Why Elite Swimmers Enjoy the Journey

Why Elite Swimming is About the Journey, Not the Destination

“I need to achieve my goals in the pool or else!”

Once I break that record, then I will be happy with my swimming!

I can’t wait till I win at finals–then I will know I’m a success!

It’s normal to get really wrapped up in the future results of our swimming.

They are the things that consume our thoughts when the Olympics are on or when we are in bed at night, thinking about all the super awesomeness we are capable of.

The glory, the best times, the records and the championship titles. We can get so lost in these things that we can forget to pause once in a while and smell the chlorinated roses.

But taking stock of the journey and trying to shake a little satisfaction and pride from the process isn’t just about “suffering” the journey a little bit better—you will actually end up enjoying and savoring it.

I know, it’s crazy talk, right…

Hmph, enjoying the workouts? The doubles? The threshold sets? The sets of off the block reps until it tastes like a lactate sandwich in my mouth?

A growing body of research over recent years have shown just how much of a role being present and enjoying the journey play in overall happiness, and revealing that happiness isn’t the result of success, but that success is more often the result of enjoying what we are doing.

One paper had a group of 101 people journal their daily positive moments, whether or not they savored them, and how positive and happy they felt over 30 days. Those who savored those little daily wins were significantly happier overall.

What we are learning is that happiness doesn’t come from being successful, but that those who become successful are the ones who are happiest in the journey.

Think about that for a moment.

This means you don’t need to put enjoying what you are doing on hold:

Once I beat my best time, then I will be successful!

The moment that I’ve qualified for nationals I can be proud of what I am doing!

Better enjoying the moment means you are having more fun along the way and you are increasing your odds of success down the road. It’s a cycle that feeds on itself: The happier and more grateful you are during the journey, the harder you are going to work, and the better your results will be.

How to savor the moment and swim your best

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking…

Does this mean I have to force a smile and grit my teeth when I am getting my butt kicked in practice? Pretend like I am super happy about having to get up at 5am to go to the pool?

No, not at all. This isn’t about putting on a fake smile and pretending to looooove those workouts where you feel like you are hurting.

It’s simply about recognizing the little moments and the good stuff that are going on in the pool and building on them.

Here are some ideas for how you can do this.

Reflect on your Little Wins.

Each day when you go to the pool for practice there are opportunities for improvement. Things you can do that you can hang your little swim cap on afterwards and feel proud of.

And very of them require smashing an in-practice personal best time or swimming more meters than you’ve ever done before.

What are the Little Wins you can take away from today’s practice?

Things like:

  • Having a good attitude in the face of a tough set.
  • Swimming with technique that is as close to perfection as possible.
  • Staying after practice and investing some extra time in core work and mobility.

Crack open the pages of your training journal and at the end of your workout write out a handful of sentences and savor the chlorine out of that practice.

Give yourself measurables to work on each day.

Satisfaction and pride come from improvement. Which is how we are able to “suffer” those suffer-y swim practices: as long as we are improving we are going to be motivated. It’s when improvement slows down or we feel that our swimming has plateaued that our motivation takes a nose-dive.

But time-based improvement can be fickle sometimes.

For instance, we are under a heavy training load so we are swimming slower or the same as we usually would be. (That’s discouraging.)

This is when you need to have other things to work on in the pool that are going to keep you invested in the journey.

Can you grade your effort each day after practice? How about maximizing your recovery routine? Or work relentlessly on a technical detail until you’ve mastered it?

These measurables will keep you interested, improving and motivated.

Help someone else improve.

One of the best ways to get perspective on your journey is to work with athletes in the junior groups.

Pair up Buddy System-style. Or simply give one of the youngsters an encouraging word.

The impact this will have is almost impossible to overstate: Far and away some of the deepest and most meaningful memories I have of my age group swimming days were senior swimmers cheering me on at a meet or giving me a quick technical pointer.

Not only will you be giving someone else a seriously awesome moment to cherish but doing so will give you a refresher on what it is you love about the sport and how far you’ve come.

(Also, doing this gives you some +1’s when it comes to building excellent team culture.)

Stay in the moment.

This one is hard. There are a million different ways our attention is being pulled nowadays. Avoid the urge to time travel with your thoughts and work on being engaged with what you are doing right now.

This means you need to avoid trying to do everything at once and doing one thing at a time with all your focus and attention.

Focusing on this workout, this set, this lap, and this stroke isn’t ignoring the big long term goals you have for yourself, and it’s not “settling.”

It’s maximizing the moments you have right now…which also end up having the effect of getting you to those big dreams a whole lot faster.

Start with performance cues. Think about what I said last week about focusing vs. thinking. And don’t think beyond what you are doing right now.

Give these bad boys a shot this week in the water and let me know how it goes.

More Stuff Like This:

Practice is Everything: The Mindset Behind Superhero Workouts. If you are serious about accomplishing big things in the pool you need to rethink the way you train. Here is why practice is everything.

The Research Behind the Mindset of Super Champions. Curious to know what separates elite swimmers from the nearly-elite? Some fascinating research finds some key differences in mindset.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of YourSwimLog.com. He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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