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.

I’m too sexy for my clothes

There are not many things that make me cry… actually, who am I kidding, I cry at everything these days. I am, as they say, a ‘sensitive soul’. Even so, as I made my way to Cobblers Beach on Sunday, I couldn’t quite believe that I was about to cry over something as silly as taking my clothes off. I was scared.   Not ‘jumping out of a plane’ scared, but scared in a sense of feeling really damn vulnerable. I was scared of other people judging my body the way I have been judging it.

‘Going to a Nudist Beach’ was one of the first comfort zone challenges I set for myself when I started the blog last year.   So when I found out about the Sydney Skinny I thought it would be the perfect way to tick it off my comfort zone list. The event is in its fourth year and it’s a 300m or 900m ocean swim that is swam completely in the nude. I can’t tell you how many friends I tried to convince to join me, but I swear I could have got more people to go skydiving than to get their kit off in public.

I get it, I was apprehensive too. I wouldn’t exactly say that I am ashamed of my body, but my relationship with it over the years has probably been one of judgement and control, rather than acceptance and trust. I’ve never exactly been overweight (well, if you don’t count the hefty Heathrow Injection I acquired on my gap year), but the thing I’ve learned is that how you feel about your body actually has very little to do with what size or shape you are.

For a long time that had been an unfathomable concept for me. I felt that it was normal that I should like my body more when I weighed a certain amount and when I started tipping the scales, naturally I wouldn’t like it so much. Over the years that has led to me trying to control my weight – calorie counting, so-called ‘health kicks’, quitting sugar or whatever other food plans that I convinced myself wasn’t really a diet. But here’s the thing – I like cake. I like croissants. And I LOVE chocolate. So no matter how much will power I summoned I would eventually ‘fail’ and self-loathing would ensue and so too would a few extra pounds.

So as I walked down to Cobblers Beach, ready to strip off, all I could think about was how I was going to have to expose my growing booty to the world. Once I got to the bottom of the hill, however, I started talking to everyone around me and as we laughed and chatted I started thinking about how ridiculous it is that we place so much value in how we look. I am still the same person whether I am my ideal weight or holding a few extra kilos. My friends, my family and any other person I come in contact with is unlikely to be thinking “I would like her more if she was 5kg lighter”, and god if they were would I really want to be friends with that person? Umm, no.

I mean this isn’t news to me, I know this deep down. But I do have to keep reminding myself of it sometimes. I have to keep remembering that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Once I finally got down onto the beach this became abundantly clear. As I looked around at all these naked bodies I no longer worried about my own body looked like. Not because I was comparing myself to them, but because when you actually take a look at the real world (as apposed to Vogue magazines and Seafolly advertisements) there is so much diversity.

When the time finally came to strip off I was surprisingly ok about it. Actually, I would go as far to say that it was thoroughly liberating! As I stood in the water ready for the swim to start I was smiling so much, thinking how cool it was that I was totally ok standing there with no clothes on. Although cool is probably not how I looked – swimming cap, goggles and a bare butt. Sexy!

The swim itself was great, in fact after all my training I kind of felt like I should probably have done the 900m. It was all over a little bit too soon. But for me it was never really about the swim, it was all about my body image. Signing up for the Sydney Skinny has really brought my relationship with my body (and food) into focus. It’s encouraged me to ditch dieting so I can let go of controlling what I eat, avoid binge eating and stop feeling a little bit craycray about food. Actually what I am focusing on more these days is 100% body acceptance and self-acceptance. I’m celebrating the amazing things my body can do and the life that it allows me to lead. And mostly it’s about setting a rock solid example for my daughter for what loving yourself for who you are looks like.

Who’s in for next year?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vulnerability 101

IMG_0075I do this thing. Whenever I meet people for the first time I have this act that I put on. It’s sort of hard to explain, but I have this weird way of talking and I hesitate giving my opinion, mainly because I’m wondering what it is that the person wants to hear. It’s safe to say that in those moments I am anything but my authentic self. Sometimes I hear myself talking and I think to myself “Who IS this person?” Sometimes I can snap myself out of it, but often the more I want to impress someone the more I do it. The thing is, it’s like trying to sell someone a diamond by showing them a piece of glass – seriously, no one is convinced!

