The 30 Day Cold Shower Experiment (Complete!)

coldshower

You don’t even need to use that knob on the left. The blue one works just fine. (photo by eelke dekker)

I’ve decided to experiment by only taking cold showers for the next 30 days (and potentially longer). I literally just finished my first cold shower today, and I’ll be documenting the whole experience here.

“You freak! Why take cold showers?” 

  • Cold showers have a number of documented health benefits
  • Cold showers are challenging—I like to challenge myself
  • Cold showers are refreshing. Ridiculously refreshing. Too refreshing?
  • I love to experiment!

Ok, on to day one!

Day 1 

Going in, I thought about the difference between a cold shower and a warm shower. Every inch of my body begged me for the warm shower, so much so that I started with warm water. Within 20-30 seconds, though, after I was comfortable with the water hitting me, I turned the temperature knob clockwise and waited for the shock. It took longer than expected, but oh man did it come!

When the icy water hit me, I involuntarily started shouting, barking (yes, barking is a confirmed reaction. It was more of the deeper woof barks/grunts than the higher pitch yip barks of those little dogs), and singing in a loud, primal sort of way. To fully embrace the experience, I let the water hit the areas I didn’t want it to hit. Places I naturally wanted to keep out of the cold stream were the front and back of my neck, my head, and my torso, just because they seemed most sensitive to the cold. 

After about 1-2 minutes, I began to shiver because my body temperature was dropping quickly. After about 5 minutes of shivering, I got somewhat used to this cold temperature, shivered less, and I turned the water colder (to the coldest setting there was!).

Psychologically, I started to feel—for lack of a better word, because there isn’t a better word—like a “manboss.” This is partly because, as time went on, I handled the cold water less like a little girl. This is just like any challenge, in that at first it can be daunting, but the more you immerse yourself in it, the more comfortable and confident you become in overcoming it.

After about 10 minutes total (in the future, I will time these showers to be more precise), I shut the water off. I was still shivering some. And the way my bathroom is, when I pull back the curtain, I see myself in the mirror. I noticed that some patches of skin on my chest were slightly red. The most important thing I noticed was how I felt about 10x more alert than the lazy feeling I get after a warm/hot shower. 

Now that I’ve had time to warm up after the shower, I feel really good. I mean, like, really good. My body is warm now, and I have a lot of energy. It really does feel like I just stimulated my entire nervous system, but in a good way if that makes sense.

I’m off to the gym now. We’ll see if this impact my performance there. Oh shoot. I just realized that after the gym, I’ll have to take another cold shower! Brrrrr…

 Shower #2

If it had any impact on my workout, it was positive. I had plenty of energy.

Once I got back, I rinsed off for 2-3 frigid minutes. A key cold shower benefit I realized is that I don’t have to wait for the water to heat up! That can save you several seconds every single day. Every. Single. Day. 

Shower #2 sound check:

  • Yelping like a dog being shocked by his electric collar x 2
  • “Wahoo!” like a small child going down a slide for the first time x 1
  • “Help Me Rhonda” chorus x 0

This one felt great. But I’m moving to Portland, OR, in about a week, and my friend wisely warned me that the water there will be (much) colder. So I have a week to train here in Jacksonville before going to the next level. I’m not ready. I may never be. 

Day 2

Based on some requests, I’ve got a video. I wanted to try straight cold water this time from the start. I found this to be much more shocking than a warm to cold transition. In the video, you’ll see my initial reaction is like, “whoo that’s cold!” But then I have a secondary shock (and you can see my pupils dilate) as the coldness truly engulfs me. Also, I think I could sing a nice falsetto.

The theme of my experiments so far seems to be, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” That was my exact thought this morning. Yesterday, I was convinced that I was fully on board the cold shower train and would embrace it at all times. But this morning, my body yearned for warmth and I had to offer it the opposite. It was tough.

I think because the weather is colder today, the water was colder as well. My teeth were chattering quite a bit this time (they didn’t chatter on day one). I talked the entire time to distract myself from the brrrrrrness and my shivering lasted the entire 5-10 minute shower. It was funny to me how much faster my soap/shampoo/conditioner ritual was in the cold.

Random insight: the feeling you get AFTER a cold shower is BETTER than the feeling you have DURING a hot shower.

At this point, I can NOT imagine handling colder water (like I’ll have in Portland, OR). I am weak. I must train! I’m wondering if it’s “cheating” to start with warm water and gradually turn it colder. That certainly takes the edge off of the initial shock. My body was like, “Seriously? This is your idea of a good time?”

My skin is noticeably softer and my hair is less frizzle dizzled, which is not surprising, since hot showers are known to dry out skin/hair. Right now, I’m wearing a hoodie to warm up, and my legs are bouncing up and down in my chair because of the energy I have.

