In the previous post Alternatives On A Tough Day I talked about what to do when you don’t feel the its best thing to do your pool assignment. Here is another way to approach a practice when you have less than your best available. It’s a simple but profound objective for how to spend your time and leave the pool still being productive and feeling good about it, when you can’t work up to your normal expectations.
Leave the pool a smarter swimmer than the one who entered.
This is a version of the proverb that Total Immersion Head Coach Terry Laughlin has promoted in so many ways over the years.
In addition to the physical and mental benefit of going through with just your warm-up and cool-down routine, any time you swim you can apply your trained attention and make observations of cause-and-effect in your body, mind, and stroke. If you accomplish nothing else in your swim that day, you leave the pool that day with a bit more understanding of what is going on than you had upon entering the pool. You leave the pool a smarter or wiser than the one who came. And that is one form of success you can hold on to on a tough day.
Perhaps this day your energy is too low to feel like you can do too much work on your metabolic and muscular systems. Perhaps the mental load of life has your brain more tired than usual, not feeling eager to work hard on your motor control. But your awareness is always available and it doesn’t take much energy if you’ve been training it regularly. If you have been investing in this skill, then you have the privilege of calling upon it in tough times at a very low cost. As a matter of fact, once ingrained, mindfulness is a habit you wouldn’t even have to remember to turn on in ordinary situations.
It is with your ability to direct your attention where you choose and hold it there against distraction – the explicit objective of mindfulness training – that you can direct that attention on any moment in your swim, on any particular body part, or on any particular thought stream and just observe what is going on at that point, and trace out possible cause and effect relationships. And, you can do this without judgment against your performance. Whether the actions you make that day are full of failure or success does not matter at all, because both have valuable things to teach you, and those lessons are endless. And that is the beauty of this approach. You cannot go away empty handed.
On these low-inspiration days you may not want to expend much energy to improve an inferior action, or do much to increase the challenge on a superior action. But just by examining the cause-and-effect of little details in that action pattern you can extract some very useful data about what is happening. When recorded and remembered, those insights can serve you the next time you practice with a fully charged battery.
Let me emphasize this part of no-judgment a bit more. You may not have all the resources available today that you had yesterday, so it would be unfair to expect more. (Anyone feeling the aging process out there?) You may not be in position to accomplish more today than you did yesterday. But today you have what you have – take inventory and set your expectations accordingly, then work with what you’ve got. Examine only the person who is walking into the pool today, and measure your improvement against that person today, not the person your were yesterday. Accept yourself as you are today, no matter what that is – and work in the pool with that person.
This is one more powerful perspective to shape a better attitude and direct your attention on a tough day to make it a success in some meaningful way.
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If you are intrigued by mindfulness and would consider a more formal training experience, one that would teach you how to apply mindfulness to the stress and discomforts of ‘normal’ life with all its great ups and downs you may look into a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that has been pioneered by well-known MIT scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D.
A few quotes from the first chapter of this book (the first edition), describing MBSR:
Do Something Intentional For Yourself
“The interesting thing about this work is that we don’t really do anything for them. If we tried, I think we would fail miserably. Instead we invite them to do something radically new for themselves, namely to experiment with living intentionally from moment to moment.”
Start Where You Are Right Now
“We start with where people are in their lives right now, no matter where that is. We are willing to work with them if they are ready and willing to work with and on themselves. And we never give up on anyone, even if they get discouraged or have setbacks or are “failing” in their own eyes. We see each moment as a new beginning, a new opportunity to start over, to tune in, to reconnect.”
Come To Peaceful Terms With Reality
“What we really offer people is a sense that there is a way of being, a way of looking at problems, a way of coming to terms with the full catastrophe that can make life more joyful and rich than it otherwise might be, and a sense also of being somehow more in control.”
(Sounds a quite similar to our swim training events, if you ask me! The influence is obvious.)
MBSR programs and certified teachers appear to be located all over the US and abroad now. I even see the 8-week live MBSR courses being offered online so a person can attend a virtual class. It’s a clinically proven approach to making the internal experience of life so much better, especially for those who are enduring tremendous pain and mental difficulty.
It only makes sense that we would want to apply these powerful skills to our experience in the water, don’t you think?