What Do Cold Showers Have to Do With Resilience?

This morning I took a cold shower after a great kettlebell workout. In part, I did it because it helps flush out lactic acid, which speeds recovery. But I also do it for two other reasons.

First, I learned to do that the summer I sold books door to door for the Southwestern Company. Because energy and attitude play such a central role in your success as a salesperson—especially door to door—Southwestern’s leaders made sure we did all the right things to keep our energy and spirits high. Starting out the day with a cold shower was one of those practices they recommended.


When it comes to selling books door-to-door, there’s no room for “slow starters” who trudge through the first few hours of the day. If you want people to respond positively to you when you knock on their door, you better be giving off positive, upbeat “vibes.”

Given the long hours we worked, I typically would wake up feeling groggy and dull. The cold shower took care of that. It was like chugging down a couple of shots of espresso.

Taking cold showers that summer was one of my first memories of learning how the body affects the mind. It showed me how our physiology affects our mood, which affects our perceptions and performance.

There’s a second reason I sometimes take cold showers. It may sound silly and inconsequential, but “little things” accumulate to create big results.

The second reason is best articulated by Dr. William James, the father of American Psychology:

“Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points. Do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.”

William James, from Talks to Teachers, 1912

When we do simple little things that force us out of our comfort zone, it builds our “courage, confidence, and flexibility muscles”.  Whether we do something that requires us to deal with physical or emotional discomfort, it builds our resilience.

We learn “I can do that” and “I can handle that.”

We continually get reminded that we CAN do things that are uncomfortable and survive them.

With repeated reminders of this, when we face BIG challenges, we are far more likely to face them with an “I can handle that” attitude because discomfort is not a stranger, anxiety is not foreign, and facing challenges and discomfort is just something we do.

So…what little thing can you do today that will help you become “systematically heroic”?

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