The Unknown • • 11 min read
5 Life-Changing Benefits of Cold Showers
Consciousness & Meditation Health & Fitness Self Improvement
Taking cold showers will make you a better person.
Yes, that’s a bold statement, but I’m certain of it. I myself have been taking cold showers for over a year now — not for the reason you might think — and I can testify to their power.
More specifically, I take what’s called a “Scottish Shower” — a piping hot shower immediately followed by a minute of ice cold water. Fun fact: James Bond always does this in Ian Fleming’s novels.
While I haven’t had nearly as much guilt-free sex with international supermodels as 007, I have noticed that cold showers increase five “Bond-like” qualities in myself that I would absolutely define as life-changing.
I’m talking about the mental benefits of cold showers, but there’s so many amazing physical benefits that I need to mention them here. Cold showers are scientifically proven to do the following:
- Stimulate Fat Loss
- Speed Up Metabolism
- Increase Testosterone
- Improve Skin and Hair
- Improve Sperm Count
- Improve Blood Circulation
- Improve Immune Function
- Improve Muscle Recovery
- Improve Alertness
- Improve Sleep
It’s insane, right? The list is so long you’d think everyone would be taking cold showers, but hardly anyone does. Do you know why?
Because cold showers are miserable!
You know what else is miserable? Exercise!
During a good workout, you sweat, your lungs burn, and your body begs you to stop. But you keep going. Why? Because regular workouts, like cold showers, have long-term benefits that outweigh the short-term discomfort.
If you’re familiar with my previous articles, you know that I like to compare psychological practices with physical exercise. I do this for a very important reason:
We can QUANTIFY physical exercise, meaning we can measure results over time: “I’m lifting 20 more pounds! I did 3 more reps! I’m running faster! I’m running farther! I lost 5 pounds!”
This keeps you motivated, because you have actual proof that change is happening. It may take months to see real, visible results, but because you see the change in the numbers, you’re more likely to make it a daily practice.
With cold showers, you won’t be able to look at any numbers. The benefits are much more subtle, which is why you have to push yourself to make it a habit. But…
If you make cold showers a daily practice, I guarantee you’ll have results. They may not be noticeable right away, but if you assess yourself before and after, you’ll recognize — in addition to all of the physical benefits — there are five life-changing psychological benefits that will make you a better person.
And the first is the most important:
Cold Shower Benefit #1: WILLPOWER / DISCIPLINE
“In the absence of willpower, the most complete collection of virtues and talents is wholly worthless.”
— Aleister Crowley
Cold showers are an exercise of willpower, and I’m not exaggerating when I say the following:
WILLPOWER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TRAIT YOU CAN DEVELOP IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE.
Don’t take that statement lightly. You may believe there’s a quality that’s more important than willpower — kindness, empathy, etc. — but I would argue that willpower is how you’re able to cultivate those qualities within yourself.
Willpower is the key to EVERYTHING. Anything you want to achieve or accomplish in life, willpower/self-discipline is the answer.
Willpower is how you quit cigarettes, control your temper, eat healthier, get more sleep, earn more money, have a better body, be a nicer person, and live a better life.
If you want to achieve anything in life, you need willpower. Everybody knows this, but most people believe that willpower/self-discipline is something you’re either born with or you’re not. And that is one of the most damaging lies ever told!
If you consider yourself undisciplined, you need to understand the following. This is not an opinion; this is a fact:
Willpower behaves like a muscle, and you can exercise it to make it stronger.
The Power of Habit (highly recommended) cites several studies that illustrate this point. One of them goes as follows:
Psychologists took two groups of hungry students (they were told to skip a meal) and made them wait in a room with a bowl full of warm, delicious, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies… and a bowl of radishes, the world’s least appetizing vegetable. Group 1 was allowed to devour as many cookies as they wanted, while Group 2 was forbidden to eat the cookies and could only snack on the raw, bitter radishes.
Afterward, the two groups were told to solve a puzzle. What they didn’t know was that the puzzle was impossible to solve — researchers just wanted to measure how much time each group spent on it before they gave up. The results are staggering:
- Average time for the cookie eaters: 19 minutes.
- Average time for the radish eaters: 8 minutes.
