Want to up your goal setting game this season? Here’s a simple and powerful exercise that swimmers can do to help conquer their big goals in the water.
Journaling is one of my favorite mental training weapons and one that a lot of swimmers sleep on.
Maybe because of the time required to do it, lack of instruction, or the idea of doing more “work,” journaling gets dismissed as a way to sharpen your swimming.
Not techy enough. Not shiny enough. No time.
Whether you are journaling to get a grip on pre-race anxiety, or writing out and reflecting on your swim practices when you get out of the water, journaling is a powerful way to get clarity with your swimming and what’s happening between your ears.
When it comes to setting big goals, and increasing the likelihood that you will achieve them, journaling throws down here as well.
In this case, we are going to do some future journaling. Take a sheet of paper, and in story form, or a bullet list, or however you like to outline stuff, you write the ups and downs of the journey from where you sit today to the moment that you crash into the touch-pad and see that shiny PB up on the scoreboard.
The story of your season
“It was a dark and stormy night…”
The journaling should include everything you expect (and what you don’t hope) to encounter along the way.
The best times. The awesome workouts. The hard workouts where you want to give up. The struggles. The injuries. The nailing a faster race pace. The “I can’t believe I added three seconds to my best time” race. The in-season meets. The shave-and-taper meets.
Beyond journaling out what you can expect to happen, you will detail the way you respond and how you feel.
Journaling all of this stuff adds a massive amount of texture and realism to your goal. Instead of having an overly optimistic vision of your goal, which dooms it from the start because it glosses over any adversity, you are able to live out your goal ahead of time.
Why write it out?
I know what you are thinking—write it out? Like, homework? Why isn’t it good enough just to sit around and think about it? Same thing, right?
Not at all.
It’s one thing to think about the tough spots ahead, and it’s an entirely different mesh bag of swim gear to be honest with yourself enough to be able to fully form that thought, put it into words, and write it out.
Writing it out will force you to be more realistic about what it’s going to take.
Having to fully think through the goal, the process and the journey, you might have to come to some uncomfortable realizations along the way. Maybe your goals are too dependent on how other swimmers perform, or they require a standard of perfection that isn’t presently in your wheelhouse.
Just thinking about your goals is amateur. Planning, strategizing and writing out your goals and the journey ahead is next-level stuff.
Big goals are fun until you meet the struggle involved
When I talk to swimmers about setting goals, there is almost always the expectation that things will go perfectly. After all, their big, ambitious goal requires things to go nearly perfectly.
While good-intentioned, these kind of unrealistic expectations sets a swimmer up for a demoralizing crash the moment they get sick, have to miss a couple workouts, or have a stretch of slow swimming.
The bigger the goal, the harder things are going to be, and the more adversity you are going to have swim uphill against. Journaling the struggles ahead gives you the back-up necessary to confront and conquer them.
Physically—you will be beaten up over intense and hard stretches of training.
- Prey to illness and injury.
- Struggle to balance school, sleep and swimming.
- Subject to the soreness of training like a high-performance athlete.
Mentally—there will be countless moments of crashing confidence and belief.
- Days where you leave the pool wondering if you actually got slower.
- You missed your race pace for the whole main set.
- A slower teammate crushed you.
- A competitor put up times that are incomprehensibly quick.
Being realistic about these things isn’t meant to discourage you.
Knowing that there are going to be some dips along the way creates a much healthier set of expectations. It strengthens your backbone and resolve for when adversity happens. (And it will.)
When you know something is coming, you are far less likely to get knocked out not looking.
Reflect on the victories ahead
It’s natural to get locked-in on how you are gonna feel when you achieve the big goal.
You worked super hard for it, so it’s natural to spend all your time and energy visualizing the certified goosebumps and tinglies from cruising into the finish, looking up at the scoreboard, and seeing that you TKO’d your PB.
While thinking about that big goal can work in a pinch for motivation, it’s the little wins you consistently generate along the way that are the bedrock of your self-confidence and motivation.
The little wins keep you going on mornings when you get up at 4:45am in the dead of winter. They are there, pushing you on, when you finally crack three minutes for your best 200-kick time. The little wins are the Sherpas to your Everest.
In your journaling, shine a light on these future moments of brilliance. The breakthroughs. You know that you can’t always predict them, but they are there, waiting, lurking around the corner, playing peek-a-boo, waiting to surprise the chlorine out of you when you least expect it.
- Reflect on how future you is going to feel on the days where you push through a tough workout even though you are tired.
- The way you will feel when you conquer that “impossible” interval.
- When you come this close to beating one of your personal best times in practice, from a push, wearing a diaper of a drag suit.
- The warm glow of satisfaction you experience from making every workout for three weeks in a row.
- Being the swimmer who doesn’t quit on the main set, even though your teammates are peeling off like an old foam kick-board.
Getting a preview of how this will feel will motivate you to chase that feeling for real. It will help make your process more meaningful. And of course, you will be more engaged and motivated to go to practice and do the work to chip away at your goals.
Take the next step with your goals
Alrighty then—let’s get after some journaling.
If you are feeling stuck, and don’t know where to start, start with the big goal. How you will be prepared to race on the big day. And work backwards from there.
Add texture to your journaling by including the good and the bad. The moments of adversity are natural and normal. While you can’t perfectly predict them, and you can’t always control the adversity that happens, you can always control how you react to it.
Focus your journaling on this choice—decide ahead of time how you will react and bounce back when things aren’t going your way.
See the journey. See the challenges. See yourself overcoming the adversity and setbacks that are fundamental to success.
Write them out. Write out the little wins. Write out the adversity. Write out how you respond to it all.
And then go live it out.
More Stuff Like This:
The Swimmer’s Guide to Performance Anxiety and Pre-Race Butterflies. The stress and anxiety of competition is universal. Here’s how to navigate the sometimes confusing mindsets and emotions that happen before swimmers race.
This Mental Training Workbook Will Help You Swim Like a Rock Star This Season. Confused about mental training? Want to unleash pro mode on your swimming this year? Learn how this mental training workbook will change your mindset and help you pummel your PB’s this season.
Image credit: JC Mouton