365 Days @36.5 Degrees: Mistakes, Incremental Behavioral Change, and Success

The initial stages of my 365 days @ 36.5 degrees journey started just like everyone else who begins something with the goal of self-improvement. I was motivated and inspired and tackled the task with gusto. Then one day right before bed I realized I had forgotten to take an ice bath. So, I went down to the tub, jumped in, and went through the routine.

As a one-off, I was not so worried about forgetting to take an ice bath and having to scramble at the end of the day to get it in. However, I noticed this began to happen more and more frequently over the next couple of months. Then the scramble changed from a late-night ice bath with full mental and emotional intentions, to merely jumping in and out to ensure I got it in.

Next, those last-minute rushes to get my ice bath in resulted in cold showers instead of ice baths. 

I Began to Question My Commitment to this Challenge.

Was I just being gimmicky, or was I deeply committed to using the power of cold exposure to calm my mind during the early stages of COVID craziness?

How was I strengthening my focus and intention by just checking the box on certain days? How was I using the cold to manifest better behaviors and a greater future like I was encouraging so many others to do? What did these missteps mean? As I reflected on these questions about half-way through the challenge, I had to remind myself of something: I still had not missed a day of cold exposure. Some days were better than others, but I had not missed.

Neat and Tidy Is Not the Goal. Mission Accomplishment Is the Goal in Behavioral Change.

Today, over nine months into the challenge, my reflections have led me here. I often tell my leadership consulting clients who are struggling to change behaviors that, “Neat and tidy is not the goal. Mission accomplishment is the goal.”  It has been a good time to heed my own advice.

Sadly, the reasons for my many frustrations, related to our country’s reactions to COVID and other events, have not changed. Not with time, not with information, and not with a new presidential administration. As a country, we look nearly identical today as we did back in March of 2020. However, upon reflection, the changes I desired in myself and how I respond to these frustrations are coming to fruition.

Thankfully, I Am Not the Same Person I Was Back In March of 2020.

But the changes were nearly impossible to see along the way. They came slowly and incrementally. The changes came with ups and downs. They came with setbacks and disappointments, but they came. As I look back, today I can say with certainty that I am a better person than I was when I began 365 days @36.5 degrees last April. I am a better husband and a better father, the two things that matter most to me. I look forward to more self improvement to come!

The one constant during this time has been cold exposure and using the cold to focus on my behavioral intentions. So, what is the lesson I am trying to communicate? What can you take away from this?

Four Steps Towards Self Improvement

  1. There is no limit to the mistakes you are allowed to make when pursuing behavioral change. To sum it up again, “Neat and tidy is not the goal. Mission Accomplishment is the goal.” So, to you perfectionists out there who insist that everything you do must be perfect or else you will not, or will stop, doing it…lighten up and get over yourself. You are simply using the excuse of being a perfectionist to avoid beginning the challenge of real behavioral change.
  2. A reminder that change is hard. When we undergo a challenge to change behaviors, we must remember that we are essentially trying to re-wire our brain. Give yourself grace for your missteps but strive to summon the conviction to continue forward.
  3. Reflect on occasion to see the big picture. Self improvement comes incrementally, not in huge blocks. However, these seemingly small changes over time will amount to a huge block. Reflect, pat yourself on the back, and get back to work.
  4. Finally, TRUST THE COLD! You cannot run or hide from the cold when you endeavor to use it for behavioral change. When you are cold, you will not be able to hide from your intentions or gloss over them. You will either focus on them or you will not, there will be extraordinarily little in-between. Because you cannot hide from the cold, the days you miss will stand out like a sore thumb.  

Now, go set an intention for behavioral change, get in the cold, make mistakes, recover, and recognize the sum total of the incremental changes you will have made!

Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Ice Cold Leader provides executive coachingkeynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.

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