Improvement Starts with Asking the Right Questions

Ask Yourself This Question When You’re Ready to Start Improving Like a Maniac in the Water

The below email was recently sent out to our weekly mental toughness newsletter for swimmers. If you don’t already, you can subscribe here.

I get emails often from swimmers who want to get better at getting better.

As in, they want to get better at the journey.

At showing up and doing the work to the best of their ability.

And leaving the pool at the end of practice each day knowing they made progress towards their goals.

But that’s not how things are going down.


The swimmer who has huge goals for their season, but struggles to put big chunks of high-grade effort at swim practice.

The swimmer who backs down when things get tough in practice.

The swimmer who knows what they need to do to get better (eat healthier, show up to more practices, etc) but find themselves coming up against some mental block they can’t quite describe.

For these swimmers, and any other swimmer who is looking to do challenging stuff in the water…

Start by asking the right questions.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Getting Unstuck with Getting Better in the Water

One of the ways that we carry on with the long, never-ending conversation we hold with ourselves are questions.

Things like:

Why am I not closer to my goals?

Why can’t I swim as fast as my teammates?

What if I work hard all season and my goals don’t come to pass?

These fear-based questions are normal.

Our brains are programmed to look out for the worst-case scenario.

But you can side-step a lot of this fear-based, movement-stopping, improvement-blocking stuff when you start asking the right questions.

And one of my favorites is something simple that targets a Little Win for the day.

The Power of Asking the Right Questions

Here’s an example of how simple and effective this little process can be.

Let’s say you want to crank up your underwater dolphin kick this season.

You know it will help you swim faster than ever.

But you’ve never had a fast dolphin kick before…

And you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t a naturally awesome dolphin kicker like some other swimmers on your team…

So you’ve never put any meaningful effort into improving it.

The fear that you’re just wasting your time keeps you in place.

“I need to become a much better dolphin kicker so that I can compete with other swimmers, but I fear that if I work on it and I don’t improve, it will mean that I will never be a good swimmer.”

That sound, or at least feel, a little familiar?

Whether it’s improving our ability to swim fast under pressure, or eat better, or bring a better work ethic to the pool, we’ve all come up against this kind of fear when we want to test ourselves in the water.

And the way around this effort-blocking fear is to ask yourself, is this innocent-looking question:

“What is something I can do for five minutes that will help me become a better dolphin kicker each day?”

Five minutes?

That’s it?


Before you roll your eyes and move on, here’s why this is all you need to get rolling in a serious manner.

  • One, because it will get you started. Five minutes is a piece of cake, right? Anyone can do that. And the whole point is you start working on it.
  • Two, five minutes gives you room for improvement. These kinds of Little Wins are great because they give you lots of runway for expansion and improvement (i.e. this week it’s five minutes, next week it’s ten minutes).
  • Three, it’s a launching pad for confidence to tackle more work and harder challenges, which create an upward tornado of confidence and mastery.
  • Four, these little wins keep you focused on your process and the things you actually control.
  • Five, you stop fearing challenges. The right question and a Little Win are like having the combination code for tackling hard sets, workouts, and big races.
  • Six, the question encourages you to get creative about how to improve. You start looking for solutions. Talking to your coach for ideas. Research dryland training. And so on.
  • Seven, it’s easy to build a habit of daily Little Wins as the commitment is purposely small. Excellence becomes habitual.

The question points you in the right direction.

And the Little Win starts you down it.

Over to you…

What’s something you have been wanting to improve?

And what’s the right question and Little Win you are going to launch at it?

More Stuff Like This

3 Ways to Get More from Your Swim Practices. Struggling with unfocused, unproductive swim practices? Here are three things you can start doing today at practice to get more from your time in the water.

How Fearless Are You When the Main Set Starts? The main set is the meat potatoes of your swim practice. Are you giving it the effort that your swimming deserves?

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

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