I believe in cold showers.
At many times in my life, I’ve yearned for greater self-discipline. I believe that a portion of the value that comes from sports, music, the arts, etc., is based on the fact that in order to participate successfully, you must practice regularly. I believe that the ability to do what you value even when you don’t feel like it is among the most fundamental requirements for any long-term success.
So how do I begin building a sense of self-discipline when things are crazy and I feel like I hardly have time to turn around?
I tried to think of something that I could fit into my regular routine that would be mentally difficult to get myself to do on a regular basis. I recalled a time when I was living in Japan and was often the first in the shower. In the winter, the small water heater in the shower would take a while to heat things up, so the first shower was often a cold one. Ironically, I noticed that I was much less cold all morning after a cold shower than after a hot one.
Having done it before, I knew I could do it, and I thought it might just serve my purposes.
Turning on the cold water and jumping in the first time brought back all sorts of childhood memories. Standing on the diving board, at the edge of a lake, or even outside the door of a friend’s house that I’m a bit anxious about visiting. All situations where I’m a bit afraid of what might happen. So I jump in. Yup…it’s cold.
I finish my shower (for some reason I’m finished much more quickly than usual) and move through my morning. I notice that things feel a bit snappier. I’m moving from task to task more readily than I usually do. I’m ready earlier than usual and I get a few additional things done, then I’m off to work. The snappy effect is mostly gone by lunch, but I’ve had a productive morning.
I decide to implement a cold shower regimen for each weekday. The results are similar (although there are some mornings that the snappy just never quite arrives) and I notice a cumulative change to my outlook.
Then something interesting happens. It’s afternoon (no more snappy). I’m looking at the clock and trying to figure out what else I can get done today. Then I remember: I need to make THAT phone call. Someone isn’t happy and I have to work things out. This will not be a good thing. My very first thought is, “Maybe I could call in the morning…” Then I realize that what I’m feeling is just a variation of the “Holy crap this is going to be cold!” hesitation, and I realize, “I can totally do this!” I jump into the phone call with the same mental muscle that I use every morning to shower.
Since then I’ve noticed that I’m regularly drawing on that “jump in the shower” ability. The proximity of having been successful at something hard just this morning has proven to be a valuable talisman for all sorts of productivity demons. I still have my days when I hit the 3:30 wall and just can’t make much of anything happen, but they are fewer, and I can always find something that I can do.
So if you’re looking for some currency to deposit in that self-confidence bank account, consider jumping in a cold shower. If you do, please tell me if you find it useful!