Because the radish eaters had fatigued their willpower by not eating the cookies, they quit 60% sooner than the cookie eaters. Researchers concluded:
“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things. […] But how far does this analogy extend? Will exercising willpower muscles make them stronger the same way using dumbbells strengthen biceps?”
Thankfully, the answer is yes. Two Australian researchers found that people who increased willpower in other areas of their lives (by following rigid exercise plans or financial budgeting, for example) also increased willpower at home. They smoked less cigarettes, consumed less junk food, less alcohol, less caffeine, watched less TV, and were less depressed.
Here’s the good news — you can achieve all of the above in just one minute a day. Before you step out of the shower, do yourself a favor. Turn the nozzle to cold and stand your ground for one minute. Yes, it will be uncomfortable; that’s the point. Discomfort is necessary to achieve results!
You’ll step out of the shower feeling energized and focused (the experience is similar to “runner’s high”), and if you make it a daily practice, you’ll strengthen self-discipline in all other areas of your life.
One minute of discomfort a day for a lifetime of benefits. Not a bad trade off.
As if this isn’t reason enough, willpower goes hand-in-hand with another game changer:
Cold Shower Benefit #2: TOLERANCE
“Standing under freezing cold showers every morning — I did that. I got up to seven minutes most mornings, and it actually works; it immunizes your body, and your body starts getting used to the cold. It really works.”
— Liam Neeson
If I could pass along one bit of advice to my children to improve their lives, it would be this:
You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
This is something I realized embarrassingly late in life. It finally became obvious to me when I attended a Vipassana meditation retreat a few years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, you spend ten days in silence, meditating 10+ hours every day. If it sounds hardcore, it’s because it is.
The most difficult — but valuable — aspect of the Vipassana technique begins on day four, where you start meditating without moving a muscle for sessions that last over an hour.
Your nose itches? Too bad; sit tight and wait for it to pass. Your back is sore? So is everyone else’s; maintain your posture until the end. Your leg is cramping? It won’t kill you; let it cramp and stretch when you’re finished. The goal is to experience every feeling (good or bad) for what it is — a temporary sensation that will go away with time.
The logic is simple — if you start small (by not scratching an itch, for example), you’re training your mind to not react to changes within the body. With enough practice, this tolerance will carry over to other areas of your life. If some asshole cuts you off in traffic, you’ll still feel the rush of adrenaline in your body, but you won’t allow it to make you behave irrationally.
You are in control of your body, not the other way around.
What does this have to do with cold showers? Simple:
Cold showers increase your tolerance levels, and higher tolerance levels lessen your stress.
Think of it like a video game: if willpower is the length of your stress meter, tolerance is the strength of it, meaning you take less damage with each “hit.”
Before I started taking cold showers, the slightest bit of lukewarm water hitting my skin used to make me shriek like a ten year old girl while I desperately scrambled to turn the knob hotter. Not coincidentally, I was also the type of person who would scream “Fuck!” out loud whenever a car in front of me forgot to use their turn signal.
Cold showers helped me realize an important fact:
You cannot control your environment, but you can control your reaction to it.
These days I can stand under ice cold water for a few minutes without reacting, and if someone doesn’t use their turn signal, I ignore it and move on with my day. Problem solved.
Taking cold showers will not only improve your tolerance of the cold, but give you better tolerance in all other areas of your life, which brings us to…
Cold Showers Benefit #3: ACCEPTANCE
“The cold never bothered me anyway.” — Elsa, Frozen
I recently read an article about the happiest countries in the world. Normally my bullshit meter goes off the charts anytime I read a “ranking” list — Who’s doing the ranking? What’s the criteria? How do you define “happiness?” Etc. — but this time I noticed an odd pattern in the top nine countries.
Here’s the list. See if you can figure out what the following countries have in common:
Here’s an illustrated map for those of us who suck at geography. See the pattern?
That’s right: they’re all miserably fucking cold.
As a man who lived the majority of his life in the miserable fucking cold, this intrigued me. Shouldn’t people who live in beautiful weather year round be happier?
No. In fact, I’m going to argue that the cold actually helps them be happier. Skeptical? I’ll explain:
After a lifetime of living through blisteringly cold winters, I moved to Los Angeles in my early twenties. Say what you want about LA, but the weather there is some of the best on planet earth. It’s not too hot, it’s never too cold, it seldom rains, and there’s rarely a cloud in the sky.
