The Comfort Pit: Climb Out Of It With Cold Showers

black shower head switched on
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When we are comfortable, we often find ourselves straying away from risk taking opportunities that inspire change, even if it comes at the cost of not progressing anymore.

This comfort zone, which often provides us with a sense of security and safety, can begin to justify our avoidance of opportunities, or lack of self-discipline. We begin to drown in self pity and excuses. The comfort zone has discreetly transformed into acomfort pit that we need to climb out of’. 

Curious about this concept? Check out Bear Grylls elaborating upon this on his guest appearance in ‘The Diary Of A CEO’.

Fear has an integrated function: to protect us, because we are not invincible. It helps us avoid dangerous situations or means of navigating them which is why most people don’t find themselves standing in a roaring fire’s burning heart out of curiosity.

On the other hand, our fear can manifest itself unconsciously into making us see debilitating danger in everything, at least enough to avoid treading into any unknown territory. 

Fear is also the core mechanism for staying in the comfort pit and sometimes that which we fear is buried so deeply into our psyche that it can be difficult to discern what it is we actually fear and where it comes from.

Fortunately, spiritual practitioners such as Wim Hof have developed an accessible means to identify these answers whilst surpassing their deeply rooted restrictions. 

The Essence of Wim Hof and Cold Exposure Training

endurance athlete wim hof bathing in ice

“Humans have battled the cold since the very first winter, and Tibetan monks have been practicing conscious breathing techniques for more than a thousand years.” – Wim Hof

A Dutch extreme endurance athlete holding 21 Guinness world records and a large family, Wim Hof has launched a modern renaissance of cold exposure training in the Western Hemisphere. 

He has created ripples of persuasion and curiosity in more conservative communities by investing his time and money into having his method be subject to a large number of scientific studies, with many findings thus far validating his claims. 

In Wim’s words:

My method, which I have developed and refined over the course of nearly forty years, is based on three simple, natural pillars: cold exposure, conscious breathing, and the power of the mind.’ He further views ‘cold as a mirror, breath as the guide, and mindset as the creator.”

So, do we have to learn an ancient dialect, an archaic chant, search sacred texts or travel across the globe to be taught the method’s fundamental lessons?

Not quite. If you have a shower that can be operated without hot water, or live in a region that adorns a chilly climate from time to time, alongside a functioning pair of lungs and basic cognitive function, you’re probably good to go! 

That said, as a health disclaimer, it’s recommended you check with your GP before proceeding in case you have health conditions that may cause you to react adversely.

Are You Stuck In The Comfort Pit?

woman lying on a comfy sofa

Before we begin exploring the wonderful world of cold showers and cold exposure training, it is time to be honest with yourself. 

Do you feel as if your life is in some way stagnant?

When someone asks if you’re generally happy in life, do you find yourself thinking about the answer for too long?

Are you still in a job you were hoping to be out of long ago? 

Or, on a lighter note, have you already convinced yourself when reading this article, that you could never do cold exposure training because you don’t like the cold?

On the last question, it is a trend that most people currently practising cold exposure training have had a similar resistance prior to their initiation, or simply (like most people) don’t find being cold to be a pleasant experience. 

The people that continued to practise it, however lightly or infrequently, have realised that there is an initial degree of pain and discomfort we need to break through before we enter the realm of growth and flourishing. This is not as masochistic as it may seem to be. 

On the surface, having a cold shower and going for that job interview which requires a tonne of preparation seem to be worlds apart, but the former consciously tests and trains the mental muscle called ‘will power’ that we need in order to get ourselves achieving the latter. 

Climbing Out Of The Comfort Pit In Practise

man opening his arms on top of a cliff

When we workout, we are breaking muscle tissues down via micro-tears so that they can grow back stronger with enough sleep (and other effective recovery methods) in tandem with a nutritionally complete diet. 

Muscles are not made in the gym, they are broken down there. Most people that have ever exercised intensely at any point in their lifetime would have discovered that there is a type of semi-painful discomfort that one experiences when exercising. 

If one doesn’t experience this in the workout, they will do so when Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) kicks in 24 to 48 hours later. Yet, we know that the pain and discomfort is a sign of us growing, and some degree of pain is a necessary part of growth (hence the term “growing pains”). 

So, let’s dive in.

Here is a guide to taking cold showers, tackling hurdles you may encounter at each step and how to conquer them. Although you can transition to a cold shower from a hot one, it’s recommended you go straight into the cold.

cold shower being operated in the snow

Undress (or not) and turn the shower on, already set to its coldest setting.
  • Potential Obstacle: You think about being submerged in cold water and the idea of it may make you reluctant to turn it on. Or perhaps, you’ve turned it on and made sure to leap away from the chilling waterfall. You then freeze with fear before you are faced with freezing temperatures. 
  • Lesson: this is potentially a sign of an under exercised Will, in that fear has too much of a hold on you at times. The wonderful thing about this experience is that as soon as you enable the cold water to touch you, there’s a victory to be taken away even though you’ve yet to taste the many fruits to come with enduring the cold blast. You’ve already overcome one layer of fear: initiation.

