When pursuing a new PR on my [insert your favorite distance here] why would I crank out more and more mindless yards, going harder and harder, hoping that improvement will magically appear one day? When does quantity ever lead to quality?
My amazing 1500 (for example) must first be preceded by an amazing 500 meters. That amazing 500 meters must be preceded by an amazing 100 meters. That amazing 100 meters must be preceded by an amazing 25 meters. And that amazing 25 meters must be preceded by just 1 amazing stroke.
If I don’t ever experience even one amazing stroke in my practice, how I can I expect that one day I will spontaneously throw 1500 of them in a row to make up that amazing swim I have been wishing for?
If I want to experience an amazing swim, then I need to start with the quest for the most amazing stroke that will get me there. I need to study every detail of what will compose that amazing stroke, and seek out that magical moment when each of those details slide into place with each other with such powerful synchronization that I slice through the water like never before.
If the approach I have taken to pursue my amazing swim has not been producing results proportional to the effort and time I have been putting into it, I should consider that my methods and mindset could use an upgrade, or better, a total transformation. Perhaps I have not been working on the solution to the more important aspect of my swimming problem. Under-developed fitness rarely is the problem for those who swim regularly yet struggle to make improvement. Under-developed skill and mindset often is.
When I get desperate enough to consider a change in my stroke and a change in my thinking this is the time I am ready to break stroke and body positions down into their component pieces, and be willing to let my values- what is important and what is not- be challenged and adjusted. I need to consider looking at my swimming problem from new angles, new perspectives, both in terms of physics and in terms of philosophy.
By allowing myself to let go of old ways of viewing my swimming problem and the solutions I have (intentionally or ignorantly) applied to it, I open myself to the opportunity to learn something new, something better. I begin to grow as a swimmer and as a person. My swimming improvement challenge may very well become the workshop in which my perspective and attitude toward other challenges in my life get shaken and unstuck.
Why settle for any part of the stroke as ‘good enough’ when the magic I seek, the jump in performance I long for, will only be derived from the excellence I have trained into every part of every single stroke? Excellence in the whole is made up of the excellence within each and every piece.
When the mindset changes from performance to precision, from endurance to excellence, boredom and suffering disappear. Instead practice become the playground where I am engaged in a tantalizing quest for the tiniest thrill of precision, when one amazing part of my stroke leads to the next, and one amazing stroke leads to another- time disappears and exhaustion is replaces by energy. Following the focused mind, the body will fall into the rhythm of excellence, where improvement becomes more frequent and more easily foreseen. Each practice becomes laden with discovery and reward. More than a PR I will seek out and acquire an intimate knowledge of my relationship with the water, and develop a loyalty… no, an addiction to excellence, being thrilled by each amazing stroke, each perfect slice through the water. From this my amazing 1500, my new PR even, will simply become a consequence of the attitude I have taken on for my practice. It will be the icing on the cake of what is already a rewarding practice in excellence. What seemed like the ultimate performance goal not so long ago, becomes but a historical marker of interest along an increasingly satisfying journey.
How do we achieve our most amazing swim? One amazing stroke at a time.