A week ago, I had a very interesting experience. 

I decided to sneak away from the office on a Wednesday afternoon and play hooky with a great friend of mine.

We went to this gorgeous outdoor Scandinavian spa with hot and cold pools, a steam room, a sauna, and the usual promise of blissful escapism. Interestingly, I have lived near this spa for almost two years and never “had time” to go (hint “Too Busy to Be Happy” anyone?). 

Since 2023 is about turning up the dial on the things that already bring me joy, spending an afternoon with this friend was not only fun but would be fulfilling an important promise I made myself this year. 

As I picked her up, little did I know what was going on with her. She said, “I can’t believe the timing of this surprise. There has been a lot going on with me lately.” Her reluctant confession opened up a quick conversation about how we both felt a bit overwhelmed lately. We agreed that we really needed to enjoy this afternoon together and catch our breath.

Ten minutes into the eucalyptus steam room, we both verbally and nonverbally acknowledged that what had started as a blissful moment now felt suffocating, so we silently slipped out of the room. Next came the cold plunge pools, where we could barely dip our toes in at first without biting our lips to avoid squealing. We then had a seat in a quiet space designed for relaxation. I couldn’t really understand the value of this last step, but I followed the steps suggested just for fun. 

We repeated the steps again: hot baths or steam, cold plunge (now I could get up to my knees), and a few minutes of quiet relaxation. As the process repeated, each hot bath felt more comforting, and each cold plunge felt more tolerable. By the last time through these three steps, I had grown to enjoy the process deeply. I can honestly say I started to love the extreme heat and savour the cold dip (now I could go up to my neck), and I began to fall deeper into relaxation in the moments of silence afterward. 

As we left that day, my friend offered a brilliant and unprompted nugget of wisdom:

“As I relax more and more, I have more tolerance for discomfort. And when I’m deeply relaxed, I actually feel like I can embrace and enjoy the extremes.” And that’s when I had an ah-ha moment. Isn’t that just the physical proof of how all of life works? So think about that for a bit.

How often do we tense up, clenching our teeth and fists as we experience discomfort? New boss? New job? Organizational changes? Lay-offs? Market changes? Industry changes? In many ways, these are the cold water plunge moments of a professional’s life. And so often, we tense up thinking that somehow we’ll navigate those icy moments better with more tension. 

But last week, I saw firsthand how much this approach always fails us. I can now see, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the more we relax into the extremes and dive into discomfort, we can not only acclimate to it, but we may even enjoy it and find it thrilling and invigorating. So is it possible we’ve had it all wrong?

The Big Whipp – As you navigate this new year, new challenges, and new joys, how would your tolerance for things in and out of your control increase if you intentionally got deeply uncomfortable? What if, after each cold plunge, you deliberately took a few moments in silence to deeply relax before diving back into the challenge? Could you take on a tough challenge while being relaxed simultaneously? 

Please share your experiences!

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