The key to success isn’t solely setting big goals, it’s about challenging yourself just enough in order to keep yourself motivated and engaged over the long term. Here’s how to find that sweet spot of success.
You’ve always been told to dream big. Heck, I preach it on this site often. (And even made a fancy poster that says “Dream Bigger” with 450pt font.)
Being aggressive with your big, over-arching goal is good. In fact, it’s recommended.
But where most swimmers commonly trip up is taking this same ambition and apply it to their short term goals.
Let me explain…
Maybe you have been guilty of this in the past…
Because I can assure you that I have (on more occasions than I am perhaps willing to admit)…
You list out the things you need to do in order to achieve your big goal—and decide that you are going to blitz them all with absolutely everything you’ve got.
No more Mr. Nice Guy!
- I am going to make every single practice that is available to me.
- I am going to give a 100% all-out effort on every set, at every practice.
- I am going to do 15 dolphin kicks off every wall in order to improve my underwater dolphin kick.
But then something all too familiar goes down…
Because we’ve set the bar so high…
Because everything has to go perfectly…
And because our immediate goals are too ambitious in comparison to our current behaviors and habits it becomes a whole lot of no fun.
And so we end up doing the old flash-and-fade maneuver. (A short burst of high intensity effort followed by a quick drop off.)
Think Big, Act Small
Your macro goals should be big and audacious. Your micro goals, on the other hand, should be modest and only slightly better than what you are currently doing.
Because when we go all-in the difficulty and perfection required ends up discouraging the things (consistency, effort, optimism) that are necessary to make the big goal comes to pass.
Okay, you might be thinking. Dial it down. Got it.
But then there is the flip-side.
(There almost always is, right?)
If your short term goals are flimsier and softer than a sheet of single-ply, what happens next?
You get bored. Distracted. Uninterested.
The goal is too easy and doesn’t provide you with the kind of satisfaction that comes with achieving something meaningful.
So what are we supposed to do then?
The reality is that swimmers love to be challenged.
They crave it. (Even though they might not always admit it.)
Because challenge motivates. It’s downright fun.
We get fired up to chase down stuff that we couldn’t do before and see what we are capable of.
But it has to be the right amount of challenge.
Turn it up super high and it’s too difficult and you lose motivation.
Make it too easy and it is every last shade of boooooring.
Aim to Get a Little Better Regularly
Pick training goals that are 5-10% beyond what you are doing right now.
(Or even less if you are really far along and elite.)
I wrote a post over at SwimSwam a couple years ago that detailed the changes that happened when a guy named David Brailsford took over British Cycling. He basically instituted a program of making things just 1% better.
Better pillows. Better massage gels. And of course, tiny adjustments in technique and conditioning.
The eventual result was 16 Olympic gold medals and a handful of Tour de France victories.
Break apart the meaningful parts of your training and make your over-riding goal to get a little bit better at the critical things each week.
Remember, up-ending your training habits and effort overnight rarely pays off. It’s the attention paid to progression. It’s slowly ramping up the intensity over time to avoid burn-out. And it’s staying on top of tracking the important things in your swimming.
Think of your goals in the same way that you consider your hamstring flexibility…
You know that it is a little bit of daily focused attention, and reaching just a tiny bit further than you did yesterday that gives you the pliability you want from those cables running down the back of your legs…
And not trying to head-butt your knees the first time out.
Sure, making small improvements isn’t flashy. And it does require patience. But when you regularly chase little bits of progression those big improvements you really, really want will inevitably happen.