Why Cold Showers Are Good For You

I have a confession to make. When I first started this blog a few years ago I wasn’t actually taking cold showers. I had just written my first piece about my skydiving experience and needed a name for my URL. I was planning on calling it youarenowleavingyourcomfortzone.com but thankfully I have a husband who as well as being in marketing is also brutally honest and told me how painfully boring that sounded.

At the time I’d recently been binge-listening (is that a thing?) to a podcast called Smart People Podcast, and an episode that really stuck out for me was an interview with a guy called Joe De Sena. Joe is the CEO and founder of The Spartan Race, which is a crazy endurance race that pushes people to their limits, mentally and physically. During the interview he spoke about the crazy tough things that people put themselves through during the race (and an even crazier one called the Death Race) but all of that seemed ridiculous and outside of the realms of my ability. That was until he talked about the practice of taking cold showers and how life changing it can be. Really? I thought. How could something so simple make such a difference?

I get asked all the time “WHY are cold showers so good for you?” According to the internet the list of reasons is almost limitless. It seems to come second only to coconut oil in the list of miracles it can provide. Thankfully I’ve yet to hear anyone say it cures cancer. But apparently it can increase alertness; improve circulation; reduce inflammation; improve feelings of depression; give you better skin and hair; increase fertility; and aid in weight loss. Just to name a few. I will be the first to admit that these physical reasons alone are pretty impressive and believe it or not many of them are backed by scientific evidence. But for me, and the reason that this blog has its name, the most powerful benefit to putting yourself under a cold shower is that it builds your confidence, improves your resilience and helps to shift your mindset from “I can’t” to “I can”.

“Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

About a year after I started the blog I decided that I really should be practicing what I preach, so I set myself a challenge to have cold showers everyday. The first day of the challenge I went to turn the tap on and that little doubting voice in my head started. “Why are you even doing this?” “How is this going to make any difference to your life?” “This is so dumb!”. I don’t know who this little voice in my head is, but jeez she is a negative little bitch! All of us have our own version of this, our own inner critic. Wellness coach Melissa Ambrosini calls it her “Mean Girl”, which I think is kind of appropriate. Whatever you want to call it, having some form of self evaluation is useful, but when it gets overly critical, we need to put it back in it’s place. I have found that one way of doing this is to prove your inner critic wrong. “You don’t think I can have a cold shower? Just watch me prove you wrong!” So on that very first day I steeled myself and turned the tap to cold.

I’m pretty sure that the first time I did it I was only under the water for less than 3 seconds – but I did it! “See!” I told my inner critic “I DID it!! I TOLD you I could do it!” And so the next day my little inner critic got a little bit quieter, folding her arms and going off in a huff because I’d proven her wrong (ok, so I have a good imagination…). The next day she became a little quieter still and then I started increasing the amount of time that I spent under the water. Each day it got easier, physically and mentally. The key is the gradual and consistent effort, slowly expanding your comfort zone further and further. Each time you prove to yourself what you are capable of your confidence, resilience and belief in yourself grows. Then when you’re faced with a decision outside of the shower there is a counter-voice to your inner critic “Maybe I CAN do this?” “Maybe I should just try, and see what happens.”

Self-belief is everything. The more I do these comfort zone challenges the more I know this to be true. But how is it that someone like Elon Musk believes that he can colonise Mars yet I doubt my ability to start my own business, for example? Unfortunately self-belief is not a switch you can instantly flick, it needs to be cultivated and nurtured. It’s true that some people may have a head start, they may have had more supportive parents, a teacher who encouraged them, or even had certain life experiences that helped them to develop those skills earlier in life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start today.

Having a cold shower each day is an easily accessible comfort zone challenge, it doesn’t require you to fly off to Nepal to climb Mt. Everest or stand on a stage presenting to 10,000 people. The key to a good comfort zone challenge is that it needs to stretch you enough to the point of “Ooh, this is nerve wracking but I may just be able to pull it off” rather than the idea of achieving it being completely incomprehensible. I guess that is why the idea of cold showers appealed to me as a blog title – given my current restrictions around family life. I wanted the blog to be about taking on bite-sized challenges within your life as it is right now. Start where you are.

