“You should try it,” I tell other middle-aged people. “You’ll feel like a million bucks afterwards.” They usually roll their eyes, as if thinking, Not if I was on fire being chased by wild boars.  But in case you’re tempted, here’s a method that works for me:

Decide maybe you’ll do it next year, and then put it out of your mind until late December. For moral support, find a friend who is also considering it. On December 30th, watch the weather reports, hoping for frigid temperatures and wind that will let you off the hook without feeling like a wimp. The night before, continue to be very ambivalent but shave legs and bikini line just in case.

Wake up the morning of the plunge with a feeling of dread and doom. Be glad that the plunge is at 1:00 instead of late afternoon so there’s less time to wait. Feel mildly excited but mostly scared. Wonder if you have an unknown heart condition that will cause cardiac arrest. Feel like you are preparing for one of those tribal intiations where death must be faced for the sake of renewal. Put on bathing suit, now feeling like one of the young warriors in Lord of the Rings, arming for battle, grim, scared, determined. Out of nervousness, fuss endlessly about towels, robe, etc.

Arrive at the scene, relaxing a bit at the sight of so many others who are ready to do the same thing. Be amused at the Foolish Young, already stripped to their bikinis and trunks and shivering. Feel swept up in the group excitement. Greet neighbors who are impressed that you are going in with appropriate modesty, but secretly agree that it’s impressive. Find your friend and stick to her like glue…must have a hand to hold at the critical moment. Begin to feel impatient to get this show on the road.

Move down to the beach and feel alarmed at how much windier and colder it is down there. Peel off outer layers, ordering husband not to budge with your robe and towel. Feel excited and ultra-focused. Grab friend’s hand and wait for the signal. Run, screaming! (Screaming very important!) Be so fully into the scream that you barely feel the water when you hit it. Decide you’re deep enough and dunk. Turn and run out, heart pounding, breathing heavily. Marvel that you’re not even cold. High-five everyone in sight. Feel like a million bucks.