brown Adipose Tissue, or brown fat
- Aide in hormonal balance
- Strengthen the immune system
- Strengthen the cardiovascular system
- Increase oxygen in the blood
- Help with anxiety and depression by activating the “Blue Spot” of the brain
- Speed up muscular recovery from strenuous exercise
That is pretty much the list of reasons why I first decided to give these showers a try. I was trying to lose fat, gain muscle, feel less sick, and just feel better in general. And all of those things happened, at least partly, thanks to cold showers.
But that’s not why I keep coming back to it. It’s not why I willfully hyperventilate to start my mornings rather than comfortably enjoy the warmth.
The reason I forego the warm water is because it sucks. A lot of people will tell you it gets easier if you do it every day, and that’s partially true. If you’ve been doing it regularly, it does become easier to take a regular shower in cold water once you’re under the water and acclimated. I still find it at least as hard, if not harder, to talk myself into stepping into the shower than I did the first time.
The reason, no doubt, is that I know exactly what I’m signing up for. When that water hits my chest, then my back, I know I’m going to seize up. I’m going to hyperventilate a bit. And most of all, I’m really going to consider if it’s worth it when I could very easily end the madness, turn the knob, and be comfortable again.
That’s where the benefit is for me. It’s in doing a hard thing I know is going to suck. It’s in making a conscious choice be very uncomfortable for a few seconds or minutes because I know it too will pass and I will be better for it.
The cold also has a particular way of pulling you fully into that moment. It’s nearly impossible, in the utter shock of the cold, to spend those moments overanalyzing the past or worrying about the future. That’s a hard thing to do these days, to “be here now” as Ram Dass called it. I’m not good at doing that normally, being present. But I know that, without a doubt, that for 5 minutes every morning, I will be fully present and focused on the task at hand.
And when it’s all over, when that 5 minutes is up and you can turn off the water and step back into the world, that’s when you know it was worth it. Your skin tingles as the blood rushes back to the surface. I can’t help but feel like a superhero at that moment.
Having intentionally done a difficult thing, and knowing that I’ve benefited to some extent in all the ways listed above, I’m ready to charge into my day with that same intention. And all those hard things that I will inevitably confront throughout the rest of the day don’t seem so worrisome anymore. My will has been tested, and I have answered the challenge. I’ve eaten that live frog.