Have I convinced you yet? Are you ready to try cold showers? If you’re ready to dive straight in, by all means go ahead. If you’d prefer to start off slow I recommend starting with your usual warm shower and finishing off with a few seconds of cold. Each day you can increase the amount of time under the cold water. Try it for 30 days, working your way up to 30 seconds under the water. I promise you that it will change the way you feel about yourself and what you are capable of. And if no one has told you already today – remember that you are STRONGER, SMARTER and MORE CAPABLE than you think.

I’d love to hear about your experience and progress with cold showers – how do you feel?! Let me know in the comments below or come join the conversation over on Facebook.

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4 Steps to Overcome Resistance

I wonder, what is on your comfort zone challenge list (or bucket list, Life Goals, etc) that you keep putting off because it seems too hard, too scary, too big? A couple of months ago I did my first video (here, in case you missed it) and for a while my own internal resistance held me back. It just seemed too difficult and I just kept thinking and thinking about making a video. In my head I was making some awesome videos – if only you could have seen them, I rocked! But as always, thinking only gets you so far.

Now that I finally managed to shoot and share my first video, I have reflected on what got me from frozen with fear to successfully completing the challenge. I thought I would share these lessons with you in the hope that if you’re also struggling with a challenge and resistance is holding you back, you may just benefit from what I learned.

Fear has a job: to keep you small, stuck and the same. – Unknown

Start Small

Technically speaking the video I posted to YouTube wasn’t my first ever video, but it was the first time that I had publicly shared a video – and I was so nervous about it that I had to close my eyes as I pressed publish. My actual first video was done a few months ago: a 30 second masterpiece that explained how to use a sinus rinse. No, really. Glamorous huh?   Let’s hope that doesn’t resurface once I’ve made it to YouTube stardom (it’s imminent, surely).

Things only started happening when a friend posted a challenge to a Facebook group that I am part of, which was to do a 30 second video teaching everyone in the group something that you knew (I happened  to have a sinus infection at the time). Before shooting my ‘Sinus How To’ guide I had only got as far as turning my iphone camera to selfie mode, pressing the little red button and then…… nothing. For some reason I couldn’t actually get any words out. I felt like an idiot speaking at an inanimate object. It’s amazing how the fear of getting out of your comfort zone can stop you from doing what, from the outside, can seem like the simplest things. I mean I’m pretty sure any millennials reading this would be thinking “What’s the big deal old lady? Shoot the video!”.

But I figured that I could probably manage 30 seconds and once everyone started posting their own videos I felt really inspired. Just taking the tiny step of a 30 second video about a random topic actually got me started.

You don’t have to start big, but you do need to start. Trust that momentum will take care of the rest.

Surround yourself with supportive people.

When I was shooting my 30 second sinus video it definitely helped me knowing exactly who my audience was, for two reasons. Firstly it meant that I could speak as if I was speaking directly to them and not just into a little hole at the top of my iphone. Secondly, knowing the audience meant that I knew that if I fucked up they wouldn’t judge me. It felt safe to speak, which meant that I showed up 100% as myself, not trying to be different, not trying to be ‘a person who was good at video’. So I posted the first video that I ever shot, no retakes, no edits, nothing.

A funny thing happened next. The original challenge was “Over the next 7 days post a video…” however that got interpreted by most of us as “Post a video for the next 7 days…” and everyone just kept on posting. I got swept up in the excitement and also posted 6 more videos. Yes, you may remember me from such videos as “How to boil an egg in the kettle” and “Why you should avoid tea when you have a cold”. The feedback and support that everyone gave was so valuable.

