Cold Shower Challenge: conclusions

It works. Try it.

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I took on the 30-day Cold Shower Challenge a few months ago. I haven’t written about it until now but I did complete the challenge, and in fact I’ve kept taking cold showers ever since.

I don’t want to mince my words, so I’ll start with the main conclusion.

Would I recommend cold shower therapy to other people?

Absolutely. I think it is 100% worth trying for a month. There are a lot of people who will vouch for it. All that needs to be said is “try it and see”. There’s not much point in me trying to convince people it’s worthwhile, since the anecdotal evidence speaks for itself. It can’t possibly be a bad thing to try.

How effective is it?

My first 30 days of cold showers amounted to the most productive 30-day period in my life. It was amazing. I was motivated and decisive. I took on problems without overthinking. However, my profound new level of productivity did decline as the novelty of the feeling of cold showers started to wear off after a few weeks.

In the end, I kept going because I concluded that taking cold showers is better than not taking cold showers. Cold showers won’t solve all your motivation/discipline problems, but if I had to put an arbitrary number on it, I’d say that it helps me by 20% or maybe more. Combining this with other things, like daily habits and meditation is what pays off for me, as the benefits stack up noticeably.

How does it “work”?

It’s somewhat pointless to theorize about the multiple benefits of cold showers. To summarize the main benefit, I’d put it this way:

If procrastination is about a feeling of discomfort in not wanting to do something that you think you should do, then cold showers help you become more aware of that feeling of discomfort and lowers the “activation energy” required for you to say “okay fine I’ll just do it” in response.

How does it feel?

The first week of cold showers was a bit tough. I definitely wondered whether it would ever get easier. My answer is that it does, not only mentally but perhaps also physically. I think that the sensation of pain in response to cold decreases after a few weeks. Sometimes, taking cold showers has its distinctly enjoyable sensations now.

Practical advice: preventing itchiness and increasing immersion

For the first week or so, I was itchy all over due to taking cold showers. Not everyone reacts this way, and apparently it’s due to soap not being fully cleared off your pores or something. Anyhow, this was my solution:

  • Take some days where you shower without soap. Washing your hair with shampoo is fine.
  • Incorporate the “Scottish shower”. Start with a cold shower with soap or body wash. Once you’re done, rinse with hot water. 30 seconds is enough, although I can admit to taking much longer on occasion. End with a cold shower where your body feels cold again.

I have confirmed that rinsing with hot water directly prevents the itching, since 30 seconds of rinsing is enough, and intense scrubbing in cold water using shower gloves improved things but still left some itch.

The Scottish shower thing might seem a bit like cheating, but it really isn’t. It doesn’t take away from the fact that you have to immerse yourself in a cold shower, and it doesn’t take away the fresh feeling you get from ending with a cold shower. I also think it’s a great way to ease into the sensation of cold water. When you first start taking cold showers, the cold water is met with panic and the desire to scream. A week in, you’re still screaming but kind of okay with it, but it’s still quite difficult to just submit to the cold water without dancing around or anything. Warming up with hot water first prepares you well. My back is the most sensitive to the cold, but switching the stream from hot to cold triggers an enjoyable sensation without the panic, even when it starts freezing.

Basically, it’s so much easier to reach a calm state of full submission by finishing with a Scottish shower than it is to do it right at the start.

The ‘bystander effect’ is a lie

The “bystander effect” is one of those things that, when I read about it, I instantly sensed it was garbage theory, and it turns out it was. My bullshit detector does not trigger often, but when it does, it is accurate even when I cannot be logically sure. I’m more comfortable with evidence and logic, so I decided to examine the available information before jumping to conclusions.

The formulation of the bystander effect is problematic even at first glance.

The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to help a victim when other people are present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.

The first part seems entirely sensible and natural. The second part seems unlikely and unproven. Overall, it just doesn’t stand up to common sense.

If there’s a group of people near a victim in danger, are they all going to call an ambulance? Can two people perform CPR at the same time? Only a finite amount of help is practical or needed, so it’s baffling to frame the decrease in likelihood of each individual to help as anything surprising. What “effect” is there?

