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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Rejection Is A Bitch

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That’s the way the Cookie Crumbles…

According to research conducted with MRI the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.  Psychologically speaking, our brains deal with both in the same way.  It is any wonder then that we try so hard to avoid rejection.  However, from a personal growth perspective, it’s actually beneficial for us to put ourselves in situations where we can get rejected.  Why would you do that to yourself, you ask?  It’s all about building resilience.

One of my comfort zone challenges is to start a profitable business.  Unfortunately this is not that story.   Apparently they say that in order to be successful in business, first you have to fail – so I guess in that respect you could say that I am at least part of the way there.

Late last year my favourite uncle died from cancer.  Despite knowing how ill he was, his death affected me in a way I was not expecting.  I left work early after getting the phone call and I went home and cried and cried.  Then a strange thing happened, I felt the need to bake.  Let’s call it ‘comfort baking’… hey, it’s gotta be better than comfort eating right?   So I therapeutically baked a big batch of chocolate chip cookies and took them into the office the next day.

As a result I had the idea to sell freshly baked biscuits to offices on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly subscription.  Wookies {Work Cookies} was born! What a great idea I thought, I’m going to be a cookie magnate for sure! Everyone around me was so supportive.  So I baked and baked until I had perfected my recipes: a burnt butter choc chip, a luxurious chewy ANZAC and a melt in your mouth buttery shortbread.  I then went to work on taking pretty pictures, creating a brand, a logo, and a pretty damn impressive website (if I do say so myself).   But once all that was done I actually had to go out and sell my product.  Yikes!

From what I can tell (being married to someone that has successfully started a business), being an entrepreneur is the mother of all comfort zone challenges.  It seems that every day you are putting yourself and your ego on the line.  I recently heard someone say that “When you’re in a corporate job, you have to ask your boss for a pay increase once a year …, once you have your own business, you have to ask for the sale every day…”  Some days you get a yes, and other days you flat out get rejected.

Sometimes though, the hardest part is actually asking.  For weeks I had messed about with what I thought was ‘setting up a business’, but all I was doing was the fun stuff.  And unfortunately procrastination does not a business make.  Once I got to the ‘Now what?’ stage (after re-writing the copy on the website 5 times of course) my husband kindly suggested that I actually go out and SELL my cookies.  To like, a real person.

I’ve been in sales before and I hated it.  After spending just over a year selling managed funds for a living I had convinced myself that I was ‘just not a good salesperson’.  So the idea of having to knock on doors and convince people to buy from me was intimidating at best, and terrifying at worst.  But I managed to tell myself that this time around I would be selling something that I actually believed in (sorry Goldman Sachs).  And rather than convincing people, I would be giving them an opportunity to buy something that they would absolutely LOVE (provided they hadn’t heard the bad news about sugar, eherm…). The only thing I didn’t think about was that putting your heart and soul into something also puts your heart and soul on the chopping block.

I decided that the way forward was to give out free trial jars of Wookies with the hope that I could sign customers up for an ongoing subscription once they had tasted how freaking amazing they were.  So I baked 5 batches of chocolate chip cookies and packaged them into their beautifully branded Wookie jars and headed to North Sydney.  As I walked in to the first office my heart was beating so hard that I was sure that you could see it through my shirt.  My hands were shaking, and so was my voice.  “Hi, I’m Jane form Wookies, Work Cookies…” I gave my nervous spiel.

The girl at reception was very sweet, but basically said ‘thanks but no thanks’.  My heart sank and my negative self-talk started.  ‘This is a stupid idea, why would anyone buy my cookies, I’m just a home baker, I’m not good enough for anyone to pay money for them.”  But I had 5 jars of 30 cookies in the back of my car, what was I going to do with 150 cookies?  So I took a few deep breaths and went into the next office, with my heart rate a bit slower and a more confident spiel.  The receptionist was so enthusiastic, and was genuinely excited to take a trial jar.  Woohoo!  I walked out of there with the biggest smile on my face.  My confidence was through the roof, it was such a rush.  I went into 9 offices in total that day and gave out 5 trial jars, not a bad hit rate.   Then again I was giving away free cookies!

When I went back a week later to collect jars and get a commitment for subscriptions, three were a polite but definite no, but two of the offices said they were interested in taking delivery every fortnight.  I was so excited, and my dreams of cookie world domination seemed to be that much closer.  Unfortunately neither of my potential customers sent back an order form.  That hit my confidence pretty hard and I got very despondent about the whole venture.  It turned out that my work place became my biggest (only) customer, and I continued Wookies for a few months.  I eventually realised that I enjoyed baking less when it was done under obligation.  Plus I didn’t get that same feel good factor of ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’ my baking with others.  Also from an economic standpoint it seemed to be a big effort for very little reward.  So as it stands today, the Wookies idea has been put on the shelf.