It’s amazing what feeling part of something can help you achieve. Don’t underestimate the power of surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people.

Have a strategy

When the time came to shoot my first Cold Showers video I was feeling a lot more confident about speaking into the camera. Unfortunately it gave me a bit too much confidence to think that I could just hit record and start speaking, without having a plan of attack. I knew what I wanted to speak about, but having it in your head and saying it aloud in a clear and succinct message is another thing. I spent about an hour just to film what ended up being a 4 minute video!

I stopped and re-started about 8 times and at one point I found myself getting really angry and frustrated that I couldn’t do it. Finally I reminded myself that this is what being outside your comfort zone is about and that I just needed to figure it out. As soon as I changed my mindset I opened myself up to the possibility that maybe what I needed was a script (yep, slow learner here…). Even just writing it out made everything more concrete in my mind and eventually I shot the footage that became the final video.

Having a basic structure or strategy can help prepare you and give you confidence to take the next step.  And if you think it’s going to hinder your creativity, read this.

Let go of perfection

The first time I played back my video footage I was so disheartened. Apart from the fact that putting makeup on (a rare occurrence) didn’t turn me into a supermodel, I was also disappointed that I hadn’t said something quite the right way; that my lips moved strangely; that I’d tucked my hair behind my ear; the list goes on. So, I reshot the video… nope, still not Heidi Klum. Then a few more times. Until I realised that no matter how many times I reshot the footage I would never say everything as succinctly, intelligently, or perfectly as I wanted. And let’s be honest, I was never going to get great at video in just one afternoon. Getting to the top of my video ‘game’ was going to take practice.

I also realise that in trying to achieve perfection you lose a little bit of yourself in the process. So my lips are a bit wonky when I speak and I have ears that make me look like Kira from the Dark Crystal, but that is all just part of who I am and isn’t that the whole point of video – to show people who you really are?

Don’t let your desire for perfection make you lose your momentum. As Seth Godin says, Just Ship It.

Go forth and conquer

Another thing to remember is that having the feeling of resistance is not necessarily a bad thing.  And while I don’t much like the cliche of ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ it has a certain value in that you can’t expect the fear, anxiety or resistance to go away.  You just have to use it as an indicator that you’re moving in the right direction and that it means you’re growing. Steven Pressfield explores this idea really well in his book The War of Art, I definitely recommend it.

These are just a few things that I found helped me overcome my resistance to the video challenge. My challenge is not going to stop here however. To really get great at video I am going to try and do a two week challenge to post a video to the Cold Showers Facebook Page every day for 14 days – so ‘Like’ the page and stay tuned!  And if you’re game I would love it if you joined in.

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Why I’m a F#@king Awesome Mum

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I seem to be very drawn to all things travel at the moment. I mean it’s something that I’ve loved for a while now, ever since being bitten by the travel bug when I first took a gap year at the tender age of 19. But recently I’ve wistfully been reading travel blogs, procrastinating by scanning house sitting websites or flicking through Lonely Planet guides in bookshops. For a while there I started lamenting the fact that as we had now ‘settled down’ and had a child I would never get to experience those crazy travel adventures of my youth. This is possibly the reason why I was so drawn to Erin & Tim, who have inspired me to do more travel – and who, without knowing, convinced me to take Sophie on a recent camping Adventure to Tasmania.

One not-very-useful piece of advice I remember hearing when I was younger was “Get the travel out of the way before you have kids.” It’s as if they are saying that somehow you can get it out of your system and then settle down to a sensible life in the ‘burbs. In my experience it just made my wanderlust stronger. The more I travel, the more I want to see. Before having kids I would have said “Screw that, the kids can just tag along.” , but becoming a parent was a much bigger shock to the system than I imagined and my confidence took a big knock as a result. The idea of travelling with a child suddenly scared the hell out of me. Since then I’ve started re-building my confidence and have adopted much more of a growth mindset.

