How to use cold water to increase productivity


Here’s how I got my job at BNET. Paul Sloan asked me if I write for other publications. I said no because I love my blog too much. (Where else could I write a post about what it’s like to have sex with me?)

Then Paul said that he would be my editor. So I said yes. I love Paul. He is fun and smart and he (almost) always answers his phone when I want to talk about my marital problems. (Although he will not publish my marital problems, which, again, is why I love my blog.)

So I tried to negotiate really hard to get a lot of money from BNET. I had Paul get his boss Eric on the phone. I worked with Eric when we were both at Business 2.0. When that magazine went under, Paul, Eric and I all got fired together. Or, wait. Maybe Paul or Eric fired me.

Anyway, I did not get a lot of money from them. But I did get them to agree to a steady stream of money that could support my family so I could tell my startup, which I am still a majority shareholder in, that I can’t cope with being CEO anymore. The job is too much about execution, and I’m not an execution person. I’m an idea person. I need to quit my startup and do a new startup. I have too many ideas. Yeah. That’s what I said. And I told myself I don’t need the salary I was drawing from my startup because I will have the money I get from BNET.

But here’s the problem. My kids are going to starve or something. Not that this hasn’t happened before. Where I ran out of money. But it was for a decent reason. Like, my company ran out of funding and our electricity got turned off and I nearly went blind, and things got very bad, but I could not totally control the financing. I mean, look, I kept my company going through one of the worst financial crises in U.S. history. So a few nights without electricity is sort of explainable.

But why is it that now, when I could have a stable income, I am not writing columns for BNET? Am I retarded? Paul investigates this question each time he calls me. He says things like, “Are you okay?” and “What are you doing? What do you do all day?”

These are fair questions. I tell Paul some reasons why I am not writing.

I say, “You guys pay 90 days out. It’s too long to wait.”

He says, “That’s not an excuse. If you wrote regularly you wouldn’t even notice the delay. You’d get money regularly.”

He is right.

I say, “I don’t like how you guys handle comments. It’s not interactive enough.”

He says, “We changed all that in the redesign. Months ago. If you’d pay more attention to your comments, you’d notice.”

He is probably right.

I say, “You never let me write about good stuff. Remember the post I wrote about your stupid invoicing system? You said no.”

He says, “Try me again. If you bitch about me, I’ll publish it.”


I think I am not writing because I have never had financial stability before. I am always running startups. I just finished my third. It takes about four years to run the startup and a year to recuperate financially from the damage that a startup does. (Note: Don’t tell me about exits. The first time I exited I put all the money into the next company. Don’t ever do that.)

So, am I scared of financial stability? I am certainly sabotaging myself. I spent my last therapy session talking about why I am not earning money when I have a way of getting paid to do something I love.

My therapist told me to splash my face with cold water. Not kidding. I have been in therapy for 40 years because my parents were incompetent except for knowing enough to send me to therapy as a five-year-old to deal with it. So, I’ve been in therapy forever and I need something new. And DBT is new. So I’m doing it. All behaviorally focused.

My therapist sent this email to me:

I am writing to remind you of some exercises you can do when your anxiety is very high. These exercises are designed to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This system is designed to do the OPPOSITE of fight or flight. It’s sometimes termed “rest and digest”

Temperature Regulation – If you submerge your face in cold water, it will induce the mammalian diving reflex, which is built in by evolution to help mammals stay alive in cold water. Among other things, this reflex results in a slowing of your heart rate down to 25%. This is a very effective, highly recommended strategy for reducing anxiety immediately. Many people use it for panic attacks.

So, do you know how I got myself to write this post? Splashed water on my face. Seriously. Well, first I went to make myself lunch and realized that I was going to be eating a lot of pasta this month. My therapist says that sometimes we need to hit rock bottom before we take action. Look out: There are going to be a lot of posts this Spring.

24 replies
  1. Todd
    Todd says:

    Good luck, P. Though having read the first few comments to your entry on BNET, I’m not quite sure they “get” you yet. Hopefully they will.

  2. bryan
    bryan says:

    I don’t quite see the connection between cold water and lowering one’s heart rate as everytime I’ve recalled being cold in any way my heart rate goes up….but if it works for you I’m glad for you….wishing you all the best with your newest venture!

  3. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I’m glad that just because I have a history of self-sabotage that doesn’t mean I’m destined to be a failure. I get so scared that I’m not good enough. And actually it isn’t about not being good enough at all, it’s about finding solutions and asking for help. I’m not good at asking for help, but I’m hoping that if I flail about long enough looking for solutions, someone will just tap me on the shoulder and offer it anyway.

  4. Celine
    Celine says:

    Your self sabotage has reached new heights. Now you’re posting the same bizarre posts at BNET, where you could at least earn money on a regular basis. The less BNET readers know about your blog and your life, the better. That’s not the forum for your constant meltdowns.

  5. Brigitte
    Brigitte says:

    Does your therapist have you do alternate nostril breathing(pranayama)?

    This link ( takes you to a post written by my yoga teacher, who learned pranayama while serving in Afghanistan as a UN peace ambassador. She credits it for saving her sanity amidst all the trauma.

    Scroll down, and you’ll find her instructional video. As a bonus, Marianne’s from New Zealand, and her accent is awesome.

  6. rajpfj
    rajpfj says:

    Career? Save your “career”?

