I finished my first week of ice baths yesterday. The ice bath was the same, but it felt good to stick with something for a week. I could have made an exception based on various rationalizations “oh it’s Sunday, no one takes ice baths on Sunday!” or “I have friends coming over, I don’t want them to see me shivering!” But, I figured if I let one day slip it’ll be a thousand times easier to let it slip on other days, so I just did it.
Plus, I found a way to get warmer faster. Instead of just laying underneath some blankets, it pays to jog around your apartment while occasionally doing jumping jacks and pushups. This decreases the amount of post-bath shiver-time time by about a third.
So are these ice baths helping me become more Stoic and helping me becomes less anxious and more appreciative of the present?
I think so. The ice baths themselves have become less mentally strenuous and more routine over the past week. They’re still cold, and shivering still sucks, but I don’t really fear it anymore. This by itself is only a minor Stoic improvement, but the greatest benefit I’ve noticed is that the physical ritual acts a mental reminder to think and practice Stoic concepts.
There are a lot of ra-ra life coach/lifestyle design advice that tell you to change your mindset in order to change your life.
Basically, you need to brainwash yourself first, and then make concrete real-world life changes.
Maybe that’s worked for some people, but I’m skeptical.
I learned about Stoicism in college in a class about leadership. We were learning about various philosophical and ethical systems, and I was just blown away by Stoicism. It just made so much sense.
I pretty much forgot about it until a few years later.
Why did this happen?
I think it’s because I didn’t have physical rituals dedicated to the Stoic mindset.
I certainly had opportunities to practice it throughout the course of my daily life, but those were at best accidental. I would occasionally remind myself that I should not be upset about things I couldn’t control when someone cut me off on the highway, but without sustained practice, I defaulted to my normal annoyed state.
With daily ice baths, I can’t help but think about Stoicism and how to apply it.
Let me give you a few examples from this weekend:
1) On the metro, someone was listening to music and playing it really loudly. I routinely get annoyed by people that do this. Normally, I would just stay annoyed, but this time, I went through the Stoic practice of considering the nature of this annoyance. I thought “ok, all that’s really happening is that sound waves are traveling from that guys headphones to my ears. That’s just one type of sound wave out of a billion that I’m hearing now. Why should I be annoyed by a sound wave?” I didn’t feel an instant sense of calm, but my mind did wander to other things. I consider that a Stoic win, especially since I know this won’t be the last time I will have a public transportation annoyance.
2) My girlfriend loads the dishwasher very inefficiently. She does this all the time, even after I showed her the correct way to load a dishwasher (plates of same size stacked neatly in rows in the same area, bowls stacked neatly on tops, etc.). Annoying….
Anyway, she did it again, and while I was annoyed for a second, I thought to myself, “why should an arrangement of physical plates irritate me? No sense in getting bothered by this.” I was still annoyed, but it lasted about half the time it normally did.
3) The Patriots lost yesterday to the Broncos. I’m not a huge sports fan, but I don’t like when my team’s defense blows the game and ruins their chance to go to the Superbowl. Ugh. Anyway, I practiced negative visualization before the game, imagining that they would lose. That didn’t really help. But, I thought about how the Patriots work their asses off and continue to play year and year, knowing that they will sometimes lose. That is an honorable life and I respect that, and that made me feel better about their loss.
These are all very trivial things that happened, and yet, I imagine most people in the developed, Western world are constantly annoyed by trivial things.
If you can “not sweat the small stuff,” I suspect your daily happiness level would improve 1000x, and more importantly, you will prepare yourself for the big stuff.
Overall, I’m happy with the way the week went. Hopefully I’ll continue to make progress next week.