Lessons from Cold Showers.
In late 2013, I moved to South East Asia. This was my first time living full-time away from my parent’s home, and I can tell you that it was a significant downgrade.
My apartment didn’t have very much. Notably, it came without windows – yes, really – and also without hot water. However, it did come with a generous amount of varying species of insects in the bathroom.
Cockroaches and giant spiders aside, my six months there weren’t actually so unpleasant. Around four months previously I had discovered the philosophy of Stoicism, and so I saw this as an excellent opportunity to practice being a Stoic.
One of the big takeaways from this six-month experience was living without hot water. I’ve discussed this before, but it really was an amazing experience. There was something that I had taken for granted for twenty-two years, that was suddenly not available. Every morning I woke up, went downstairs – ah yes, the bathroom was on a separate floor – and I was forced to have a freezing cold shower, all while trying to avoid my invertebrate flatmates.
Obviously, this didn’t sit well with me for the initial period, but I quickly got used to it, and then something strange happened, I actually started to enjoy cold showers. That’s not to say that I didn’t miss hot showers, a few times a month I would visit my brother’s apartment to have a gloriously luxurious hot shower, and it was often the highlight of my week.
And even now that I have lived in many luxury apartments, I still manage to keep the habit of having cold showers, even when hot showers are readily available.
Stoicism teaches us to be mindful of our environment and the natural order of things, and I’ve found that the more I reflect on things that normally would appear to be banal, such as the temperature of the shower, the better my insights into things of greater importance, like how to live a tranquil life.
So in this essay, I’d like to elaborate on the various things that I’ve learnt by taking, and thinking about, cold showers.
A Cold Shower Will Seriously Wake You Up.
Forget coffee, this is the real deal. I often wake up with that feeling that I just want to stay in my warm bed, especially if there is someone else there. The urge is almost irresistible, yet if you can manage to drag yourself to the bathroom and have a cold shower, you will pretty much instantly snap out of it.
True, it’s quite an extreme way to start the day, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing, as it’s a variation of this philosophy:
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.~ Mark Twain.
The Longer you hesitate about something, the harder it will be.
Any morning when I hesitated to have a cold shower, the shower was never as pleasant as when I simply stood right over the shower head and let the water hit my head right away.
This is because my brain starts to think about alternatives, excuses, and whatnot. I was quite fortunate that at the time I didn’t even have the choice of hot water, and unless I wanted to smell for the day, I simply had to take a cold shower.
That’s why my strategy for running early in the morning is to simply stand up before my brain can create excuses for why I should stay in bed.
Once I’ve stood up, I just wait for myself to wake up, and within 10 minutes I’ll find myself running in the park before I am even fully conscious of my surroundings. I know that the big hurdle is overcoming the urge to stay in my warm bed, but as soon as I’ve left it, it’s almost automatic.
You can use this strategy to get yourself to take that cold shower first thing in the morning.
We can live on less.
Having hot showers, something that is such an intrinsic part of daily life suddenly taken away from me, made me think about everything else.
After all, it’s quite strange – at least for someone who grew up in Western Europe – to live in an apartment without hot water, and yet here I was, living a happy and content life in such an apartment.
This made me think that perhaps there are a lot of things that we think are indispensable when in reality they are simply time-honoured luxuries disguised as modern-day basics.
Think about the things that you have taken for granted.
Could you live without them?
How long would it take for you to adapt to your new lifestyle?
Do you have the courage to try it?
Being prepared for “Negative” experiences is extremely helpful to live a well-balanced and content life.
I recently took a holiday to a small sleepy town on the coast of Cambodia called Kampot. It was extremely relaxing being completely removed from civilisation, even for a handful of days. I stayed at an awesome lodge, and it’s essentially a large garden by the river that has bungalows. Very idyllic, and super friendly staff.
My bungalow didn’t have hot water, but thankfully due to my training over the past two years in having cold showers, this didn’t pose a problem. I didn’t bat an eyelid.
Imagine if I was still unaccustomed to cold showers, this may have somewhat disturbed my holiday.
This is one of the core recommendations from the ancient Stoics. We should try and occasionally experience that which we believe to be negative in a controlled manner so that if it ever does happen for real, we will be prepared for it.
This is extremely wise life advice.
After a while, Cold Water Feels Warm.
If you go and take a cold shower now, you’ll notice that as soon as the icy cold water hits you, you’ll begin to breathe heavily and perhaps also shake a little. However, after several minutes, you’ll notice that the water will feel significantly warmer.
This is a great analogy for our lives.
Situations which, in our current state of comfort, we might think would be unbearable, are actually quite easy to live with, to the point that they won’t even affect our happiness. This is because we tend to naturally gravitate towards a median level of happiness.
This works both ways.
Both the lottery winner and the amputee report that after six months of living in their new condition, they are at the same level of happiness as before. If you’re interested in this train of thought, go ahead and read my essays on luxury and hedonism.
And so here is what I’ve learnt from taking cold showers. I find this concept of learning from everyday actions really fascinating. If one can learn from taking the time to analyse how one does something as simple as showering, what might we learn from something as complex as falling in love?