I’m not sure whether Wookies would have been successful had I picked myself back up and kept persevering, but regardless of that, starting Wookies wasn’t a completely wasted experience. I learned a lot from my brief foray into the business world.  I certainly gained a new respect for small business owners.  However, the key realisation was how important resilience is in business.  The ability to pick yourself up after being rejected, to not take it personally and keep going can be the difference between success and failure.  Rejection is a normal part of business and a normal part of life.  But it’s NOT personal.  It’s not a judgement on who you are as a person.  It’s about how what you have to offer fits with someone else’s needs, and whether they personally value what you have to offer.  It’s about THEM, not YOU.

In business, as in life, we have to risk rejection in order to achieve what’s most important to us.   By experiencing rejection regularly and building and strengthening pathways in your brain, you build resilience and reduce the pain reaction in your brain.  Being able to push past the fear of rejection will build your confidence and allow you to do things you never knew you were capable of.  I feel like this is one comfort zone challenge I am going to keep persevering at, but hopefully the more I do it the easier it will get.  I don’t want to let fear hold me back anymore.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Love Jane xx

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The Science Of The Comfort Zone

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On the surface the Comfort Zone sounds like a pretty nice place to be. Sort of like being on a hammock, hanging between two coconut trees on a tropical island.  But really it can be a pretty dangerous place to get stuck (your comfort zone, not the hammock…).

I’m pretty sure you would have heard people talking about getting out of their comfort zones. And God knows there are enough memes and circle/arrow diagrams all around the Internet telling you that outside of the comfort zone ‘is where the magic happens’.  But what Magic are they talking about?  And what exactly is the comfort zone anyway?

Psychologically speaking your comfort zone is a behavioural and emotional state where you experience constant low levels of anxiety*.  In most cases anxiety is a result of how we deal with uncertainty, and typically humans tend not to be very good with dealing with uncertainty (believe me, as a recovering control freak I get it.)  Being within your comfort zone, behind that imaginary line between what is known and unknown makes us feel safe because we can anticipate the outcome.  As I said before, being comfortable doesn’t really seem like such a bad thing.  But people can get comfortable being depressed, doing a job they hate, or even staying in an abusive relationship – purely because it’s comfortable knowing what to expect from the situation.

While being within your comfort zone can also feel good (especially for your ego), nothing grows there; it tends to be a place of relatively low performance and little change.  In order to improve our performance, in order for us to grow, we need to do things that create anxiety within us.  You know the feeling; your heart races, you go hot, or cold, your palms start sweating and you can feel the adrenalin and blood rushing through every part of your body.  That physical reaction is your limbic system, the primitive part of your brain, responding to you feeling threatened.  This was a pretty useful tool when we were cavemen. But these days you don’t have a lion chasing you, you’re just going to give a presentation, or ask someone out on a date.  Good one brain!

Now, who knows, evolution may mean that our brain eventually catches up to meet the challenges of our modern world, but I’m not prepared to wait that long.  And actually, each time we push through our anxiety, we are actually changing our brains.  By learning new information and experiencing new situations we are forming new neural pathways in our brains.  And the more we repeat that learning or experience, the stronger the pathways get, and our anxiety lessens.  This is the science of neuroplasticity, this is the science of expanding your comfort zone.

But, honestly, do you really care whether or not you have a super highway in your brain?  Probably not.  But essentially these new connections mean that things that were previously hard, become easy (or easier).  They open your eyes to creativity; improve your resilience; help you live a more fulfilled life; improve your confidence; and ultimately allow you to explore the outer limits of your potential.

Personally, I’ve found that the greatest benefit of getting outside my comfort zone has been a shift in the way I approach so-called ‘problems’.  Instead of allowing my anxiety dictate my reactions, I notice how I am feeling and I ask myself why.  That way I can work out whether I am ready to push through the discomfort. Or whether I can find some way to change my reaction and reduce the anxiety.   In other words I am moving from my Limbic System to my Prefrontal Cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for rational decision making.

Getting outside of your comfort zone doesn’t have to be all skydiving and rock-climbing though.  Sometimes being outside your comfort zone can be sitting in gridlock on Military Road while you are running late for an important meeting, or dealing with toddler that won’t put her jumper on when it’s 10 degrees outside.  It’s not the glamorous, exciting type of comfort zone challenge but it provides you an opportunity to re-think your anxiety and importantly, your reaction.

The most important thing to remember is that your comfort zone is not fixed, actually it’s not even real, it is a mental boundary that you have created based on your previous experiences.  YOU are in control of changing it.  Having said that, no one can dramatically expand their comfort zone overnight.  You need to ease into it.  Your brain needs time and repetition to build those neural pathways.  And you also need to give yourself permission to be inside your comfort zone to relax, recover and reflect on your experiences.  Anxiety is not a state that you can (healthily) sustain for a long period of time.

So, while I’m giving you permission to get back onto your hammock – what I really want is for you to start to dip your toes in the water. What can you do today to get outside of your comfort zone?   And what have you done recently that has challenged you?  Share your experiences in the comments below, or post to the Facebook page.

Love Jane xx

P.S. Did you enjoy this post?  If you did and you know someone who would benefit from it, I’d love you to share it with your friends.

*Note that when I’m referring to anxiety, I am referring to the normal stress reaction in a healthy individual, rather than anxiety disorders.

 

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