Continuing with the flow of thought from my previous post Remain In The Moment…
While in that moment of the swim, deep in the Scarce Energy Zone, what does the mind need to do? Because, it’s going to do something, whether you direct it intentionally or not.
You can do more thinking, or you can do deeper feeling. There is a big difference.
The brain allows for conscious ‘thinking’ or cognition – like what you would do when daydreaming or having a conversation in your head – and it also allows for conscious ‘feeling’, a tuning in to the feedback coming from the whole nervous system and making adjustments according to what your training has permitted you to do – like what is happening inside a master musician in the middle of a concert or an MVP basketball player in the final minutes of the NBA finals. When I talk about directing the mind I am talking about tuning in to the feedback from the nervous system and operating consciously yet intuitively to pilot the body in a masterful way. If I were to be ‘having a conversation with myself’ or ‘reasoning through how or why do to the stroke this way’ that would not be the kind of mindfulness we practice or teach or refer to. Those are the very kind of distractions that we need to tune out of so that we fill the channels of attention with input that matters to swimming performance – feedback coming through the nervous system about what the water is doing and what my body in the water is doing and how the internal systems are operating. Practice is about mindfully building patterns and automating them to the point which they can then be relied upon in races and in more challenging swim conditions.
The conscious mind is going to stay busy. You can choose, with training, what it stays busy with. Mindfulness is about directing the attention to what matters and keeping it there by intention. You get that ability only by training for it continually.
When I read the stories of masters in the middle of their peak performance moments, they are not writing the shopping list or arguing with their mother or singing along with the song in their aqua-mp3 player or wondering how many laps are left until they can go home – they are deeply focused on being fully in the program which their training has hard-wired into the brain. They are living the pattern and making sure they stay in it under the stress of that performance situation.
For an example of this in action I again refer to an article I linked to in a previous post Swim Prep Habit. It tells tells an inspirational story of when Michael Phelps had to swim blind with flooded goggles, but still ended up setting a world record in the 200 Butterfly by feel. You get the impression he was capable of that because he was obsessed with staying tuned-in to his swim.
About Phelps’ performance under those conditions another commentator had this to say:
How did he do it?
The answer partly resides in a habit that Phelps performs before every race. Shortly before the race begins, Phelps has the habit of closing his eyes and envisioning the entire race, stroke by stroke, from start to finish. He pictures himself making the perfect stroke every time. He sees exactly how many strokes he will need to get from one wall to the next. He plays a mental video of the “perfect race.”
He envisioned it, he practiced it, and then when ‘disaster’ struck in that race he was ready to live fully in the moment of each stroke, reciting the program he had burned into his system.
Of course, if you don’t seek that kind of excellence under pressure, then tune out as much as you please, or let the mind wander to things outside the pool. But, as for me, I seek the pleasure and performance that comes from having a body that stays highly smooth and highly responsive under more difficult conditions. I train for it continually so I can rely upon it.
When you read or hear from me the words ‘mindful’, ‘attention’, or ‘focus’ know that I am referring to the feeling side of the mind’s activity, where you communicate with your body and with the water intuitively. This is the state where you are fully present and interactive with the feedback coming from the water and from the whole nervous system of the body. This is the only way to engage in Deep Practice and the only kind which will build masterful skills which hold up under difficult conditions.