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Taking Cold Showers in the Middle of Winter Changed My Life

04/14/2015 05:46 EDT | Updated 01/12/2016 04:59 EST
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Last October, I did approximately the craziest thing someone living through a Montreal winter could do: I started a 30-day cold shower program.

I blame Joel Runyon for putting the idea in my head with his spectacular TEDx talk on the subject. And once I started reading about it, I realized that many of my other entrepreneurial heroes like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss also use cold showers to prime themselves for their day.

Why?

Because, as I discovered firsthand, a cold shower is like a Rorschach ink blot test for all the crap you carry around in your mental backpack. The crap that holds you back from greatness.

It's all the stories and excuses you come up with to keep yourself stuck in your comfort zone. The "it doesn't matter," or "screw Joel Runyon" or "it might work for other people, but," etc. Because as Joel says, it's all about your decision to endure discomfort. And if you can't allow yourself to be uncomfortable for five minutes where the only outcome is that you'll be cold and where no one is affected by your decision but you, how will you make uncomfortable (but ultimately empowering) choices when there's a lot more on the line?

I needed to build that decision-making muscle. All entrepreneurs do.

I had built an online course called Baby Got Booked, designed to help entrepreneurs, coaches, speakers and authors learn how to do their own PR in a way that makes them every journalist's dream come true. And though I knew my content was rock solid (after all I'd drawn not just from my own 20-year background as a journalist, but also from hours of interviews with my network of media contacts), I had never put together an online course before.

There was tech to master. And curriculum design. And all the voices in my head that were telling me that I was crazy and that no one I knew in real life had pulled off something like this.

Just. Shut. Up.

If you have even the slightest curiosity about the stories in your head that are holding you back, you'll feel like a loser every time you turn that dial past tepid.

I started my cold shower program on October 29. That's right, I didn't wait till November 1, because I had already made the decision to stop being afraid of the uncomfortable.

At first I, too, screamed like a little girl. In fact, the water was so cold I actually got brain freeze! But I kept at it. I was fascinated. I watched how it was easier to turn that dial to blue after doing a punishing workout.

How some days, when I'd had a week of technical snafus or a failed webinar, I really really wanted the comfort of a warm bath. "But I'm having a rough week," the whiny voice in my head would moan, "Surely I deserve a treat." To which I'd hear Tony Robbins's gravelly rebuke, "Fitness is a habit. You don't just do it when it feels good or it's convenient."

Stepping into that shower each day, I noticed how the voices in my head that held me back were slowly being replaced with those from podcasts, books and inspiring conversations. Now they egged me on instead of making excuses.

I noticed how, as the fear fell away, my intuition got eerily strong. Intuition about what next steps I needed to take business-wise: like hiring an assistant before I could strictly afford her because I knew that if I didn't get support, I'd never break out of my cashflow bind. Like which people were a good fit to partner with and which weren't (I'll save my mastermind fail story for another day). Like how when I really needed help with something (like updating the way our password system worked in the back-end of the course), the right people or resources would magically appear in my life.

It's April now and I'm still taking cold showers.

I'll be honest, I've taken a few warm showers since Jan. A few were when I returned home from a business trip and could feel myself fighting a bug. One was actually smack in the middle of a really bad week where it felt like NOTHING was working and I decided that I needed a break.

And this is where, for me at least, things get really interesting. Because having started the cold shower program, it feels almost like cheating if I'm not gasping like a stuck fish when I turn the water on. But there are times when even this most effective of tools simply isn't the right one for the job.

But when is it "just taking a break" as opposed to "making an excuse"?

Are you leaning forward to read this? I can feel it even as I type this. Because if I were on the other side of this keyboard, I'd be goggle-eyed and holding my breath.

Because most of us (me included) want a clear black-and-white answer to these types of questions. Is it ever okay to stay in your comfort zone? How far out is too far? What is the line that separates the "keep trying" from the "live to fight another day"?

So here's my big A-HA: that line is different for each of us. And sometimes it really depends on the day. Because the mental trash talk we each carry around is as personal as our fingerprints.

You have to make the decision that this (your business, your life, your journey of self discovery) is a marathon and not a sprint. And that you're not going to quit no matter what. For me this means that if I occasionally have to slow to a walk, a limp or even a crawl, I can live with that.

As long as I keep moving.

As long as I make progress.

Because it really is about progress, not perfection.

Too many of us quit because we expect life to be black and white. Because we lack the stamina for imperfection. It's a special kind of muscle that's required to pick ourselves up when we fall off the wagon. And I want to make sure I can flex that muscle when I really need it.

So I take cold showers. And I peer into the fog of myself. And more and more each day, I like what I see.

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