I continued my weeklong experiment in tracking how my thought patterns affect my athletic performance during today’s swim, during which I got some help from the guy in the next lane, my high-school teammate’s dad and Ryan Hall.
Since swimming is undoubtedly more of a time commitment than running, with its requirements to drive to the pool, suit up, work out a bit longer to get the same benefits, dechlorinate, drive home, etc., I find it even harder to stay motivated to do it. I also find it really hard to stop feeling guilty about the items I could be crossing off on my to-do list during that time. Today, I renewed my efforts to squelch that thinking, since it’s a proven motivation-zapper for me.
But I truly was physically tired today, and keeping my brain in the right place was tough, even once I got in the pool. Here’s what didn’t work: Obsessing about how tired and slow I felt (it’s simply shocking that a steady cadence of ugh, ugh, ugh, failed to motivate me).
What did work:
Reminding myself to swim the lap I’m in, to roughly paraphrase Ryan Hall, who once said he reminds himself during half-marathons to run the mile he’s in. Whether it’s a set of 200 IMs, like today, or the seventh mile of a record-breaking marathon, it does no good to think about how tired you deserve to be because of what you’ve done already, or how much still lies ahead.
Reminding myself that, as is the case with every other athlete on earth, my slow is someone else’s fast. Over a huge IHOP dinner after a disappointing swim meet in high school, my teammate’s dad shook his head in amusement as we bemoaned being seconds — whole seconds! — off our goal times. “Think about all the houses we pass on our way home,” he said. “Then, think about how many of the people who live in those houses can come close to what you girls can do.” This is true for everyone who attempts an athletic feat. No matter how slow you feel like you are, to someone else, you’re a rock star.
Believing in positive reinforcement. A runner-friend a few weeks ago raised the point that, we, as athletes and as humans, tend to give more weight to negative comments than positive ones. So when the young-ish, fit-looking guy in lane next to me smiled and said, “You’re amazing! I wish I could swim like you!” I decided to obsess about this lovely and random compliment the same way I’d obsess about a puzzling e-mail from an editor. I plan to consider this from all angles, mention it to friends. Heck, if things go well, I might even keep myself up tonight thinking about it.
Here’s the amazing part: These mind games played out in my performance in a measurable way. I timed myself on a 1,650 with a pull buoy, and came in right at 25 minutes. Not my best, but a far cry from “I’m too tired to do anything of worth today.”
Has anyone else tried this stuff with similar effect? I’m fascinated.