Cold showers are hard. That's why you should take one.

cold water tap
CC BY 2.0 Jinx

If you do the hardest thing you can do first thing in the morning, the entire day will seem easier by comparison.

Every morning at 7 o’clock, from May until September, my mother wakes up, walks down to the dock, and jumps into the lake for a quick swim. I used to think she was crazy, but now I get it. There is absolutely nothing that wakes one up as effectively as a dunk in cold water. My mother, who is an artist, emerges from the lake with her creative reserves replenished. She is happy, energized, and ready to tackle the day. Sometimes, when I visit in the summer, I join her and it feels truly fabulous – far zippier than any cup of coffee!

My mother isn’t the only one who embraces the idea that starting the day with cold water is beneficial. Tony Robbins starts every day with a plunge into a 57°F pool. (That’s really cold when you consider that anything under 61°F puts you at risk for hypothermia.) Katharine Hepburn spent a lifetime preaching the advantages of bathing in ice-cold water. Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Body, is a strong proponent of cold showers.

The scientific evidence is there. Studies have shown that cold showers stimulate blood circulation, act as an anti-depressant, improve athletic performance, and can help with weight loss by burning off stubborn brown fat deposits. (See 5 reasons why you should take cold showers.) Despite knowing the benefits are real, however, very few people are willing to turn off the heat and stand under a stream of cold water. In the words of Carl Richards, a financial planner from Park City, Utah, “There is still this daunting gap between knowing I want to (and should) take the cold shower and actually doing it.”

So, why bother?

In an article for the New York Times, Richards explains that there’s another reason for doing turning the tap all the way to cold or jumping in a lake when you’re still cozy warm from bed that goes beyond the health benefits. He believes you should implement a daily cold shower precisely because it’s the hardest thing you can do first thing in the morning. Once you’ve got that under your belt, everything the day throws at you will seem easy by comparison.

He writes: “Mark Twain [said], ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.’ I’m not suggesting that taking a cold shower in the morning will make sticking to your budget in the afternoon trivial by comparison. That’s not the point. The point is that starting your morning by tackling challenges head-on will help encourage similar behavior throughout the day. People who do hard things first tend to procrastinate less and get more done.”

Doing it in the morning is even better, since willpower is at its highest when you first wake up. That’s when sticking to our resolve comes most easily, but then it gradually dissipates as the day runs its course. Psychology researcher Roy F. Baumeister explains, “The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen.” In other words, don’t wait for the evening to have your shower because it’s much harder to follow through with turning off the heat. Plus, you won’t reap the mental benefits for the rest of the day.

I like the idea of getting the hardest job out of the way first thing. Since I don’t shower in the morning (preferring to wash away the day’s dirt before going to bed), I think of my personal challenge as getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get my writing done. It’s before my family wakes up, the day is still and quiet, I have my cup of green tea, and my mind is clear. While in theory I could make up that time at other points in the day, there’s something about suffering through that early alarm that makes me determined to keep doing it. I feel so good afterward – not only proud of the fact that I got up so early, but also satisfied that I’ve got one article under my belt before my kids have woken up.

Whatever your challenge may be, embrace it, do it, and be happier for it.

Tags: Health | Work

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