Stoicism: Day 1 – My First Ice Bath

I am a new man. Today I feel zero anxiety and I appreciate everything that I have in my life…

Just kidding, I feel the same.

Yesterday, I took my first ice bath. I went to CVS to buy two, 7-pound bags of ice. I came back to my apartment, looked at my bath tub, and thought no way am I taking an ice bath in that thing (the tub was pretty filthy). So, out come the cleaning supplies and I make sure to at least scrub away the superficial layer of filth before I fill up the tub.

My 14 pounds of ice.
My 14 pounds of ice.
Getting ready for some tub cleaning action
Getting ready for some tub cleaning action

After a few photo ops and anxiously pacing around my apartment, I dump the ice into my cold water bath and get in.

Halfway into the ice bath
Halfway into the ice bath

It was cold, but not as cold as I thought it was going to be. My feet went numb pretty quickly. The whole experience was very awkward as a) the bath stopper popped up and b) I couldn’t fully immerse myself in the bath. While I was plugging the bath with my foot, my knees and thighs were popping out of the water. Luckily, since I am training in the ways of Stoicism, I don’t care how awkward I look to the world and have decided to the post the photo of this whole mess.


Being cold and awkward
Being cold and awkward

My girlfriend turns off the lights for me and clothes the door.  My attempts to practice negative visualization did not work. The non-functioning bath stopper as well as the sounds of Alpha House emanating from my girlfriend’s computer distracts me. So, I just end up sitting there, counting down the time until my 15 minutes was up.

What you can’t control

Epictetus was a 1st century Greek slave who eventually became a freeman and a Stoic sage. The Art of Living starts with the following passage:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

This is the most important tenet of Stoicism. If you think about it, placing things and events in the wrong category disturbs your peace of mind. I know as a high schooler, I was overly concerned with what most people thought of me.  I remember being afraid to be caught eating lunch alone, even though I really enjoyed eating lunch and reading alone! However, I don’t remember a single instance where I noticed other students eating alone and thinking man that guy is a loser!

Ah yes, you might say, of course everybody in high school is like that, but now we are adults and have put that behind us.

Wrong! I still care what people think of me at work! It’s not focused on eating lunch alone anymore.

I’m currently responsible for my company’s e-letter that goes out to the employees every week. When I sent out my first e-letter, I decided I want to shake things up and add an “editor’s corner” where I could share interesting articles I find and comment on them.

I included a link and a quick description to Scott Adam’s article about systems vs. goals as a path to success, thinking that it would be interesting for the company to consider ways to achieve the success outside of the performance objective model.

After I sent out the e-letter, I received a few e-mails from people saying that the article is insulting to our current performance review system. How the hell can you be insulted by the guy who writes Dilbert cartoons?

I thought everyone would react in a positive way, but instead, I received a warning from HR. Now I’m much more nervous about including things I find interesting in the e-letter. I can’t control what people think, but I still worry about what they think of me. This is exactly what Epictetus warns against.

If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you? 

I’m inclined to think that wealth will set me free, that by becoming monetarily wealthy I can do whatever I want with impunity (like sending e-letters). It’s called “F— You Money.” Having enough money to walk away at any time will help you not care what other people think because you are immunized against the primary consequences of having people think negatively of you.

But what if you were able to walk away at any time? Even without the “F— You Money?” Wealth will take a long time to accumulate, and may not happen at all, but our minds and attitudes are within our grasp now. How powerful would it be if we adopted a “F— You Mindset?”

My next bath

For my next ice bath, I will need to do more than just prepare the bath. I will need to put my mind in a contemplative state in order to reflect on the wisdom of the Stoics. Specifically, I want to visualize the death of close friends and family members, so that I will have a greater appreciation for them in the present.