Although the date varies, every winter hundreds of thousands of adventurers around the world choose to hurl themselves en-masse into icy waters in an event called The Polar Bear Plunge. Why? Some do it for the thrill. Some do it to have a great story to tell. Some do it to support a cause: throughout the U.S., the Polar Bear plunge raises much-needed funds for the Special Olympics. And some people just love to break away from the humdrum and try something new.
I’ve never done an official Polar Bear plunge, since being in my bathing suit in the winter with a bunch of strangers feels the opposite of inspiring to an introvert like me. But last year I did jump fully clothed into a lake three weeks after the ice had receded. My brother dared me, and I took him up on it.
It went like this: 3-2-1 “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” Splash! Then came a moment when every system in my body seemed to go offline. There may have been a buzzing in my ears while everything recalculated, and finally one very clear thought formed: “This was a huge mistake!” Because my nerves didn’t know how to interpret the cold, my skin felt like it was on fire. Somehow my brain forced my muscles to overcome their instinct to seize up completely and convinced them to get me OUT OF THE WATER. I don’t remember the process of getting to shore—I just know it was FAST.
Once on land and sort-of dry, I felt elated. The alertness that followed beat anything my local coffee shop could have brewed for me. It was (literally) cool, and I’m glad I did it. It got me out of a rut I hadn’t known I was in. Having done it, I really understand why people come back to the Polar Bear Plunge year after year. It’s wacky and fun, and it’s a great “Guess what I did this weekend!” story to share.
Starting a new year is often filled with resolutions and aspirations. But just like a Polar Bear Plunge (or even a generic icy plunge), taking that first step can be daunting. The initial shock of the cold water is similar to the challenges and uncertainties we face in our careers and businesses. However, just like the plungers who emerge invigorated and exhilarated, embracing the challenges and pushing through our comfort zones can help us achieve remarkable things.
Whether you're a seasoned goal-setter or a champion of gentle beginnings, here are 5 ways to kick off the year on a positive note, without turning blue from hypothermia:
Dust off that unused notebook, get outside with your camera, or download a pottery app (there’s an app for everything these days!). Dedicating time to creative pursuits, no matter how messy or imperfect, can ignite your mind and spirit. Tapping into creativity can help generate new approaches to existing problems, leading to breakthrough solutions that might elude you. Who knows, you might surprise yourself with your hidden talents!
Big resolutions often set us up for disappointment. Instead, focus on tiny, achievable actions. Want to be healthier? Start with daily walks or cut back on one sugary snack. Need to learn a new skill? Spend ten minutes a day taking mini lessons. By breaking down your goal into manageable, bite-sized parts, you build momentum with each accomplishment. These mini-victories fuel motivation, combat overwhelm, and provide valuable feedback to adjust your approach. Small changes, consistently applied, have a way of snowballing into big results.
Schedule some mindful “me time.” Whether it's meditation, journaling, or a solo nature walk, carve out space for introspection. Use this time to reflect on your priorities, values, and aspirations. It’s amazing how much benefit can be had by just spending a few moments every day in quiet reflection. Give that busy brain of yours a break and you might just find new inspiration!
Kindness is contagious, so be the source! Donate to a worthy cause, volunteer your time, or simply offer a genuine smile and a warm hello. Helping others not only benefit them, but also boosts your own sense of well-being. In fact, author/researcher Allan Luks discovered what he called the “Helper’s High,” which is, “the powerful physical feelings people experience when directly helping others.” Doing a kind act for others is one of the happiest ways to elevate all areas of your own life.
Taking the time to acknowledge your achievements, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is crucial for sustained motivation. Did you finally finish that report? Pat yourself on the back! Cooked a delicious meal? Treat yourself to a second helping! I have a task tracking app that makes a happy little chime when I check something off. That chime reminds me that I accomplished something, so I’m a little more jazzed about getting to the next item and checking that off. Recognizing your progress fuels your enthusiasm to keep moving forward.
Remember, the new year is not about drastic measures or punishing routines. It's about starting fresh, feeling good, and setting yourself up for success. So, if an icy plunge isn’t for you, that’s ok! (And frankly, normal). Embrace a gentler, more sustainable approach to positive change. Who knows, you might just inspire others to do the same. If you’re feeling stuck career-wise or a little stumped about just what you need to help you move forward, let us help! Take the plunge and try one of our development reports for behavioral insight into specific ways to maintain momentum to achieve your goals.
Now go forth and conquer the year, sans hypothermia!