Habit Design: 1 Year of Cold Showers

Habit Design: 1 Year of Cold Showers

We're all creatures of habit, but it's not easy to be deliberate.

My first cold shower was on April 20th, 2017. I was reading Tim Ferriss' book Tools of Titans trying to find interesting correlations between the habits of all the great people he interviewed. I found that Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, Naval Ravikant, Joshua Waitzkin, and more all did a 30-60 second cold shower. I read how Josh does it with his child and trained him to say "It's so good!" when the cold feels unbearable. I thought that was so cool that I stopped reading and ran straight to have a cold shower and screamed it too. It worked, mostly because I couldn't stop laughing at how silly I felt.

I decided I wanted to do a cold shower everyday. They're a fun mix of challenging (to those who are not used to them) and have lots of benefits: improved circulation, depression relief, and improved immunity, to name a few. The biggest benefit wasn't physical health though, it was how it helped my mindset. This was something I decided I would do going forward, and it gave my self promises meaning when I honored that daily. That's a powerful reward for a small habit.

The resolve was empowering, but I also needed some breathing room to take a day off without failing myself or making excuses. My solution was to formalize my promise to myself with an agreement that includes all the exceptions.

My Agreement for Cold Showers


  • Start on a cold temperature setting and wet every inch of your body in it. Try to breathe slowly and complete the first couple things you usually do when you shower. For me, that's usually shampooing my hair and then washing my face (30-60 seconds).
  • After that, feel free to turn on the heat.

When: Every time I go to begin my first shower of the day


  • You only have to do this for the first shower of the day (if you happen to take more).
  • Skip on this if you're currently sick, or were sick yesterday (especially if you have a fever).
  • For mental health, I find this usually benefits mine, so my rules are stricter. I only skip on mental health reasons if it's actively impeding my life.
  • If you're on vacation, it's up to you if you want to.
  • If you have company in the shower, you're off the hook.
  • Don't do this at all if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, or a fever. In general, ask your doctor first.
  • If I ever find a problem or an edge case that isn't considered in my rule set, I revise this accordingly.

Deciding when to do the habit in terms of an established habit made it unforgettable for me (I have to shower, and it's easy to remember those are cold now). It's been way more effective for me than setting a reminder.

Habits, cold water, and inertia

Applying this to new habits has helped me to define them and jump in to something I know can work for me. Putting the work in for new habits is actually a lot like a cold shower. If you stick a hand or a foot in the cold water, it's unbearable. If you submerge yourself and get over the initial shock, it's really not that bad. Like most change, it's all about getting over inertia. To me, my cold showers are a daily mantra to be uncomfortable for a reason and to commit to things.

Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body tl;dr: Hydrotherapy is demonstrated to improve immunity and manage lot of diseases and physiological and psychological symptoms, but it's unclear what the causation is for each.

Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression.

The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial A routine (hot-to-) cold shower resulted in a statistical reduction of self-reported sickness