    Lots of people seem to think they have “a career” or a series of careers (!?!) when all they really have had is a series of JOBS. How do people define career these days, anyway?

    About recognizing behaviors? Years ago, someone wrote a book entitled Values Clarification. Bottom line is = if you’re not doing it, it isn’t a value.

    Penelope isn’t writing for BNET. That means writing for BNET isn’t a value for her. End of story.

    What does she do? Those things are values, whatever they are.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for loving the post, and thanks for bringing up the word retarded in your comment, because many people sent private emails to me about using the word retarded.

      Maybe I just don’t understand, but I am thinking that each of us is retarded developmentally in some areas, so it’s okay to talk about that. I think I’m an expert on this because I have a son who has special needs, and I have Asperger’s and have written extensively about my undeveloped social skills.

      So, what I was thinking is that it’s ok to use the word retarded when it’s not a judgment — retarded is just a fact of life since each of us is really good at some stuff and really bad at others. Is this right? What do you think? Am I wrong?


      • Margaret Goerig
        Margaret Goerig says:

        At its origin, retarded is not a bad word. Something is flame retardant, because it prevents the outbreak of fire, or the growth of something is retarded, or limited, for one reason or another, no judgment attached. Those are facts of life.
        The way you used the word is offensive, though, because it’s comparing your lack of productivity to someone who is less advanced in mental, physical, or social development, as if they’re the only people in the world who would have such a problem. You could have instead asked “What’s wrong with me?” for example, and it would have served the same purpose of acknowledging that, like all of us, you’re not perfect but it would have done so without bringing any judgments into the situation.
        About five years ago, I had to break myself of the habit of using the word to describe daily annoyances but because an R word still wanted to come out of my mouth, I started saying things were “ridiculous.” It worked a charm.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        I didn’t think the word ‘retarded’ as it was used in the post was “wrong”. In fact, I had to go back to the post today over at BNET to see how it was used and in the context it was used. Here it is – “But why is it that now, when I could have a stable income, I am not writing columns for BNET? Am I retarded?”. You were asking hard questions of and to yourself with no implicit or explicit reference to anyone else. So I think it was used correctly here … and so did Paul.

      • cheryl
        cheryl says:


        I really appreciate your response–and the others–in the comments. I’ve been mulling this all day to try and parse out the logic behind my emotional response to the way you used the word. Here are three of the things I considered:

        1) Your question was, “Am I retarded?” rather than “Is my development retarded in the area of work and money relationships?” or something like that. The general question evokes the idea of a person who has been diagnosed with mental retardation, which is not what you meant, right?

        2) Even though you were intending a definition of retarded development that applies to all people in the way you describe, your audience doesn’t necessarily know that you’re not using the word in the distressing, slang way that so many people do. I can only offer anecdotal evidence here, but you did get several emails about it.

        3) Your blog convinces me that you know that language is powerful. And “retarded” is a powerful word with years of playground insults and judgments attached to it.

        Here are two links, because I think you like links:

        And finally: I used to use “retarded” in this way, too. And my husband is currently trying to clean it out of his lexicon because he’s been using it exactly the way you did. We’re all doing our best, and that’s why I so loved the end of your reply when you were open to the possibility, “Am I wrong?”


  7. poppygirl
    poppygirl says:

    Lots and I mean lots of cold water is good. And deep breaths.

    It’s very good to get paid for what you do, especially past 40 and with kids. So be responsible, eat the pasta and KEEP POSTING for them.

    and lose ‘retarded’-it’s so 70’s and those of us with disabled siblings find it deeply offensive.

  8. Constanza
    Constanza says:

    I love your post.

    Reading the link about how is to have sex… that’s remains me some beautiful memories.

    I just didn’t liked the way you used the word “retarded”, but that’s just my opinion.

  9. Renee
    Renee says:

    I love it, rest and digest, this is good advice. Are you at SXSW? I hope to hear from you and your experience there… I read that twitter was brought to the public forum there, but most people I know that attend are there for the music.

  10. Brooke Farmer
    Brooke Farmer says:

    It’s funny how your posts about business can be applicable to so many other areas of life.

    One of the people who reads my blog sent me this link. I read you all the time but hadn’t seen this one yet.

    Why did they send it? Because I am in Australia with a man right now that I kind of adore and am practically having panic attacks about why I came and what do I do if it keeps going well and whether or not I could really uproot myself from the bustle of Los Angeles to live in a tiny mountain town in southern Australia.

    And I get the email that says: Calm down. You don’t have to know yet. Rest. Digest. And go read Penelope Trunk.

    I’m gonna go dunk my face in some cold water and try not to think about the future. Thank you.

  11. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    And I did try to comment over there, but they wanted me to register and having left high tech, I do not want to see those emails in my inbox ever again. So I will just say it here. Who among us hasn’t need to do this right before a big presentation?

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  13. Lori
    Lori says:

    loved yr BNET post but couldn’t comment there as
    they make you join. hate.

    wanted you to know i used your site to put together a “get your head in the game” packet for a
    friend who’s just lost his job and has to go back out there. it’s a tremendous resource. thank you.

    re: the guy who thinks you don’t have a “career”, i’ve been self-employed since college and
    have started three companies; i’m getting ready to start the fourth. series of jobs? so
    true. entrepreneurs do it all from writing the press releases to hire/fire to unclogging the toilets. still, have to say it all adds up to a career.

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