The definition of the bystander effect I’ve chosen is somewhat sensationalist and misleading. Firstly, the experiments that researchers performed contradicts the second claim. If 70% of people offer help as the sole bystander, but only 40% of people offer when there are other bystanders, then the theoretical probability of receiving any help increases as there are more people. You might attribute an unfortunate incident to the bystander effect, but I hope no one actually believes the second sentence of that definition to be a defensible statement.

The first part of the definition is also problematic. If I said “People are less likely to donate to charity when swimming,” is that accurate? It’s probably true, but it’s misleading to suggest that people don’t donate to charity because they’re swimming. All you could say is that people don’t donate to charity when they’re physically unable to in the moment. Likewise, is the fact that other people are present the primary reason why in some situations, bystanders are less likely to help? Is the same person less willing to offer help simply because there are more people? Basically, no. There are many factors, some of which are related to there being more people, but social group membership/identity is one of the key factors that can affect whether the effect is observed or if the opposite is observed.

In short, there’s not much evidence supporting the common definition of the bystander effect. That said, the first researchers Latané and Darley were not trying to prove something quite so obviously flawed; and they went on to theorize about other characteristics of bystander interaction/non-interaction. However, their interest was driven by the topic of the murder of Kitty Genovese, and some degree of fault lies with them for the fact that they, and subsequently most psychology textbooks thereafter, have grossly misrepresented the facts of the case.

There weren’t 38 witnesses, more like several at most. The relevant witnesses could not have watched for long, and they did call for help. And Kitty was still alive when police arrived. The bystander effect is founded on one giant myth. It’s not false just because it was based on a multitude of lies, but it also happens to be false.

Recommended reading: The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: the parable of the 38 witnesses. (R Manning, 2007.)

Mirroring your Android smartphone to PC

I spent a whole day playing around with mirroring my phone’s screen to my PC, so I figured I’d share some of my findings. This is not meant to be a rigorous account by any means. Although I did try almost every recommended software combination that potentially fitted my use specific case, I did not take much note of features that didn’t interest me if a given solution didn’t satisfy my primary concerns.

Basic criteria:

  • Android
  • Free, possibly with limtations/ads/watermarks, but temporary free trials aren’t okay. (Sorry, LonelyScreen.)
  • Supports transmission via USB and/or WiFi (well, there isn’t anything else, is there?)
  • All options support screenshots, but there is a varying degree of support for videos, shared clipboards, typing, notifications, controlling your phone via PC, etc. I didn’t have any need for fancy features.

My concerns:

  1. Good response time. All options have limited framerate, but >2 second delay is unacceptable.
  2. High image quality. Don’t need 1080p, wide 480p (540×960) is pretty good.
  3. Lower bandwidth usage is better, and streaming via USB is therefore better. (My WiFi is kinda slow/unstable so this might be a reason why some things worked particularly poorly for me.)
  4. Somewhat flexible UI.

To clarify about image quality, there are really three different concepts to distinguish:

  • Size of the UI screen on your PC. This is usually slightly adjustable. Most apps support full screen as well, but I prefer a large as possible size without full screen.
  • Streaming quality. The streaming quality is inevitably going to be less than the 1080p resolution of my phone, obviously due to the UI screen size being less than that (my monitor isn’t even 1080p wide-screen) but even more so because of the bandwidth limit.
  • Quality of screenshots taken on the PC using the mirroring software. Occasionally the screenshots are too low resolution or laced with compression artifacts that you’d get a better result taking a screenshot from your actual PC, not within the software.

Tested solutions:

  • Vysor. Picture quality is too low.
  • TeamViewer 13. Good response time and high image quality (can choose from 472×840 to 1080×1920). High bandwidth usage (100KB/s to 1MB/s) and does not support a connection over USB.
  • AirDroid. Relatively fast, limited to 540×960, typically around 100KB/s rate, access via a local address but does not really support transfer over USB.
  • Mobizen. Use the PC version not the online version. Delay over WiFi is ridiculous (anywhere from 3 seconds to over 10 seconds). Excellent response and quality over USB with minimal bandwidth usage. Has superfluous UI model for the phone, so the screen itself is 540×960 but it can be scaled larger if part of the bottom goes off the screen.
  • Screen Recording and Mirror + AllCast Receiver. Didn’t work.
  • ApowerManager. Slow (3 second delay). High quality, but the UI isn’t flexible.
  • ApowerMirror. Pretty nice app but let down by a few bugs and USB only supporting iOS. Fairly responsive with configurable image quality, but the bandwidth usage is higher than TeamViewer, sometimes reaching 1MB/s. Screenshot resolution is dependent on window size but only reaches about 312×556.

