My next swimming lesson: Winning the mind game


I’m sharing my journey of training for the swim in January. I do this to process my thoughts, keep myself accountable and hopefully help someone else along the way.

When I walk or go to the gym I put in the headphones, then listen to music or podcasts to take my attention away from the desire to stop. Swimming is quite different and the next challenge to confront is in my head.

As young person, my sporting achievements were more of a sprint than the long haul. My natural tendency is to give up if an activity or project becomes too boring. But as ‘complete’ is one of my key values in this, giving up isn’t an option, so I need a strategy to persevere.

This is probably one of the important skills that I will learn over the next couple of months. Generally, I am pretty comfortable with silence and just being in my own thoughts. But when it comes to exercise I have usually relied on audio or visual distraction to keep me going. I have never found myself lost to time passing when undertaking physical activity, it has just been a necessity, something to endure.

So right now, as I start to build my stamina I need to look at the strategy to win this mind game. Just looking at the tiles of a pool or the sandy bottom of the beach is monotonous. Left to my own devices, all I can think of is something along the lines of Bart Simpson’s “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”.

I’ve discovered that only thinking about the end of the swimming session isn’t helpful, it doesn’t build endurance. My thoughts seem to be complaining about it, or they are self-defeating. So now that I have awareness, I can address this. At the moment I am playing with a few different ideas to see what will be in my repertoire…

  • Technique: There is so much to think about – stroke, breathing, core strength, kicking.
  • Counting strokes and setting goals: Increasing the number of strokes until I tread water if I need a break in open water.
  • Reciting: I found out that Psalm 23 is about 40 metres – learnt in childhood, stays with you forever… it’s helpful as well.

At this stage, I need to keep my thinking disciplined and routine. Over time I would like to  expand this.

It is probably a little like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – physical and safety needs to be met before we can address self-esteem and self actualisation. In the same way, until I get over the stamina/endurance hurdle I need a structured approach to be able to persevere. Perhaps then I will be able to get creative and process thoughts when I am not focussing on the physical here-and-now.

I love that this experience provides an opportunity for me to learn about myself. It can be scary, but it is valuable.


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