I go to mine often.
Unfortunately as a child, I spent a lot of time there.
As a nine-year-old dealing with a family divorce and all the shit goes with it, I needed a place in my head to go and be ‘away’ from it all. Writing for me was an escape. I kept a journal as early as 9 years old. I used to write pages and pages about how I was feeling and it used to help me both connect with myself and let things out – something I couldn’t do aloud.
I remember one day, around the time I moved in with my wife (then girlfriend), going through all of my old journals. I couldn’t believe some of the things I’d written when I was younger. I sat down, re-read them all (I had something like 30 journals) over the course of a weekend, and then set them all on fire.
I burned every last one of them. Mostly, because I was afraid of what anybody would think if they ever read them, especially my wife and kids.
But I also wanted to put that part of my life behind me…for good. I remember staring at them while they burned. I can still picture those books burning – all that history, and all those feelings being reduced to a pile of ash. I can even still smell them burning. The sound and sight of that fire became my cold water place.
So what’s the cold water place?
My kids both like their baths hot. When my son Lucas was about 7 and my daughter Noa about 4 we started playing a game. At the end of bath time, I would fill up a cup full of the coldest water I could get my hands on. The game was to see who could have the water poured over their heads without making a sound or any facial expression. They loved it. Both kids are natural adrenaline junkies (like me). I can’t remember how it all started, but it became a regular bath ritual.
My daughter in particular seriously likes this game. It started with a cup of water, and then eventually she wanted more. We moved from a cup to a big tall glass, and eventually to a pitcher. We started with tap water, but she found that it wasn’t cold enough, even though it was freezing! So after a while, she would make me fill up the pitcher with water and then dump ice cubes in it so that by the time her bath was finished, the water was absolutely numbing. She likes to push herself to extremes. Something I obviously worry about.
My wife never really understood this childish exercise. She would tell me I was getting a kick out of torturing our kids (she was kidding – but not).
I knew what I was doing. I was teaching my kids that we can control our emotions and the way we react to things.
I wanted to teach them about mind over matter – a critical and learned skill that will come in handy down the road. Mental toughness can get you through some of the hardest times.
My daughter went for her checkup at the doctor and when it was time for her shot, she sat still, stoic and strong. She said nothing. The doctor gave her the shot and she didn’t move. When it was over, she simply looked at my wife and said, “I put myself in the cold water place mommy…and I shut off my feelings’.
When my wife saw these benefits in action, she understood and realized the power of our game.
Noa goes there all the time. Throat cultures, needles, even falls and scrapes. You can actually see her doing it. She takes a deep breath and she zones out. The cold water place has become her go-to mental model for dealing with fear, pain and lots of other things in between. When she gets really frustrated with her siblings I can often see her taking a moment in the cold water place.
I like to think I taught them self-control and gave them a schema they can call on when dealing with something difficult.
Noa goes to her cold water place when she needs to escape the moment. I go there when I need to engage in the moment, to remember how fortunate I am. My childhood wasn’t a happy time for me. I think about that often as I’m becoming the man I want to be, the father I want to be and the husband I want to be. I replaced the books, my tool as a child, with the memory of burning them. And that memory centers me and helps me reflect on what’s important.
Are you able to shut off? Where’s your cold water place?