Summary

Unless I’ve misunderstood the conditions of the bandwidth rate shown on my phone, then Mobizen is the only option I can recommend for users of Android smartphones. This is unexpected, since when I first scraped all the suggested solutions, it seemed like life would have been so much easier if I used USB. (Actually, my phone had refused to connect to PC for months and today I spent hours debugging the drivers on my PC as well as on my phone, and in the end I tried some weird trick about poking inside the micro-USB port and suddenly my phone could connect again and I was frustrated at why some random unexplained solution worked and proved all the sensible checks to be pointless.) If your WiFi is stable, then TeamViewer is the most professional and trusted of these solutions, also offering the highest image quality. ApowerMirror and AirDroid may also be worth considering if you’re just messing around, especially the former if you are on iOS.

Finished reading Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)

Three years ago when I was recovering from a crush, I gave someone the opportunity to recommend any two unrelated books and promised that I’d read one of the two. Today I finally made good on that promise by finishing reading Mere Christianity (book and lecture series or PDF), which is probably the most famous Christian apologetic book.

I will not express any philosophical opinions on this book yet, only sentimental ones. For starters, Mere Christianity is definitely not what I expected it to be. It is split into four “books”:

  • The first book tries to argue that the reason why we have a general sense of morality that we expect others to abide by is because God placed this in us. His argument is a bit tedious, and the first time I read it (years ago, while still in my philosophical prime) I found several logical issues with it, though I cannot remember them from this recent re-read of it.
  • The second book starts to breach the area of what Christians believe, but not in a very concrete sense.
  • The third book describes his view about what moral beliefs Christians have in common, both in terms of non-religious topics and religious topics.
  • It is only in the final book that he really states the essence of what Christianity is about, in terms of what Christians are meant to be and strive for.

Lewis’ style of writing is very idiosyncratic. (Well actually, it’s based off his radio talks.) I cannot say that I like it (it is quite unfamiliar to me), but I appreciate the way he uses imagery and analogy to convey exactly what it is he means about things that could easily be misinterpreted by presumptuous people. I also admire the way he dispels a lot of illogical nonsense that people seem to get caught up with. His style of flow and reasoning is fairly convincing in the moment, but I must admit that it makes it harder for me to remember the bigger picture, where it is easier to spot logical flaws. Although some of his references to culture are outdated or foreign, even when it’s a miss it doesn’t pose an obstacle for interpretation.

Lewis uses analogies to explain the most difficult concepts in Christianity. It’s a no-nonsense explanation for laymen, and I definitely learned a thing or two that no one else has managed to conveyed to me so far. He also has some intriguing and purely philosophical hypotheses that seem to be his personal beliefs. Overall I would definitely recommend Mere Christianity to other non-Christian readers to get a basic grasp of Christianity without all the stigma, misrepresentation, and nonsense that is typical of hearsay. However, a major disadvantage of Lewis’ approach using analogy for me is that I now have to verify whether what he says is indeed an accurate portrayal of what Christians believe, but since he didn’t use much Christian terminology I also have to independently distinguish opinion from statement and try to decipher his analogies accurately.

 

The truth about the holiday season

Three steps back, one step forward

Every year around Christmas and New Year I feel sad, lonely, and forgotten. A part of my subconscious imagines all the joy everyone must be experiencing, and I instinctively engage in emotionally self-harmful behaviors in order to distract from difficult emotions. It’s ironic how the chosen distractions turn pain into numbness, but upon feeling numb one wishes to feel something through further indulgence.

I learned something new from this year’s experience, though at no trivial cost. I could feel lonely during any time of the year I “wanted” to, so why Christmas specifically? The root of suffering during this season is that I feel unloved. People go home to visit their families, so no one is really around for several weeks. Our own family had lunch on Christmas Day and it was fine, but I still became somewhat unhinged after that. I feel unloved for many reasons, but it can simply be stated that I was never given ample opportunity to internalize my family’s love for me as a child, and that I am still underdeveloped in this aspect. Also, in comparison to everything else going on around, my Christmas holidays are a time characterized by mutual neglect of both family and friends.

