When they were younger, just starting to do bigger chores around the house, I used to tease my daughters that I was giving them a ‘magic wand’ that could make much of what they wished in life come true.
What is the magic wand?
Needless to say, at their age, they were not impressed with my wisdom nor sense of humor.
But, I think many of you can appreciate that statement, and maybe you heard a version of this from your own parent or coach at one time.
In our context, as adult athletes and artists and professionals of all sorts, I may revise this saying a bit.
The magic wand is consistency of work.
Big Work, Broken Up Into Small Pieces
A little bit of work, done consistently, can accomplish a lot over days, weeks and months, and years.
This ‘magic wand’ approach does assume that you’ve got a decent method and tools to work with. When you do, consistent, mindful effort produces results over time. The magic is not in the savings of time, because it does cost time every day, and it takes days and days to affect transformation. Magic is found in the fact that a big amount of work broken up into very small bits of work then distributed frequently over a period of time will often produce marvelous results.
Doing 10 minutes of breathing work to address your weaknesses in every practice, several practices each week, over a few weeks, will produce much better breathing skill. This is how I got skilled at sneaky breathing. It did not happen in just one session or in just a few. It took months.
Making the ideal ‘arm switch timing’ one of your focal points in warm up and the main set of practice, in every practice, several practices each week, over several weeks, will make ideal arm switch timing become an easy habit.
Doing 10 minutes of body-weight conditioning 3 or 4 times a week, over several weeks will produce a much stronger body. This is how I increased my strength and stability in my joints and am now stronger than I have been in years.
Taking a small segment of a foreign language, going out into the community each day to use it over and over, letting others interact with you, will eventually make you fluent. This is how I learned Turkish.
Through a similar process of taking a little piece and using it a lot is how I taught myself to play guitar. This is how I taught myself to use Auto-CAD and its all important hot-keys. This is how I can write with both hands.
Writing a few notes to yourself in a journal, a few lines each day, several days a week, week after week, year after year will improve your writing style and eventually make your brain flow with compositions as a habit. I have been writing in journals and notebooks for over 30 years and have several boxes filled with thousands and thousands of pages written by hand. This is how I became a productive writer.
But if you get bored easily and feel the need to switch focus often, or like to tune out of your practices, or want to bounce around between skill projects and challenges frequently without a pattern to your efforts, then the magic wand disappears.
You have to stick with the challenge for a period of time, and revisit it frequently in order for the brain to be sufficiently provoked to adapt and move into a more efficient mode of performing the activity. There are no shortcuts. You must pay for it with time.
Consistency has this power to it, called momentum. You can feel it in your body and in your motivation. If you’ve done the little piece of work for 9 consecutive days, it is so much easier to do it on the 10th, and after 12 weeks it is easier to do it on the 13th. The body gets into the rhythm of the routine. The mind feels more eager because the brain is starting to find more efficient ways to accomplish the task. Then the brain starts to crave a slightly higher challenge, and when you provide incremental increases in challenge, the skill and momentum keep growing from there.
Consistency Builds Habits
It’s not the only one, but consistency is one of the chief components of building habits, and good habits are those things your body and brain can do on auto-pilot so that you don’t have to concentrate to make them do the right thing. And, we can readily appreciate the value of having good responses formed into resilient habits that we can count on to appear under even the most difficult circumstances.
If you want ‘sneaky breathing’ as a reliable habit in your swimming, you need to apply consistency to your work on it. If you want a longer stroke, you need to apply consistency to stroke-lengthening efforts. If you want to be stronger and last longer in the water, you need to apply consistency to the strength and distance work you do in practice. If you want a leaner body, you need to apply consistency to your clean nutrition and exercise plan.
So, what will you wave your magic wand at next?
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