I miss surfing - cold showers instead?

Submitted by undying on
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Well, I miss actual surfing in cold water, but Somewhere, Marnia linked to this article about cold showers as helpful for those who are breaking away from porn surfing. The core idea: overindulgence in pleasures might generate opposing, un-pleasurable sensations that become noticeable once the pleasure fades away. And vice versa.

It's really interesting stuff, but kind of a long article. Here's my reader's digest version:

Be aware

Any sensory or emotional stimulus, whether pleasurable or unpleasant, will give rise to a contrasting opponent process. While you're doing something pleasurable, an opposing process, a creeping discomfort, is developing, unnoticed. When the pleasure stops or pauses, the discomfort emerges into consciousness. The pleasure of overindulging in sweet desserts is likely to be followed by an unpleasant reaction that arises some time after you stop eating.

The reverse is also true.

For example, if you put your hand in cold water, a “warm” opponent processes is being stimulated, but you feel that warmth only once you withdraw your hand from the water.

Avoid overexposure to pleasurable stimuli.

Too much of a good thing can backfire. Moderate the intensity and frequency of pleasant stimuli to ensure that the opponent processes do not build up. For example, eating small portions of delicious foods, not at every meal, and spacing out bites — will tend to reduce the level the opponent processes (cravings) that would otherwise reinforce appetite and cravings.

When you go for a second cup of coffee, you may marginally increase your alertness in the short term, but at the same time you stimulate a reactive opponent process that counteracts the caffeine high and might leave you MORE tired later on. There is a biological argument for moderation!

Use unpleasant and stressful stimuli to indirectly build pleasure.

We can use discomfort to indirectly cause pleasure. Intermittent stresses can activate physical and psychological opponent processes that create heightened pleasure and satisfaction.

Stressful or unpleasant stimuli can activate pleasurable inhibitory processes in order to defend against and build tolerance to stress. These pleasure-generating defense mechanisms are real, biological processes which operate in our nervous systems.

One well known example is the production of endorphins, our natural opiates, brought about by strenuous exercise. Endorphins literally help us to endure the pain of exercise by providing a counteracting pleasure.


By increasing the intensity and frequency of stress exposures, we are not just building tolerance–we are actively building up a sustained background “tone” of pleasurable emotions. This is very much in line with what the Stoics called “tranquility”. Stoic tranquility is not apathy or a lack of feeling! On the contrary, it is a positive sense of equanimity, contentment, and happiness that endures and supports us. It is the opposite of depression; you might even call it “elevation”.

Pleasures that come from opponent-processes are “sluggish”; they take time to build, and decay more slowly. They continue even when the stimulus stops. And unlike direct pleasures, which may be more intense, there is no sudden withdrawal reaction when they stop, hence no “craving”. They tend to fade slowly.

The initial unpleasant stimulus — exercise, work, cold sensations — trains you to overcome barriers [i.e. Stephen Pressfield's RESISTANCE - the force that stops you from doing the art/work you're passionate about.]

[He goes on to describe how we can introduce unpleasant stimuli (like cold showers) to generate new pleasurable opponent processes that can build up enough background pleasure to counteract the unpleasant anxiety that typically accompanies addictions.]

Application questions

(from the article, edited a little by me):

Are there pleasures in your life that you crave when they are absent?

How aware are you of the tendency to foster opposing processes that turn pleasures into pains, and pains into pleasures?


My experience with cold showers

Having learned about this awesome Stoic "tranquility" concept, I'm experimenting with cold showers to build up a background tone of "equanimity, contentment, and happiness."

So far, I've found it necessary to get wet first and then turn it to cold. (Which enthusiasts (haha!) call a Scottish shower.) I find it helpful to count to 100 and march in place.

Cold showers are certainly energizing and invigorating. I could believe that there's some pleasure being generated by an opponent process. Probably my wimpy "counting to 100" regimen is not enough time to achieve big-time Stoic tranquility. But I keep doing them, and that says to me that there are some indirect rewards that make it "worth it." Because I'm in no way a masochistic person.

One day I was reasoning with myself about skipping the cold ending of my shower, since it was a cold day and I had quite a terrible headache. I did it anyway, and the headache took a break for about 20 minutes! It was less intense when it did reemerge. Interesting, right?

It's hard to say whether the cold showers are helping me deal with cravings for orgasms. For me, those cravings tend to appear at very specific times of the month. (Hmm. One of which is a couple of days before a predictable "headache" day.) I'll "consider" amping up the frequency and length of cold showers at those times.


Good for you

You are quite the bold explorer. Todd Becker (www.gettingstronger.org) has become a friend, and I just wrote to him a few weeks ago about women trying the ideas.

He'd be thrilled to hear that it eased your headaches. So many young guys struggling with porn recovery benefit from those daily showers. There's definitely something going on beyond placebo.

I've always felt amazing

I've always felt amazing after swimming or surfing in cold water.

In an autobiographical graphic novel by an Iranian girl, called Persepolis, she describes how her Persian grandmother would soak her breasts in a basin of ice water every day, I think to keep them youthful. But it sounds like it might actually be psychologically helpful, and I wouldn't doubt that it could be good for the lymphatic system.

coldness = bad for wombs?

My friend from China says drinking cold water is bad for women's wombs. And in Germany they tell women to stay warm for the sake of ovarian health. Am I missing a worldwide traditional wisdom that says cold is bad for women?

I knew about the cold feet / uti link: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1345322

Also, it seems cold feet decrease the likelihood of orgasm for men and women, though I can't find the studies on that.