Sounds like paradise, right? There’s only one problem:
It makes people really, really fucking spoiled.
When I first moved there, I felt like people complained anytime there was a slight breeze, let alone a few clouds or (heaven forbid!) actual rain. Think of spoiled children whose rich parents give them whatever they want (an appropriate analogy for LA) — they usually grow up to be awful people for one simple reason:
They lack gratitude.
Gratitude is much more powerful than most people realize. When you live in a cold weather climate, winter bitch slaps you repeatedly, so you’re grateful for every beautiful day you experience. Even better, you accept the fact that there are things beyond your control and that life is not always going to go your way.
Acceptance goes hand-in-hand with gratitude. If you don’t learn to accept the bad, you’ll never be grateful for the good.
When you strengthen your willpower by taking cold showers, you build tolerance, and when you build tolerance, you become more accepting of the changes life throws your way.
Cold showers are a daily reminder to accept changes as they come.
Cold Showers Benefit #4: MEDITATION
“The cold is an absolute doorway to the soul.” — Wim Hof
Wim Hof is the closest thing to a modern day superhero. In fact, it was a HighExistence article about Wim Hof that made me decide to take up the practice of cold showers in the first place.
If you’re unfamiliar with Wim Hof, he’s holds multiple world records too numerous to mention here, but among his many accomplishments is hiking Mount Everest in nothing but gym shorts, running a half marathon in the Arctic Circle in his bare feet, and running a full marathon in the Namibian desert (temperature 113° F / 45° C) without drinking a drop of water. Most recently, Wim Hof has made headlines by baffling scientists with his ability to consciously control his own immune system.
Even more badass — he actually teaches this technique to students, and he believes the cold is essential to achieving similar results.
The key is in the breath. Imagine you’re about to plunge into a freezing cold lake in the middle of winter. Really imagine it. What’s the first thing you start to do?
You change your breathing pattern.
There’s a reason almost every meditation practice involves some type of breathing exercise — if you’re focused on your breath, you’re focused on the now.
Cold showers put this aspect of meditation into overdrive — it’s nearly impossible for the cold to send a shock to your system without taking quick, gasping breaths. Trust me, for however long you decide to stay under the cold water, your mind’s not drifting into the past or the future — your mind is fully present in the here and now.
The end of each shower becomes a short meditation — a mini, mental vacation from the seemingly inescapable plague of worries and regrets that often dominate our thoughts throughout the day.
In fact, I found cold showers so effective for putting me in a meditative state of mind that when I meditate, I often imagine my body submerged in cold water, as I found it helps me focus my mind and makes it easier to concentrate on my breathing.
But that’s just a bonus.
Cold Showers Benefit #5: HUMBLING
“Nothing burns like the cold.” — George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Remember the ice bucket challenge? Of course you do — in an effort to raise awareness of ALS, a video campaign of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads went mega-viral over social media.
Everyone was doing them — Bill Gates, Eminem, Oprah, even Kermit the Frog!
But why were they so popular? I think the answer is simpler and more embarrassing than we’d like to admit:
We like seeing people humbled. More specifically, we like seeing celebrities humbled.
The sad truth is that many people view celebrities like they’re gods on Mount Olympus. They live a life that most people only dream about. But guess what? When one of them gets a bucket of ice water dumped over their head, they’re knocked back down to earth and reduced to a wide-eyed, squealing, shivering creature gasping for air, just like everyone else.
It’s good to be humbled. Cold showers humble everyone, and are a great way to give yourself a safe, psychological kick in the ass from time to time.
And you’ll need it. Because when you make cold showers a regular practice, you’ll notice changes after a month or two — your skin and hair will look better, you’ll feel more “Zen,” you’ll have better energy, and you’ll be more disciplined. It might be easy for your ego to start telling you how awesome you are. Thankfully, cold showers have a built-in reminder:
You’re not better than anyone else. We’re all human beings. We’re all the same. As strong as you think you are, the cold has the power to humble us all.
So there you have it. Five powerful psychological benefits of cold showers to accompany the numerous physical benefits. As I said before:
Taking cold showers will make you a better person.
James Bond. Liam Neeson. Wim Hof. Three badasses who all recognize the power of a nice cold shower.
Time to hit the showers and make yourself badass too!