How to Ramp Up Your Willpower With Cold Therapy
Why Can't You Control Yourself?
A couple weeks ago, I published a post where I talked about the science of self control, and how you can strengthen it by consistently doing exercises that require you to exert self control. I’ve included a link to that post here, if you want to check it out. Today I want to tell you about one specific kind of self control exercise: cold therapy.
You’re probably familiar with the iconic image of athletic training rooms from the 1960s or 1970s, with athletes sitting in what appear to be way-too-small tubs, filled with ice water.
Or maybe you’ve witnessed the annual tradition of the polar plunge, practiced in thousands of locations around the world.
Submitting yourself to what some would consider cruel and unusual punishment is a well-worn tradition for thrill-seekers, athletes and bio-hackers.
Wim Hof (also known as “The Iceman”) has built an entire lifestyle, community and personal development program around the concept of cold therapy. He teaches how to use cold therapy to train your mind and nervous system so you can control your body’s physiological response to extreme physical environments. He owns multiple word records for things like longest time in an ice bath (currently at 1 hour 52 minutes) and climbing Mt. Everest in nothing but shorts and shoes (although he didn’t reach the summit due to a foot injury).
The benefits of cold therapy
While you do have to be a little crazy to do some of these things, there are many scientifically-validated benefits to cold therapy. I’m not going to go into detail about them here, because that’s not the purpose of this post, but the benefits of cold therapy include things like increasing your metabolism, burning fat, enhancing recovery from physical exertion and injury, improving your mood and moderating depression. Cold therapy has also been shown to strengthen your immune system, improve circulation, increase stress tolerance, and improve your sleep.
While these benefits are all great and worth pursuing for their own merits, the reason I’m discussing it here is because of the positive impact cold therapy also has on your motivation. As I discussed in my previous post, self control is important for motivation because low motivation is often the result of not having the willpower to resist your basic impulses. When you have a deep reserve of self control, it is much easier to resist the temptation to eat that slice of pizza, to stay in bed rather than going for a run, or to watch one more episode of The Walking Dead rather than starting that homework assignment.
Don't be scared...
The good news is that you don’t have to go to the extremes I described earlier to get many of the benefits of cold therapy. One very simple thing you can do is to take cold showers. Cold showers are used and endorsed by many famous people, including Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek), the self-help guru Tony Robbins, and legendary actress Katharine Hepburn.
While a cold shower isn’t the only way to experience cold therapy, it is one of the simplest and, more importantly, most accessible. If you’re reading this post, it’s very likely that you have access to a shower when you wake up every morning.
Since forcing yourself to take a shower in cold water is the epitome of a self-control exercise, doing it every day will steadily build your self-control “muscle”. If you’re looking for a way to get better at developing good, healthy habits, that alone is reason enough to give cold therapy a try. The long-term health benefits are simply icing on the cake.
If you’re planning to give cold therapy a try, there are multiple different approaches you can take. Some proponents of cold showers advocate starting with a warm shower and gradually lowering the temperature. Others advocate the “just do it” approach of jumping straight into the cold water. There are yet others who swear by something called contrast therapy, where you alternate between hot and cold temperatures. Whatever method you choose, you should plan to start with a short duration and work your way up as your nervous system adjusts.
...but proceed with caution
I need to make a disclaimer here. I am not a medical professional and, as such, I'm not dispensing any kind of medical advice here. If you have concerns about your body’s ability to handle the kind of shock to your nervous system that cold therapy induces, please consult your doctor before giving it a try.
I started using cold therapy in my showers recently (except on days when I shave). While it’s too early to tell how much of an effect it’s had on my self control, I have noticed a difference in my mood and mental alertness.
I’d love to hear what you think of this idea and whether you’re going to give it a try. Please let me know by leaving a comment below.
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