Nearly all my private workshop students make a comment something like this after about an hour or two into our first lesson filled with stroke analysis and stroke re-formation…

“I have SO MUCH to work on!”

Now, just as you read that phrase, I wonder with what kind of tone you read it with.

Did you interpret it as, “Oh, I am so frustrated. I have SO MUCH to work on!”

Or, “Oh, I am so excited. I have SO MUCH to work on!”

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It’s not that you say it, but how you say it gives me some clue about how far along into the Kaizen mindset you’ve come.

Your comments tell me whether you feel you have been buried in a heap of practice problems or buried in a heap of practice riches.

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Permit me my own paraphrase of TI Kaizen = the process of continual personal swim improvement and loving every minute of it.

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A recent example: earlier this month we held an open-water camp in beautiful Kaş. (You must come!) One delightful young man, Dave, flew half-way around the world to join us. He came with a stroke that exhausted him in a couple hundred meters, breathing every stroke, struggling the whole way. One look at him and you’d know that fitness was not his problem. He knew how to work hard, and he knew that he was working far too hard for far too little speed or distance.

At our camps we have a deep list of skills – and a plenitude of micro-skills within each – to impart to our swimmers – enough to fill several camps with (as my students reading this are smiling in agreement with, no doubt). I will pour out until either I sense it or a swimmer tells me, “Enough for now, please!”

I was immediately impressed with Dave. Rather than look at me with that eager, but impatient look after the first basic (boring?) concepts, ‘Oh, yeah, I got it. What’s next??” Dave took the very first couple pieces I taught him, asked to be excused and went off for a good portion of time to examine them carefully and work on it without interruption. He immediately understood the value behind building the foundation with these first ideas before he could really enjoy building the next layer of skill. Incredible foresight. He was undoubtedly hungry for everything, but he was exceptionally self-restrained and considerate of what the brain and body required in order to master the concept, not merely become acquainted with it.

He took extra opportunities to practice these things in spare moments of our swim sessions and between, early in the morning, and afternoon at the small outdoor hotel pool. He was persistent, and he was patient, and he sought even small moments in which to practice little details. He also knew when it was time to quit and rest.

At the pace he was taking on new concepts in the first couple days, one might have calculated he would not be making significant gains in ability by the end of the week. But by Day 4 Dave was swimming 1.5 km non-stop, in 2 meter waves, without breathing trouble, without struggle. He was unstoppable after that. He picked up the smooth Catch and the 2-Beat Kick with astonishing swiftness upon that foundation he built so patiently at first. He didn’t master those skills at the camp, but with this approach he will in record time.

I will hold him up as a part of the standard by which I measure Kaizen students. He’s a recent example of one among several students I have like this.

[Side note: If you are a student of mine and you doubt whether you are one of these kind of students I invite and challenge you to change that perspective immediately, and step on the path in your attitude. If you’ve invested so much to come all the way to Antalya to work with me I think that’s pretty good evidence you are on that path, indeed.]

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The swimmer who is impatient with the examination of the details and frustrated at how many items we start writing down on his prioritized fix-it list suggests that he’s attached the bulk of his reward to the destination. This is not a long-term sustainable set up for his training motivation. This kind of person may see the problems, puzzles, and challenges as obstacles or interruptions to their goal.

But if he sees that growing fix-it list as increasing opportunities to explore, to problem-solve, to learn, to fill his pool time with endless engaging problems to solve and perfect, then that suggests he has built the bulk of his pleasure into the path. Reaching the destination becomes icing on the cake. All those items are opportunities to master the pieces necessary for accomplishing the goal with deeply satisfying excellence.

Both paths require a lot of work. No way around that. Staying on the path under this former mindset provides hard, often unpleasant work. Staying on the path under this latter mindset provides challenging, engaging, and energizing work – done well and it won’t even feel like work.

Which one sounds more appealing?

The beauty of this latter equation is –  the more we build pleasure into the path – loving the process of examining details and working on each one –  the more we’ll want to be on that path and be there often. And the more we are on that path, with eager anticipation and attention, the easier we will learn, the faster we will improve. And that will set us up most assuredly to succeed at our ultimate objective – all without having to focus on reaching it as intensely as we would with the former equation.

Listen to more on this idea in Head Coach Terry and Master Coach Suzanne’s webinar on the topic: The Only Training Goal You Will Ever Need

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There is one thing I am rather intolerant of in private lessons – those who speak in discouraging ways toward themselves with phrases like, “I am not a good learner.” “I don’t think I will be able to master this.” “Oh, this is going to take me forever.” “I must be one of your hard students.”

No. No. No. And No.

I may kindly let slide the first comment. I will gently correct you on the second one. By the third time I will turn with a serious expression and confront you. I will attempt to explain (kindly) how you are sabotaging your own success and peace with ignorant falsehoods. As long as you have a human brain and a good method to follow you can learn new and complex skills. The fact is, the method we’re teaching you with works on ALL humans – because it is based on how humans learn complex skills through tested and proven neural and neuro-muscular programming processes.  You are indeed special, but not special in that dumb-sort-of-way. I am pleased to tell you (kindly but firmly) that you too will learn and progress steadily on this path just fine. Be patient, persistent, and nurture your Kaizen attitude with tenacity.

Of course, I don’t mind whether you are just starting onto that Kaizen path or deep into it. Perhaps  half the work I do in a typical lesson is actually about coaching you into the Kaizen perspective which will set up marvelous, relatively easy learning. It virtually guarantees you consistent, continual improvement. Whether you realize it or not my greater value to you may be to have me there to train your mind how to lead yourself kindly, patiently, persistently. If I can teach you to love problem-solving I will have achieved an important thing. If I can get your mind into that Kaizen zone, getting your body to learn is MUCH, MUCH easier. Without that, I will still be pleased to help you, but it will take you much, much longer to master what you are after.

So, you may ask yourself: Is your fix-it list full of obstacles? Or is it full of opportunities?

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PS – This essay is dedicated to some marvelous Kaizen students I’ve worked with in the last two months. You should know who you are. Carry on the good work.

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