You may have read my previous post about going to Gwinganna. When I booked it I thought that the only comfort zone challenge I was going to have was shelling out the cash. Yeah baby, I thought, it’s all foot massages and sunning myself by the pool from here on. Umm, yeah, about that….

A few days into the Gwinganna experience they announced that one of the activities that morning was ‘Tribal’. I’d heard from a lot of the returning guests that Tribal was one of the best activities of the retreat, and it involved dancing, so I was sold pretty early on. So naively I headed over to the Pavilion where Tribal was being held. I chatted to everyone, thankfully less painfully than the girl in the first paragraph, but I definitely still had on my protective armour. We got started and it was SO much fun! The energy in the room was great. While some people held back to begin with, by the end everyone was smiling and going crazy with their dance moves. It was exhausting but exhilarating. Sounds great right? Definitely not out of my comfort zone yet.

Then it happened. Our Tribal ‘leader’ slowed the pace, we started moving slower and slower until eventually we moved out bodies to the floor and just lay there, releasing all the energy of the last hour and a half. He led us into a meditation and I felt myself just… letting go. Letting go of expectations – mine and other peoples; letting go of fears – of not being likeable, of not being enough; I let go of the stories that I had been telling myself about who I was, and who I wasn’t. It really is a very difficult thing to explain, but being in that meditative state I was able to let go of these things that were holding me down and it felt like such a relief. It was such a relief that I started to cry, the tears just kept coming. They were streaming uncontrollably from my eyes – who knew you could cry with your eyes closed? But it felt good, it felt SO good. The not-so-good part (read: really freaking uncomfortable part) came when then meditation finished and we had to stand up to face the room.

I stood up, with my face firmly down to hide the by now very obvious signs of crying – you know, the really attractive red blotches and snot dripping out your nose. Oh-so-glamorous. We stood in the circle and all I felt was an overwhelming urge to run. To run as far away as I could get, to splash cold water on my face and ‘snap myself out of it’. The urge was SO strong, but I held my ground, but not quite ready to look up. And of course the point was to look up, to allow yourself to feel and share whatever raw emotion you were feeling with the people in the room, that you look into someone else’s eyes and, more importantly, that you allow them to look into yours. Allow them to see the real you, to see your fears, your insecurities, your imperfections.

Despite every urge in my being not to, I eventually managed to look up from my feet and across the room into the eyes of these people who I hadn’t known from a bar of soap just a few days ago. And not only did I see compassion and caring in their eyes, but I also saw them too. Each individual person, unique and scared and vulnerable. Yes, we are all different, but sometimes it takes moments like that to realize that we are all the same. At our core, we are all the same.

I felt a noticeable shift in the energy of the group after the Tribal experience. The whole group felt closer and more open with each other. I felt like I could drop my act of little miss perfect and just be me. The wonderful thing about it was that I truly felt like I connected with people more – although admittedly that was after taking a good few solitary hours in the bush to absorb what had happened.

I got a lot of clarity out of the Tribal experience, but probably the part that affected me the most, the message I most needed to hear was around what is probably my biggest insecurity: people liking me.   How can I expect people to like me if I don’t show them who I really am? I am starting to realize now that I am enough, exactly as I am. I don’t need to pretend to be someone else for people to like me. As long as I let my guard down and allow people to see who I really am then I give myself the opportunity to be loved.

Are you giving yourself the opportunity to be loved?

 

Why You Should Shut Up

Albufera in Valencia, Spain
Silence is golden.

I remember as a kid my mum told me, repeatedly, that I could probably talk under water. I also distinctly remember being one of those ‘Why?’ kids, who had to know the answer to every question that passed through my brain. By the time I got to the ripe old age of 16, I was pretty sure that I had learned everything there was to know, well certainly more than my parents (durrrrh). I was probably like a lot of teenagers I suspect. My twenties were then filled with opinion after opinion – mine of course, since no one else knew what they were talking about and if they would just come around to my way of thinking the world would be a better place. Thankfully I have become a LOT more self aware since then, but my recent comfort zone challenge got me thinking about how much further I still had to go.