Day 3

I just finished my brrrrifying shower today. I definitely procrastinated showering for about 20 minutes because of the cold water factor. Here are some new insights I’ve gathered: 

  1. It’s MUCH easier to take a cold shower in a warmer environment (duh, but still). When the air AND water are cold, I think it’s a bit much. But today I turned the air temp up to 74 and was able to stay in longer for that reason. It was still cold.
  2. I’ve found that the area which chills my whole body the most is the back of my neck. When I face away from the shower and it hits that spot, I start seeing snowflakes.
  3. Dancing is good. I had music playing, and not only did dancing take my mind off of the frigid conditions, but it also was fun and kept me warmer. My concern is that the warmer air and dancing might have decreased the cold shower benefits.
  4. A cold shower is an experience. Hot showers are relaxing, but also mundane and forgettable; cold showers are exciting, energizing, and interesting.

Also today, I started with warm water just for the first 5 seconds to get used to the water and then turned it colder. This was much preferred! Last time I went straight to cold water and it was really shocking. I’m not even sure it’s healthy to shock your system abruptly like that.

Doing some research, I found that a “Scottish shower” is where you start out with hot water and then turn it to cold to finish the shower. I’ve done this in the past, but at the moment, I prefer just making the first 5-10 seconds warmer water and then turning to cold right away. 

I really don’t miss hot showers. The only time I miss them is right before I take a cold shower, when my mind is saying yes and my body is saying screaming no. It’s interesting though how the sense of relief you feel when you turn the water off is like a reward, even though it’s just the removal of something uncomfortable. In addition to that, there’s the reward of feeling really good as your body warms itself back up—it’s a “cozy” feeling.

One more thing is testosterone. It sure feels like it increases when I take cold showers. Just think of our natural reaction to water temperatures: If it’s warm water, your natural reaction is to relax, but cold water makes you want to beat your chest like a gorilla.

Day 4

When I wake up these days, the first thought I have is that I don’t want to take a cold shower. Seriously. Not “What am I going to do today?” But “Is there any way out of this cold shower?”

I realized something critical. I don’t fear cold showers when the water starts out warm. When I know I can ease into the cold temperature, my whole attitude changes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as this is the same basis for Mini Habits, which have already changed my life. That basis is to give yourself a non-intimidating starting point, after which you can think about doing something more challenging.

I haven’t been shivering much in the last two showers, and I wonder if that’s because I turned up the temperature inside to 73-74 degrees. I also think the water just doesn’t get very cold here. Don’t get me wrong—my whole chest was red from the cold water today.

Starting Your Day With A Challenge

Psychologically, there’s something special about taking a cold shower first thing in the morning.

  • You’re faced with an intimidating challenge.
  • You step under the frosty stream.
  • You get out feeling refreshed, but more importantly, victorious!

It’s a stark contrast to a hot shower because hot showers are comforting—one of the most comforting things on earth. Have you ever felt sad and jumped into a warm shower? I have.

Here’s what I think each decision conveys psychologically:

  • Hot showers: I need comforting because I am weak.
  • Cold showers: Bring on the day! I can overcome anything.

Dramatized? Sure, but maybe not by much. I don’t think it’s coincidence that my body yearns for warm water. It’s the same feeling as yearning for comfort food. Actually taking the hot shower or eating the comfort food validates that thought/feeling. 

When you act a certain way, the mind tends to “meet” you in that place. For example, humans become markedly more confident just by standing in a confident pose for 2 minutes (by means of increased testosterone and decreased cortisol)! Perhaps when you act as a tough and resilient soldier in a cold shower, the mind eventually perceives itself in the same way. 

Day 5

I had a bit of ear blockage today, and so needed a few minutes of hot water (which helped tremendously). After that, I was back to my cold water ways. I’m definitely more used to it now, and it’s more enjoyable. It’s at the point now where if I stopped doing it, I would miss it!

Today I got to see the difference between hot and cold. The hot water was lulling me to sleep, and then the cold made me start jumping up and down. It seems like a decent coffee substitute to get you going in the morning. 

BONUS: Winter Ocean Swim

I’m about to move to Portland, and went to the beach one last time as my parents were visiting. I decided to go ahead and take a cold winter ocean swim! 

Day 8

The crazy thing is that I’ve been taking TWO cold showers on most days because I go to the gym frequently. It sucks. It’s like doing a mandatory difficult thing for the day, and then, “Oh, but you have to do it again.” That said, I think cold showers are giving me a psychological boost. Though it may be placebo (I don’t think it is), I feel more confident and less anxious overall. 

My theory is it has to do with expectations and precedents. Starting off with a brutal cold shower mentally prepares you to take on the world, while a hot shower coddles you in its comforting streams like a little baby. Don’t be a little baby.

Day 10

After my super long day traveling here yesterday, I wanted a warm, comforting shower. Too bad. I took my first cold Portland shower today. The water was FREEZING. I didn’t even have it turned all the way to the coldest setting. At the coldest setting, I’m guessing the shower head retracts and a pipe comes out, dumping liquid nitrogen all over your body. So yes, it was much colder than Jacksonville’s water.