Even if Christmas is more isolating than usual, there are two assumptions I can attack in order to break the chain of things from devolving into emotional torture:

  1. Everyone is busy and I have no cause to bring down anyone else’s spirits with mine, so I’d rather suffer in silence as if this is all some secret punishment I deserve.
  2. I shouldn’t be thinking so much about myself during Christmas.

The second point is the fallacy that I wish to address presently. When I feel unloved, it’s because I’m not loving myself. Somehow I forget to do so during Christmas, when perhaps it’s the time I need it the most. My longing to love others pains me also, but I should not neglect my basic necessities.

Deciphering my mental state

TLDR; I’m tired.

I’m quite confused about my mood and emotional/energy levels lately. There have been mixed signals.

  1. I’ve been tired from writing, even if it’s for fun or social purpose. And yet I have a strong desire and impulse to write.
  2. I’ve been having logical nightmares that I can’t remember because they’re unfamiliar and don’t make enough sense. I also haven’t been sleeping well.
  3. I’ve been exposed to over five times as much social interaction in the last week than a normal week, so in theory I should be socially exhausted.
  4. I’ve been quite emotional overall, meaning that it’s been hard for me to think things through logically or follow my past judgments without doubt. I’ve been confused and grateful and inspired and many other things.
  5. It seems I mostly recovered from a fever, but it left me physically and mentally exhausted. The unbearably hot weather hasn’t helped either.
  6. It seems like I’m forming a squish, which is probably a bad thing in this situation. For the first time ever, I used flattery in a situation where it felt normal. It was surprising and it feels dangerous.
  7. I’ve been a bit restless and unfocused due to only meditating once this week.
  8. I haven’t been able to run for weeks due to injury and at least once or twice I’ve noticed a restless desire to move around and expend energy.
  9. I usually crave music on a daily or hourly basis, but lately everything I’ve been listening to has been underwhelming, including my favorites. There are no songs playing in my head or any new obsessions.

I think it’s safe to say that I am socially overwhelmed with all the activity that’s been going on. Almost all of it has been high quality interactions, which explains why I’ve been quite emotionally affected by it. However, the fact that I haven’t succumb to the Ti-Si loop probably means I haven’t had the emotional energy to worry about anything too much.

Writing is primarily a logically taxing task for me. Writing too much goes hand in hand with logical nightmares and late nights. It also explains my lack of focus recently. When I have a productive day in terms of my studies, it usually means I don’t have much energy left for writing so in the past I’ve restricted writing to once or twice a week. So it’s a limited resource that has to be managed.

The musical apathy thing is very rare, and I think it must indicate lack of both emotional and logical resources. The emotional tiredness renders me unaware of what mood I should be catering to and what mood I might want to shift into. The logical aspect is that the music just passes me by with me hardly noticing.

I think when the emotional tank is empty, it replenishes steadily given time and space. However, when accompanied by intellectual exhaustion, I’m completely unable to sense my own emotional state. I tried to do this when writing just now and there is simply no access. This must mean that my logical circuit requires a moderate degree of activation in order for me to parse and interpret my emotional circuit.

Now, my being emotionally drained is also a consequence of decisions I made one or two weeks ago, when I had an adequate supply of emotional energy and greedily committed it. In this process, and comparing real-life interactions to online interactions, I’ve discovered something. First of all, engaging with less familiar people in a big room environment takes the most emotional energy. No surprise there. But in terms of online correspondences vs friendships and smaller group interactions with partial familiarity, the former category seems to have higher maintenance and latent costs in many cases. I never realized how serious it was until I decided to bite off more than I could chew. I need to balance my allocation of online and offline commitments more carefully.

I’ve been unsure whether I should consider that there’s a separate theoretical tank for social energy, but so far I haven’t needed it. However, the need to expend excess physical energy or reduce stress with physical exercise is probably something tangible. Physical wellness and exercise help to replenish the intellectual and logical resources.

I think it’s suddenly clear what to make of all this.

  1. I need proper rest. I’m physically, emotionally, and intellectually tired.
  2. I need to reorganize or restructure my social commitments to achieve better balance and recovery rates.
  3. Even when I’m tired, I need to keep up with physical activity.

Putting all these things together should help my logical tank to fill up, which should enable the emotional tank to replenish too.