While I was away on retreat recently one of the yoga instructors led a ‘silent walk’ before breakfast one morning. To begin we all took a vow of silence and then followed our guide trustingly into the wilderness of the Gold Coast Hinterland. After the walk I spoke to someone who had been on a silent retreat in Thailand a few years ago, where not only did she not speak to anyone, there was no communication at all. Not even eye contact was allowed. That got me thinking ‘Could I be silent, even for one day?’

Of course, I could have just ‘gone bush’ somewhere for a day and removed myself from civilisation completely, but I decided that would be too easy. So of course I suggested to my most extroverted friend that she should join me – this is the same friend who when travelling together a number of years ago I told “You know, we don’t have to talk all the time”. Luckily Sam is a bit of an adventurer and pretty much up for anything, especially personal growth related, so she agreed and we set a date to do the Coogee to Bondi walk and stop for silent brekky together.

I’ve known Sam for over 10 years now, and I consider her to be one of my best friends, but as soon as I walked into her house (unannounced of course) there was this palpable feeling of awkwardness. We kind of waved at each other, hugged and then motioned that we should leave. As we walked down the hill and into Coogee the awkwardness continued to hang around, like a bad fart. Normally at this stage we would have been chatting non-stop about all manner of topics, with varying degrees of importance. Around 10 minutes into it I was still feeling very uncomfortable and I started regretting embarking on this venture. How long can this discomfort go on? I thought. But I found that as soon as I stopped focusing on it the awkwardness faded and then disappeared completely.

I’ve done the Coogee Bondi walk a number of times but this time around I really took notice of so much more. I guess you could say that I was being more mindful – I noticed other people more. I noticed the vibrant colour of the water, the cliffs of Tamarama, birds in the sky. I heard a lot more too: people talking, waves crashing, but most I noticed how many thoughts I had going through my head and how often I felt the need to verbalise them. It really made me think about how inconsequential a lot of what I talk about is and how a lot of the time I just verbalise it to fill a silence or because I want to have my opinion heard. On reflection I feel that perhaps I still very much over-value my opinions.

Don’t get me wrong, I love people with strong convictions. However, while everyone has opinions, I am starting to think that opinions do not make you who you are. To me, who I am is also the way in which I share my opinions, how I listen to and try to understand other people’s opinions and the action I take to act upon my opinions. Also, some opinions are more important than others and some really aren’t even worth thinking, let alone verbalising.

Another benefit of not verbalising every thought and opinion that passed through my brain was that I listened to other people a lot more, and importantly allowed them time to think about what they wanted to say. I found this with my husband, but mostly with my daughter, who is only 3 years old. By me not speaking, it allowed her the time to find the words she wanted without me finishing her sentence. As those of you with toddlers will know, having a conversation with a three year old can be wonderful but frustrating, but not having the words to explain how you feel must be even more frustrating, and possibly a little distressing for them.

Holding back my opinions gives me an opportunity to get more information about a subject or situation and gives me the flexibility to change my mind. I notice on social media especially, everyone is so eager to give their opinion about something, anything, that they comment and then think. And generally speaking because no one wants to admit that they were wrong, they stay steadfast in their opinion even after receiving information to the contrary. Politicians frustratingly do this all the time.

So, while I don’t intend on being silent forever, I am going to think more about what thoughts I do and don’t share and most importantly I am going to try to hold back opinion and listen more.

Have you ever tried being silent for a day? Do you think you could do it? I’m listening, so please share your thoughts below or on the Facebook group.

Yours Silently,

Jane xx

Ps. As a result of completing this challenge I’ve also added Vipassana meditation to my comfort zone challenge list. This involves sitting in one spot and meditating for 12 hours without any interaction with anyone. Even thinking about it makes me feel uncomfortable, so I guess that means I’m on the right track 🙂