In honor of blog #400, I chose this less than flattering photo of me doing something I am in the middle of, and that is a cold plunge challenge. I HATE cold water, always have, and therefore this was something I wanted to finally undertake. As a fly fisherman, I have never fallen in the river and had to deal with the absolute shock the 40 degree water is to the body. Part of this challenge is developing the ability to handle that better if needed, as I certainly plan to do a lot more fishing in the coming years. But I also have seen many others do it, and tout the benefits, so I decided to give it a run.
As you can see from the look on my face, it is cold. I don’t know how cold the water actually is, and that so far is by design. I knew this would be difficult for me, so I set myself up for success on this knowingly difficult challenge by doing the following:
–Started in the afternoons, when the air temperature was reasonable
–Don’t know how cold the water is, so I can’t dwell on it
–I have not added ice to the water (yet) as this is an upgrade of difficulty, but not a requirement to start
–I am videoing and posting each day as an accountability exercise, and hopefully to encourage others to do it as well. It’s been fun to read some of the comments and interact with people about this
The first time I did it I had a hot shower running to jump into as a “safety net”. I didn’t know how bad it would be, so I assumed the worse. Isn’t that typical of how we all view difficult things? I made it worse in my head than the reality actually was. I tried doing this in the summer when it was 110 degrees out, hoping the hot Phoenix summer would help me instantly warm up after I climbed out of the ice bath. But this didn’t work, as I could not get the literally hot water to cool off enough to have any affect. Dumping bag after bag into 90 degree water was just not cutting it, so I put it off. It was always in the back of my mind, and I even looked at some of the commercial cold plunge options, but there was no way I was going to spend the money on something that I wasn’t sure I would use.
So, here we are, three days into my newest challenge for myself, and I am actually looking forward to getting back in the cold plunge today. The first day was the hardest, but I got through it. I lasted 30 seconds in the water before getting out. Yesterday, I got in for one minute. Today my goal is submersion up to my neck, for one minute. Once I get my breathing under control, it is easy(er). It is still not easy, but it has gotten easier already. One of the fun things about being new at something is the great amount of improvement you can make in a short time. And there is no doubt I feel great after I am done. Cold exposure can increase the dopamine response in your body by 2.5 times, and I can attest that this is noticeable. The most therapeutic approach is to be in the cold water for around 11 minutes total for a week, so that is the end goal. If I have made this much improvement already, I am looking forward to what I can do two weeks and a month from now. Maybe I’ll be breaking ice off of a lake to dive into…
But here is the real takeaway from this:
Peace through Pain
I can feel my mind calming down from just a few days of this. The idea that you voluntarily suffer, with things like hard work outs, sauna sessions, cold plunge sessions, early morning hikes at freezing temperatures or in hot weather, and more is good for your physical and mental health. It makes the daily “noise” of life just seem to melt away into the background. Petty little things that use to annoy me fade out when I am in the gym on a regular basis. Activities like this help me rebuild my tolerance levels, feel more capable of handling things, and have less anxiety in general. We live such soft lives these days, with our heated car seats and our Door Dash lifestyles, that nothing ever is uncomfortable. THIS IS BAD…although it is human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain, you cannot live a life of comfort and luxury and ever have a life worth living. Life itself is a struggle to some degree for everyone. We all have different starting points and different destinations in mind, but the one constant is that there will be struggle along the way.
Embrace the suck…the US Military motto that was popularized by the Marines in Iraq in 2003 but has deep roots in that culture. As the thought goes, you cannot control things that happen, but you CAN control how you react to things. And this is the key to life:
Control the things you can control
and control how you react to the things you can’t.
Simple, but not easy of course. Which is exactly why you need to practice your suffering and how you react to it. That skill is a necessary one for life. And you have to do this on a regular basis. Just like any other muscle, your resilience is something that needs to be worked out on a regular basis. If you don’t, you’ll get soft. I know, I did. I used be a super bad ass world class athlete, intense all the time, pissed off at the world. I used that fire to fuel my journey to the top of my own abilities. But becoming a coach and learning to add in empathy and caring for others, as well as getting married, has softened me. It has forced me to lose the sharp edges I had before; my life is now lived in harmony with others instead of opposition like I previously saw it. There is a balance to be found, and I am still striving for that.
We need to suffer, and overcome. It is what humans are built for, all of us. Some have more of a capacity for it than others, but all of us are going to have things that we suffer from in our lives, it just comes down to how we handle it. By testing yourself regularly, you build up callouses on your mind and your heart, and increase your capacity to endure. Not everything in life is a struggle to the point of truly having to endure it, but there will be a few times that you will find the need for that. Be prepared, and stay ready, because you never know what life will through at you.
I wish you luck in your endeavors…now into the freezing cold water!!! :-)