Actually, the growth mindset is a key factor in the Cold Showers Are Good For You philosophy. It is a concept that I came across a few years ago that has been explored scientifically by a psychologist called Carol Dweck. She argues that there are two types of mindsets that we typically adopt, one of a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Under a fixed mindset people believe that they either have a talent or ability to do something or they don’t. And they attribute their success or failure in any pursuit as a reflection of their intrinsic value. Under a growth mindset people see that their success or failure is a reflection of how much effort or practice they have put in. Here are some of the ways the two mindsets differ:

Fixed Growth
Success is how you validate yourself Success means you have expanded your abilities
Failure is a catastrophe Failure is something you learn from
Effort is a dirty word (i.e. you should be able to do it without trying) It feels good when effort pays off
Criticism is hard to take You can risk criticism because it provides opportunity to improve
“That’s just who I am” “How can I be better?”

I think to some extent having a fixed mindset served me well in the past. I had a fixed mindset that I was smart, and that provided me with a sense of confidence that I was clever enough to do most things – until I couldn’t. But having a baby is not an intellectual pursuit, and therefore my fixed mindset turned out to be quite the liability when I first became a mother. I struggled as the story I had going on in my head (on repeat more times than Back Street Boys when I was 13) was that I wasn’t good at being a Mum. So how the hell would I be able to cope travelling with a child if I couldn’t even manage one at home?

When we decided to visit relatives in Canada when Sophie, our daughter, was 11 months old, I seriously wondered whether I would cope. Luckily I would not be alone, I remember thinking, as my husband Gerrit would of course also be there. We decided to hire a campervan and planned a (in hindsight) very full-on itinerary covering parts of British Columbia and Alberta. While I look back in fondness for a lot of that adventure, it was also in parts seriously horrible. Things went wrong, Gerrit and I argued, Sophie cried, I cried – it felt like a terrible failure.

Fast forward 2 ½ years to a markedly different trip. My brother had been travelling around the country and was in Tasmania over November and December. So I decided to take the opportunity to take a Mother/Daughter adventure and meet up with him to camp at the beautiful Freycinet Peninsula. Things went wrong, Sophie cried, but the difference this time was that I didn’t. When problems arose – and they did, I pity the person who had to sit in seat 12E after us for example – I thought “Ok, how are we going to deal with this?” and granted it took a few different strategies to see what stuck in any particular circumstance, but I now have so much more confidence in my ability to cope with parenting setbacks and in my potential to improve.

There is no denying that travelling with kids is going to be different than the heady days of my youth (which are probably also heavily romanticised in my memory) but I know that it’s not only possible to do it but that getting outside my comfort zone will make me an even better mum and maybe even help Sophie grow up with more of a growth mindset. Having progressively adopted more of a growth mindset I realise that I’m actually a fucking awesome Mum – but only better than I was, and not as great as I am going to be.

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How To Be A Super Hero

Child superhero portrait

How confident are you, would you say? Super confident? Not at all? If you had super powers do you think you would be more confident? I have been doing a lot of thinking about mindset recently and how that relates to our confidence. I wonder how much more we could achieve in life (even if that was just more happiness) if we just believed in ourselves. I think, however, that I’ve found a way that you can get in touch with your own super powers and improve your confidence – are you up for the challenge?

I was in sunny/cold/hot/windy Melbourne last week (seriously, that is how is should be known from now on). I was there for a course on Emotional Intelligence, which was a kind of a get to know yourself and start the year with a bang kind of experience. It was run by The School of Life, which is built on the premise that the world would be a pretty amazing if people were more emotionally aware – of themselves and others. I concur.

One of the classes within the five day course was How To Be More Confident and while all the content was worthwhile the thing that stuck with me was the notion that confidence isn’t necessarily a permanent state. For example, I am pretty confident talking to people about financial planning. I could probably even get on stage and address a room full of people on it. If, however you asked me to speak to a room of toddlers about how to fold origami I would probably go to pieces (of paper, haha, geddit!). My point is that you probably are confident in some area of your life already, so labelling ourselves as ‘not confident’ is not really a true reflection of us as a whole, complicated being.

