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This morning, I showered under an ice-cold spray. On purpose.
I was in there for five minutes. Washed my hair, soaped up, rinsed off—all of it while the water was as cold as it would go. I’m certain I got just as clean as I would have under a warm stream, plus the added benefit.
“Benefit,” you say. “I’d rather stick needles under my fingernails!”
Yes, benefit. Because over the last few weeks, I’ve been discovering, at a visceral level, how I and all of us have the power to experience any stressor any way we want to. And that’s powerful. That’s life-changing.
That ice-cold shower was momentarily shocking and then perfectly comfortable, joyful, and bracing. But it took a few steps.
First, I had to endure the shock.
Then I had to notice the inner voice screaming, “This is no place for Steve! It’ll kill you!”
Then I had to remind myself that this simply wasn’t true.
Then, I had to become mindful of the desire to tense up, to reject the cold.
I had to override that reflex and tell myself to relax, sit tight, and watch what happens. I had to reject my mind’s automatic aversion and say to myself, “I wonder what this will be like in a minute.”
I also had to do a lot of deep breathing and a lot of talking to myself (out loud).
This is awesome! This is healthy! This will feel great really soon! I’m okay! I’m better than okay! I can control my response to this! I can make it comfortable in my mind! I’m awesome. Bring it on!
And by the end of five minutes, I realized the cold made no difference anymore. I could have stayed in for another hour. I was free of the aversion, and I felt amazing.
So what’s the takeaway here?
The above process is actually applicable to any situation in life.
This very capacity to not just grit our teeth and withstand the uncomfortable (to “white-knuckle it” as they say in AA), but to embrace it, adapt to it, and recognize our power to willfully stay centered through it, knowing that our nervous system is under the control of our thoughts makes us bulletproof.
What are the things that shrink you, that chase you, that prevent you from taking your next step toward your goals? Is it fear? Is it confusion? Is it chronic pain or anxiety?
Whatever it is, say “bring it on!”
Walk willingly toward the things that make you uncomfortable. Whether you’re facing pain or fear or a cold day, take the time you need to breathe through it, open to it, and gently release your resistance.
Notice that with the willingness to stand your ground, you’ll soon be comfortably adapted to that stressor and able to stay the course and accomplish whatever you’ve set out to do, stress be damned.
And the consequence of this kind of willful and willing exposure to our stressors versus the natural tendency to run is that our nervous systems cooperate and, recognizing that we’re no longer in aversion, make perceptual adjustments for us.
The things that used to hurt, stress, or irritate us cease to have that power. Long-term, chronic pain and anxiety vanish. Confidence arises. We become unstoppable.
So, whatever is stopping you, remember to say, “Bring it on.”
You’re bigger than your pain. Bigger than your fear. Capable of standing your ground until your nervous system gets the message that this thing will no longer bully you.
You’re worthy of being free.