Oddly enough, I think I liked it more because when the water is really cold, it numbs you faster. I think that’s the same reason I found the ocean swim easier—instead of being pelted with several annoying cold drops, my body was immersed and quickly became somewhat numb to the discomfort.

Day 11

I’m playing with fire. This cold shower experiment is a threat. Knowing that I have to face the cold water, I find myself delaying showering. Even worse, I know that going to the gym means that I have to take an additional cold shower, which demotivates me to go.

That said, my gym habit and commitment has proven stronger than the fear of cold showers, so I will press on, but if I start skipping gym days, I might have to make a rule that I only have to take one cold shower per day.

I still love the results of cold showers, but I loathe the anticipation of them! This experience has been teaching me the importance of making a determined, don’t-look-back decision. You can’t passively slink into a cold shower. This kind of forceful decision-making is quite valuable in other areas of life, too. Just do it!

Update: I just took the coldest shower yet. To use a common expression, great jumping lizards of Toronto that water was cold! I think it was below 50 degrees. As usual, I feel amazing afterwards.

Day 12

It’s ironic: the hot water isn’t really working in my shower here. It only gets to lukewarm. I’ve told them about it, but haven’t pressed the issue because I’m supposed to be taking cold showers anyway. Still, I’d at least like the option of a warm(er) shower!

I’m not sure if it’s from the cold showers or just progression from working out, but I’ve been doing well at the gym lately. I’ve been lifting heavier weights and feeling strong.

Day 14

Two insights:

  • My fear of getting into the cold water has not decreased much, if at all. 
  • My ability to withstand the cold water and handle it mentally has improved.

My mind and body are adapting to cold water, but they still don’t like the idea of it!

Day 15

The water was so cold today it started to hurt. I’m pretty curious about how the degree of coldness affects the results of taking a cold shower. If someone is doing it for weight loss, you might find this interesting.

I just read in this study report that we have white fat and brown fat. They say white fat is energy-storing fat, while brown fat is energy-burning fat. Thinner people naturally have more brown fat, which is burned off more easily.

Exercise is wonderful for us, and one reason is that it causes muscles to release a hormone called irisin, which converts white fat to brown fat! That’s obviously a big deal for anyone trying to lose weight—they want to stop storing fat and start burning it. Well, here’s where it gets interesting:

15 minutes of shivering produces an equivalent amount of irisin as a full hour of exercise!

If that sounds good to you and you’re looking for a good way to shiver, I’ve found that cold showers work.

Day 30

The last day was actually yesterday. And yes, I’ve been doing it even though I haven’t written since day 15. For my final shower, I got one final insight: colder is better.

In the days leading up to the final day, I was getting weary of the cold shower deal, and this caused me to turn the water to cold, but not super cold. Well, for the last day, I didn’t want to hold anything back, so I turned it to super cold. It was better! Not only did it come with that really good feeling upon completion, but it felt better during the shower. I think it’s the same effect as my winter ocean swim, where the water numbs you and takes away some of the discomfort. 

The Future

Now that I’ve done this for 30 days, I’m free. I can take hot-only showers as often as I’d like! I love having that freedom back, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m not so sure I want to switch away from the cold water. At the end of every shower, the thought will cross my mind: “Go cold for a little bit?” And in many cases, I suspect I will do it. 

I’m honestly not sure about all the supposed benefits. I’d say improved skin and hair is the only definite benefit I’ve seen. Once you get through the cold, there’s the awesome short-term benefit of warming back up. It really feels amazing. 

I may update this later regarding how much I’ve continued to shower in cold water now that I’m free to decide.

A Few Days Later

I have yet to not take a cold shower. Now it feels wrong not to end with cold water, as if something is missing. I’ve been doing the cold water for a shorter amount of time though—10-60 seconds at the end.

Day 45

It’s weird, but, I’m a convert. I have had no obligation to take cold showers for two weeks, but I still do it daily. And the crazy thing is that I prefer it now!

When I take a warm/hot shower and get out, it doesn’t feel right. It’s not refreshing. I think I took one warm-only shower after a workout, but other than that, I always end with cool/cold water.

I didn’t know if this would happen or not, but my body has adjusted to cold showers. They aren’t nearly as scary in thought or as shocking in reality. I still yelp and make other interesting sounds during a cold shower, but that’s partially for fun. I can tolerate colder water, stay in cold showers longer, and I find them far more enjoyable now.

My current habit is to play a music playlist before I jump in the shower. I’ll wash up in warm water for a couple of songs, and at the beginning of the next song, I’ll turn the water to cold and stay in it until the song is over. That gives me about 2-4 minutes of cold water bliss. I’ll probably stick with this routine.

It seems like I need to do more of these experiments. The first experiment resulted in me moving across the country, and this one resulted in a new, probably better way of taking showers. Experiments are proving to be a potent vehicle for change.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.