    And remember:

‘You miss all of the shots you don’t take’ – Wayne Gretzky

  • Solution: use ‘the power of the mind’. Tell yourself you can do it, and imagine completing the ordeal and how proud it will make you feel. Focus on the feeling of ‘knowing’ you can do it until you feel its charge. Remember, this charge needs to be applied to the next step if you are to reap the rewards.
Now you’re submerged, stay submerged despite the discomfort.
  • Potential Obstacle: It may be the case that upon embracing the cold stream, you notice yourself hyperventilating, seemingly contacting every muscle in your body, feeling panicked and overwhelmed by the drop in temperature.
  • Lesson: you are learning to be conscious. Accommodate the cold. Adapt to it. Believe in yourself. Be present. Breathe.
  • Solution: concentrate on your breath and deepen it – ‘breathing in and letting go’ (don’t force out the air upon exhaling). It will take a few seconds to adjust to the cold but after becoming present you will adjust to the cold, after all, you should already know that you can do it – so you’re probably right!
Once you have passed through the initial discomfort and have acclimated to the cold, remain submerged and present.
  • Potential Obstacle: Losing focus and attempting to escape from the present and into your head.
  • Lesson: you have climbed out of the comfort pit. Cold exposure reveals how important breath and mindset are in order to sustain presence. Presence comes from accepting your inability to escape what is happening right now. When you stop exhausting your resources trying to run away from this fated fact, your energy will shift into a more practical place. You may develop an awareness that can identify the comfort in situations that are uncomfortable and subsequently flourish in said situations. Finding pleasure in “growing pains” will flip the unmotivating connotations of ‘pain’ onto their heads and out of your way.
  • Solution: If your focus weigns, always revert to concentrating on the breath or the physical sensation of the cold water scuttling down your skin. Time and practice will reveal your most effective means to remain present.
Find a good time to end the cold shower.
  • Potential Obstacle: Failing to listen to your body’s genuine telling of its limits being reached. Perhaps you feel yourself denying the fact you are now cold again despite being present and what to hit a new personal record for how long you can withstand the cold water for.
  • Lesson: If you give in to that voice, it is likely you have allowed your ego to redress itself from fear, into ambition, thus hijacking and sabotaging the experience. If you start listening to your ego more than your body, then you would have finally reached the most popular place Kenny Loggins ever sang about… The Danger Zone.

    Learning to listen to your body requires consistency and perseverance. You have to cross the line into failure (such as not listening to your body) in order to understand your limitations.  Luckily, cold exposure training in a cold shower or even a cold/ice bath in your own home is one of the safest and most accessible places to cross this threshold, ensuring you’ll live long enough to learn from these mistakes.
  • Solution: Integrating Cold exposure training into your routine and figuring out how to balance between the comfort pit and danger zone by embracing the possibility of safely “falling over” into either camp.

Continue with your day or night, keeping in mind what the experience may have taught you, whether it’s a pattern you exhibit under stress or simply how it is you’re really feeling today.
  • Potential obstacles: you may still feel chilly, especially if you’ve exposed yourself to the cold for too long.
  • Lesson: Just because the water stops, it doesn’t mean you should walk away from the cold shower and back into your old habits of being. Of course, you will benefit from a cold shower regardless of how you integrate it, but it would be like eating a pie’s pastry and leaving the tastier filling where most of the nutrition lies. 
  • Solution: Wim typically encourages people into a horse stance (a way of standing that resembles sitting on a horse, derived from Chinese martial art forms) and have their hands alternate in pushing the air across the middle of the chest and past the shoulder, keeping the deep breathing intact. How you move after the shower may foreshadow additional changes to come after routinely cosying up to the cold on a regular basis.

Ways To Integrate This Experience

If you had previously taught yourself you could and would never have a cold shower, it would be wise to consider what other avenues you’re not pursuing in your life and whether or not they are guarded by fear or stigma. What other ‘cold shower’ type situations are you avoiding in order to remain comfortable?

If you were to consider a ‘networking’ event (socialising in a context that may benefit your career) and you have the same fear you had before conquering your first cold shower, it is a sign you’re encountering a situation that may reward you with a similar afterglow you’d felt after conquering your first cold shower.

‘Cold is a stressor, so if you are able to get into the cold and control your body’s response to it, you will be able to control stress’

Let’s not forget, we don’t always have a choice as to whether or not we interact with a stressful circumstance. 

When this is the case, you still have the choice  to ‘programme’ your mindset with a strategic dose of optimism, trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing you will get there.

The significance of this mindset was acknowledged in a 2015 proof-of-principle study added on to the Endotoxin experiment which showed that a higher level of optimism related to an even stronger immune response. 

Ultimately, It’s easier to be happy and stable when you’re the healthiest possible version of yourself.

The willpower, realisations and application derived from this  healthy habit can take weeks, months, if not years to develop and the learning doesn’t stop. Don’t be dissuaded by the journey’s length because the excitement and fulfilment doesn’t lie solely at the destination.

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