Cold Shower Therapy and Ritual

As probably most of my readers, I've heard of cold showers before. But I never seriously made an effort to deliberately shift to this discomforting practice... until last October. The rewarding effect of dopamine came right after the first shower- and for three months up to now, icy water has been my daily wake-up call. What began as a self-experiment has become a discomforting, but rewarding, morning ritual that gives mental clarity and ignites unforeseen energy levels for the day ahead. But what has originally convinced me to try it at least once?

Positive effects and risks

I heard that cold showers are good for the immune system but the most concise explanation I discovered was from Andrew Huberman on this podcast. Research studies (added more below) have been performed using cold water submersion. The empirically found positive effects are mental clarity, feeling more energized in the morning and throughout the day, reduced inflammation, clearer skin, boosted metabolism, loosing weight, and improved mental resilience. Challenging yourself mentally every god damn morning makes the rest of the day feel like a piece of cake. And one more thing... Having this cold shock in the morning helps with clocking your circadian rhythm and as a result with your overall sleep quality (no coffee needed). Just one little warning before going into specifics: After doing some research online for this article, I found negative side-effects might occur so please be careful and ask your doctor if symptoms occur.

Goal setting and habit formation

Some online references recommend starting with a warm shower and gradually changing to a cold shower. I've done that in the past and it didn't work for me, and others. Seriously, I never dared to cool it down. Instead, this time I aimed to get rid of the warm shower option until I formed a strong habit of cold showers. For habit formation, I skimmed James Clear's Atomic Habits again and committed to the following system:

First, starting with a "Why", which is all of the positive effects above. Second, a cue/time/place: every morning after waking up, go to the bathroom and start the routine. Next, decide on a duration and temperature. The minimum duration for this cold exposure is three minutes. The hardest part is the (needed) initial shock, so don't worry about the duration. I went with the coolest setting coming out of the pipes- which after measuring turned out to be 7°C or 45°F. For me, this temperature is cold enough to trigger the desired physiological responses without being so cold as to cause me harm. The usual step for forming a habit is to define a reward for a dopamine spike afterward to wire the neurons. However, after stepping out of the discomfort the dopamine levels empirically increase 2.5x compared to the normal level. Hence, no other (external) rewards are needed. Last but not least, I recommend defining milestones like 7 days, 14 days, and 1 month to track progress. Streaks are important here because continuity overwrites habits. However, when you miss a day don't be too hard on yourself and think about the overall success rate in the long run, e.g. 9 out of 10 days, while also chasing a new streak.


What has changed since I started having cold showers? I've been loyal to my cold showers most of the time. I seldom skipped the daily cold shower, and sometimes I did not take it directly after waking up. It became a morning ritual that has a big positive impact on my life. Why? Let me explain by contrasting the before and after. In the past it was hard for me to wake up, I felt sluggish throughout the morning. I usually crawled out of bed and procrastinated in the comfort of a warm blanket in bed and in the shower. What I never realized, is after waking up in a warm bed, and having a warm shower, any other sensation after just feels cold. Plus, I was still half asleep when stepping out of the shower, and only felt awake when the caffeine finally kicked in. On cold winter mornings, I shivered, wrapped in blankets, rubbing my back against the heater.

With Cold Showers

Now, let's visualize the alternative. I go to bed at 22:30 and wake up at 07:00 getting at least 8 hours of sleep. After, I go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and step into the shower. At this moment, I consciously and unconsciously know that the early morning discomfort awaits, but I also know that I will feel unstoppable afterward. My heart rate climbs to 90. I put the timer on my shower radio for 3 minutes and start with cold watering my legs, arms, then my face and chest. Relaxation is key, aim for long deep breaths. Now comes the best part: 10 minutes after getting up from bed, and right after getting out of the shower my energy level is peaking, my mind is clear and I feel unrestrained.

I think this is the perfect time to focus on the main goals in life, be it morning swimming, meditation, writing a book, sailing, surfing, learning the piano, or whatever you have in mind. I continue this practice because, as outlined, it had a huge positive impact on my life, and I share this story to maybe inspire you to at least try it once.

Extra: Cold and warm showers

I didn't have a warm shower for two months. I only had morning cold showers up to this point. I feared when having warm showers I would switch back immediately. So I decided to define a different why/cue/time for warm showers. Warm showers are a great way to relax, and relaxation is best for winding down to sleep. But instead of having warm showers every day, I take them as a reward for physical exercise, such as running, or as a cure against stress.


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