Colin Powell Told Me to Take a Cold Shower: How to Build Mental Fortitude

How do you make a radish rose?
How do you make a radish rose?

Do you take hot showers? You’re probably thinking why even ask this question? Of course the answer is yes. Only sickos would take cold showers unless absolutely necessary.

I’ve enjoyed hot showers for most of my life. My process is simple. I never needed to take lessons on the proper way to shower like Cosmo Kramer. It goes like this:

  1. Turn shower on
  2. Use the toilet while the water warms up
  3. Test water temperature with my hand
    1. If water is warm enough, proceed to step 4
    2. If not, wait an annoyingly long time and go back to step 3
  4. Jump in shower when water is warm enough
  5. Soap and lather
  6. Shampoo and rinse
  7. Turn shower off

The entire process takes less than 5 minutes from start to finish. (There really are some benefits to being bald.)

I used to think I was being super efficient by multi-tasking with steps 2 and 3, but I am regularly learning that multi-tasking has hidden costs, similar to the hidden costs of convenience.

Last year I went off on why it’s a stupid waste to buy bottled water in the US. Since that article I’ve noticed other wasteful uses of water, and the shower is an obvious example.

austin-powers-pee-oIt usually takes 30 seconds for me to take care of #1 while the shower warms up. (Sorry if that’s TMI.) 30 seconds might seem like a short time and a small price to pay, but the average shower flows water at 2.1 gallons per minute and water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon.

That 30 second shower warm up is flushing almost 9 pounds of water down your shower drain every day.

Do you still not care?

The United States has a population of 318.9 million people. Let’s assume 250 million people shower at least once daily. (A conservative estimate in my opinion. I mean seriously, my six-year-old niece showers daily.)

If all of those 250 million people shower like I do we are collectively wasting 2.2 BILLION (that’s right, billion!) pounds of water in the US every day. And that doesn’t even address the energy costs to clean potable water and move it from treatment plan, to water tank, and ultimately to your showerhead.

This extra water probably has a negligible cost on your water and energy utilities, but it clearly has a large collective cost to our society.

If you’re like me, an altruistic argument to sacrifice for mother earth and environment is not enough spur on personal action. I need to know what’s in it for me.

ron-with-an-erectionI have traditionally connoted taking cold showers with quelling the sex drive of hormone charged teenaged boys. That’s not a concern for me because unlike Ron Burgundy I can control my bodily urges.

However, there are supposedly other benefits of cold showers. I first remember reading this in the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and then hearing it on one (or more) of my favorite podcasts.

The most compelling argument for colder showers to me is more philosophical than palpable.

Colin Powell once said:

If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.

colin powell460

I strongly believe this is true. If you can’t get the little things right, you won’t get the big things right.

As such I updated my shower routine as follows to remind me of this lesson daily:

  1. Stand in shower and brace myself
  2. Turn shower on
  3. Soap and lather (moving as quickly as I can to get my blood circulating as the water warms up)
  4. Shampoo and rinse
  5. Turn shower off

I know exactly what’s coming when I’m standing naked in the shower and turn the water on. It sucks, but I do it anyway.

Discomfort is temporary. Usually things improve and you can go about your life. More often than not the discomfort goes away relatively quickly. With my shower that’s usually about 30 seconds.

My hope is that my new shower routine gives me the resolve to fight through other uncomfortable actions that lead to an eventual payoff, like updating my resume and looking for jobs.

Thanks for reading,


P.S. For the record, I don’t buy the hype on all of the claimed physiological benefits of cold showers. Voluntarily torturing myself for 4 to 5 minutes seems like the height of stupidity. After all, I’m not a masochist.


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