I’m at the end of a 30-day cold shower challenge. In an effort to improve my response to stress, and see if cold showers are a mood-booster, I’ve committed to cold showers every morning for 30 days (inspired by this podcast episode). For the first week, the showers were only 30 seconds long. The next week a full minute, then 90 seconds and this week, my cold showers are a little over two minutes.
This isn’t my first experience with uncomfortable challenges and likely won’t be my last. I enjoy focusing on self-improvement in a challenge setting, with rules, and an end date. Sometimes they become part of my day-day to life and other times, I use them occasionally as a reboot.
No matter what, I learn something new every time I get a little (or a lot) uncomfortable.
Lessons From 30 Days of Cold Showers (and other uncomfortable challenges)
1. Getting comfortable with discomfort eases stress: As I’m faced with other stressful situations, I reflect on how I feel just before I step into a cold shower. The longer I wait, the more agonizing it is so I feel the resistance and keep moving forward. When I apply this to other things I’m not sure about, it eases so much stress.
2. The hardest part is thinking about it. Before I started Project 333, I thought about all of the reasons I shouldn’t do the challenge like …
- People will notice I’m wearing the same things over and over again.
- I might not have enough to wear if the weather changes.
- I’m going to get bored with my wardrobe.
None of those things happened. Dressing with less made my life easier and more enjoyable. It was a good reminder that the hardest part of a new challenge in life is thinking about it.
I thought quitting alcohol would be really hard too. I thought about it for years. When I finally did stop drinking alcohol, I realized that my thoughts weren’t true.
3. You don’t need willpower the whole time. While I don’t encourage restriction of certain foods for weight loss (because Diet Culture), I do believe it’s valuable to understand how food makes you feel. As much as I love sweet treats, when I’m feeling sluggish or I’m not sleeping well, I consider my sugar intake. When I do cut sugar or do a challenge like The Whole 30, it’s hard for a few days and sometimes requires willpower but my body adjusts and the cravings go away so I don’t need willpower for very long.
4. We are better together: Whether inspired by hashtags on Instagram like #project333 or doing a challenge with my husband, making it a shared experience not only encourages accountability but makes it more fun and meaningful.
5. There is more to learn: Rachel Cargle’s 30-day #dothework course is a challenge like no other. Rachel says, “Participating in this will be your first small step in working towards dissolving these systems, institutions, and ideologies that continue to negatively affect Black women and their communities yet benefit white people in this country.”
I didn’t know how little I knew.
6. Letting go of what other people think is freeing. After three months of dressing with only 33 items or less with Project 333, I was shocked that no one noticed. You mean, everyone wasn’t thinking about me all the time?! Once I got over the shock, it was exciting to think about doing things without taking other people’s thoughts about my actions into consideration. Finally, I was free.
7. I can always choose to change and grow. I started the cold shower challenge on June 26th because I was curious, but also because I was bored with my quarantine routine. I craved a shift and cold showers delivered. This may not be a life-changing challenge, but it did brighten up my mornings. When I step out of the cold shower, I am wide awake.
Starting on Friday, June 26th reminded me that I can always choose to change and grow. I don’t have to wait until Monday or January 1st or another special day or time. Now is a great time to start.
8. Noticing matters: Trade multi-tasking and rushing for noticing. Pay attention to your life and the challenges you take on. It’s possible you’ll get less done but with everything you notice about how you feel, what works best for you and other details, you’ll begin to learn how to take care of yourself, how to show up in the world and how to build a life full of joy, meaning and purpose.
The next time you are considering a challenge and doubting yourself instead of thinking, “I could never do that” or “This will never work,” wonder, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if it did?” The value of personal experiments and challenges is an opportunity to experience the truth instead of assuming it.