While reading through the post “Can You Rewire Your Brain In Two Weeks? One Man’s Attempt…” from the blog of Tim Ferriss] (The 4-Hour Workweek/Body/Chef dude) various observations and questions in my mind suddenly merged together into this realization – out of all the obstacles and limitations I’ve seen in my students (over 20 years of teaching, and most of that in fields other than swimming) the most dangerous thing to their progress are negative judgments against themselves – against their body, their age, their mind, their capacity for knowledge, their perceived slowness or difficulty in learning, etc. This judgment creates what I call an emotional storm of anxiety, anger, fear, or other similarly troublesome mixture of emotions. This emotional – and therefore electro-chemical – storm in the brain is possibly the biggest hindrance to progress.
And this simple, though profound skill has the potential to blow a great deal of that away: mindfulness.
Here is the scientific study cited in the particular paragraph where my ‘aha!’ moment happened:
Examining the Protective Effects of Mindfulness Training on Working Memory Capacity and Affective Experience (2010)
At every event with new students I am on the lookout for this dark weather pattern forming on someone’s horizon. It’s a problem because failure is an essential part of the feedback loop, and ‘failing-forward‘ is how we respond to it in the super-learning environment. Read this excerpt from the second paragraph of the second page of this super-learning study (underlined emphasis mine):
Super-learning mobilizes some of the 90% of the brain potential that we seldom use. It is learning without stress and tension. Super-learning gives us access to something that we already have, something the scientists call hypernesia-in common English, Super Memory (Ostrander et al., 1994). The supporters of super-learning technique claim that it motivates learners to become more independent, help learners trust their instincts and discover resources within themselves. Super-learning… can be traced to… Bulgarian psychiatrist and educator, Dr. Georgi Lozanov. His original work dealt primarily with improving memory, breaking down barriers to learning by reawakening childlike curiosity of the learners and teaching on both conscious and subconscious levels.
Failure is our indispensable friend in the improvement process. Fear and frustration at failure crush the child-like mind and heart that is critical to a high-capacity learning mode. I know this problem has to be confronted if we are going to see progress in our limited time together – because as the student makes progress in terms of neuro-muscular skill, the emotional storm will blind her from recognizing and appreciating that progress as it deserves, and restrict positive momentum from forming in her practice. Such emotionally charged mis-perception creates disappointment, and disappointment like this is obviously not good for the student, and it is not good for the coach to see his student walk away in such a state.
Those who struggle with this are the very people who are so much in need of what Total Immersion uniquely has to offer. The TI practice addresses this critical part of the mental/emotional training that comes hand-in-hand with the physical skill of swimming well. By reaching and maintaining this peaceful emotional state the swimmer can enjoy the process of getting there and have far more energy available for working hard at it.
Maybe other programs do a good job of taking got-it-all-together people and using that momentum to keep propelling them forward – but I have taken it on as my personal mission (not merely as a swim instructor, but a guide/coach in other areas of life) to get better and better at helping those who don’t have it all together – these folks need someone to patiently and compassionately guide them out of being a perpetual victim of that storm and into more vibrant experience.
So, what is the message I want you to get right now from this post?
If you struggle with discouragement, negative judgment about your self or your progress, then I propose that is is more critical for you to work on than your swimming skill itself. But the good news is, with TI you can work on the mental side of the practice – building mindfulness – then you get improvement in both and they will feed on each other. And those mental/emotional skills will become available for use in other areas of your life.