This column is for all of you out there who want 2008 to be different – those of you who, like me, still enjoy the idea of New Year Resolutions. As December unravels in a fest of over-indulgence and overspending, the thought of a fresh start becomes more attractive to some of us, until we remember that we’ve been promising ourselves a fresh start since 1974. That’s a big backlog of failure.
So may I suggest the cold shower trick? This is a trick to build your willpower. And willpower is what you need to change any bad habit. It forces you out of your comfort zone and strengthens your idea of yourself as someone who can exert willpower like a karate kick whenever you feel like it. This is all by way of getting you into the right frame of mind for the bad news, which is that I’m advocating cold showers in the middle of winter.
Here’s how it works. Next time you’re in the shower, turn the temperature control from hot to cold for one second. (NB You have to be actually standing under the water at the time or it doesn’t count.) Each day, turn the water on cold for just a bit longer. Work up gradually until you can stand under the cold shower for 60 seconds. Then, when you can do this, turn the cold on for just 10 seconds. What a doddle! Your comfort zone has extended. You have exerted your self control and self discipline and you have an idea of yourself as someone who can do whatever they set their mind to do – just what you need if this is the year you’re going to give up smoking.
Once you’ve got the idea that your willpower is there to be unleashed and directed against any task you need to achieve, you’ll find it immensely useful in everything – from saying no to that last drink in the pub, to resisting squandering your surplus on yet another pointless handbag or gadget, to finding the energy to run round your local park every weekend. All because of a cold shower.
Elisabeth Wilson is a counsellor, psychotherapist and the author of Stress-proof Your Life (Infinite Ideas, £12.99)