On the surface you could assume that the reason I am confident talking to people about financial planning is that I have accumulated a lot of knowledge over the loooong time I have been doing it (did you have to point that out) and it may be the same for you in whatever area you are most confident in. But if you look a little closer, the real reason we feel confidence is how we feel about ourselves. Having that knowledge gives you a level of trust in yourself and your ability to cope with unknown future outcomes, which is essentially what confidence is. What if you trusted yourself to cope with any outcome in any situation, even if you didn’t have all the answers?

It seems like a big ask, doesn’t it? Actually mindset is something that isn’t that difficult to change. But like anything, it takes practice. I heard a fantastic story from a colleague of mine recently about how his mum changed her mindset almost overnight – and how you can do it too.

Shirley was a country housewife who dedicated her life to her family and her responsibilities. At the age of about 55 she decided that she wanted to change her name. Throughout her life she said she had never really felt like a Shirley and so at a time in her life where her family were grown and no longer relied on her quite so much, she announced that she was changing her name to Nina. From that time onwards she became Nina. Nina was adventurous, she was fun, she prioritised herself instead of always sacrificing herself for her family. She had found her super powers! And all because she had decided to. The funniest part of the story for me was that Nina would often talk about something great that she had done and comment “Shirley never would have done this!”.  Gold.*

I loved this story so much when I heard it. For me it proved that any change we want to make, anything that we want to do or anyone we want to become – WE have the power to make it happen, if only we change our mindset. For a short while after hearing this story I considered changing my name, but I actually don’t feel like a Nina, or anyone else. I still feel like Jane. But I did take a couple of steps to try and reap the benefits of this strategy, I encourage you to try it on for size and see if it fits.

Create Your Own Superhero

First you’ll need a name. Get creative and name this Super Hero version of yourself. Go by feel, see how different names fit.  Maybe think of who your favourite super heroes are and try some version that feels right for you. For me personally, Super-Jane felt right.

Now, take out a piece of paper and a pen.  Think about what you consider to be the very best version of yourself. Write it down. Describe in detail how that person feels (yes, try it in third person), how they act (and react), what they believe in and how they present themselves in the world – yes, do it in third person. For me, this manifesto style document spanned two A4 pages of about 15 bullet points. So as you can imagine it was quite detailed.  Some examples from my own Super Jane Manifesto are below, for reference.

  • Super Jane is strong but gentle, she is calm, patient, open and friendly but also focused and determined.
  • Super Jane understands and accepts herself, allows herself to fully feel her emotions, even the negative ones, without judgement of herself.

As you are writing it you may be thinking “But this isn’t me.”.  The important part is knowing who you WANT to be and trusting that you can become that person.  You should include any areas that you want to work on and include any of the qualities you know you already possess and are proud of.

Suit Up!

Now, the next time you are in a situation where you are not feeling as confident as you would like to be, channel your inner Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, NOT the purple dinosaur) and suit up!  Then think to yourself

“What would _________________(insert super hero name) do now?”

and actually become that person. Feel it, act it out, embody that confidence and believe that you are that person. If you practicing for long enough, you will find that you naturally become that person. 

I know that this seems like a bit of a flippant and crazy exercise, but believe me it is powerful beyond what it seems. YOU are powerful beyond what it may seem right now. I believe that everyone has a super hero inside them, it’s just about defining the very best version of ourselves and then tapping into that each time we forget. It’s definitely not an overnight job and it’s only one tool in your self development toolbox, but I encourage you to keep your Super Hero Manifesto somewhere close and read it regularly. Confidence isn’t a permanent state for anyone, but it can be cultivated with practice and called upon in times of need.   You too can be a super hero, of that I am confident.

To infinity and beyond!  Buzz Lightyear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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