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Here is an inspirational description in the book The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg of the habit Michael Phelps had set up to support his success in every race.

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This story makes a persuasive argument for competitive athletes to set up a personal pre-race habit like this. We have all seen elite athletes entering the arena with headphones on, wearing their gear in a certain trade-mark way, going through some initial physical warm up routine. We may correctly assume many of them have a mental warm up routine going on in the head as well.

Such a habit makes sense for an athlete in a serious race scenario.

But I want to make the case for every swimmer building her own personal swim prep habit to conduct before entering into the swim, whether the objective is racing, fitness, or recreation.

As I mentioned in the previous essay on Silent Swimming my very first objective in a swim practice is to bring my body and my mind into the water. The next objective is to bring my mind into my body. The third objective is to bring all my internal systems online and into a unified, cooperative state (a.k.a Flow State – more on this below) for higher performance. Then I am ready to work, race, or really enjoy my exploratory swim.

So, the easier I can slip into this state, the better. A state-triggering habit is the key.

So many things can affect the ease-of-entry into Flow State. In other essays we could discuss the multitude of out-of-water details in our daily lives that could be improved to better support our athletic activity (example: a lifestyle of good hydration rather than waiting until practice to carry a water bottle around). But what I want to focus on right here is the 10 minutes before we get into the water for our practice, race or enjoyment swim.

What routine can you set up to make it easier to achieve those three sequential objectives: come into the water, come into your body, come into Flow State?

It will start and end with the mind. But you can set up physical routines that trigger the mental state you want to achieve. They work together. This is a great part of what The Power Of Habit book sets out to explain.

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For establishing a personal swim prep habit here are some ideas that come to my mind:

  • Listen to some suitable mood music on the drive to your practice place. (don’t listen to the news or talk on the phone!).
  • Dress down into the same pool deck attire.
  • Take a shower in a certain way (e.g. stand with water pouring over your head and face for 10 breaths).
  • Bring your pool gear to the same spot on deck each time.
  • Greet others and finish chit-chat (or get coach’s instructions) before entering your final routine. Then stop interaction with others.
  • Examine your practice plan and focus upon the instructions for the Tune-Up only.
  • Choose one theme for your swim today and make that your mantra.
  • Conduct a specific gentle mobility (dynamic stretching) routine.
  • If outside apply sunscreen in a certain order across your body.
  • If in salt water, apply anti-chaff cream.
  • Wash your goggles carefully and apply anti-fog (I use baby shampoo).
  • Set a particular enter-the-water routine (walk in, slide in, jump in).
  • Splash your face and hold breath underwater, listen to the sounds without moving.
  • Stare down the lane you are about to swim. (I will sit samurai style on the beach for a few minutes and stare at the sea horizon, and breath).
  • Use a 3 minute breathing exercise**. (See Coach Terry’s breathing idea on his blog)
  • Imagine the first 5 seconds of glide and the sensations you will experience.
  • Imagine the first 5 strokes after that and the way you want your body to feel.
  • Push off the bottom or off the wall always in a certain way.
  • Glide in streamline position for those first 5 seconds.
  • Take those first 5 strokes as you imagined you would.

The goal of the routine is to develop a consistent, sequential series of little actions that will come to be deeply associated with mindful swimming – these actions will trigger certain mental, emotional, and physical sensations you want to be present every time you swim.

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These actions don’t just make little contributions like drops of water, they accelerate the enter-into-state process as the habit is established. The more consistent the routine, the stronger the mental and emotional associations will be, the more effective this habit will be for producing the state you want. You will enter it quicker. And you will be able to sustain it longer when you tire and regain it more easily if you lose it.

** I highly recommend adopting a simple breathing exercise.

EXERCISE

So, if you don’t consciously have a personal swim prep habit already, just take a moment to review your regular routine when you get to your practice location. Write it down in your training journal.

Week 1 – Instead of adding something new to what you already do, just work on doing what you do in a conscious, deliberate order. Follow this order for the entire week.

Week 2 – Now, look for something in that routine that can be eliminated. Remove one thing that is a distraction to the mental and physical state you want to be in once you get in the water. Apply this reduction for the entire week.

Week 3 – Now, consider one (small) new thing you can add to your routine that will help encourage you to be more fully present, to enhance attention on what you are about to do in the water. Apply this addition for the entire week.

Week 4 – Remove another attention distraction.

Week 5 – Add another attention enhancement.

***

A little more about Flow State:

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