In the psychological research on values, goals and behavior, we see that when our values are aimed at well-being (for the individual and our positive connection with others), when our goals are aligned with those values, and when our behavior throughout the day supports those goals we are going to feel and perform at our best. 

Right now many of us are prevented from swimming, and because of this forced separation many of us have strong feelings about it. Within this atmosphere of stirred up feelings it is a convenient time to examine how we feel, what we think, and how we are behaving in regards to our values and goals around it.

This examination might help you notice within yourself…

  • some inferior values (those that don’t quite support your well-being, or those in conflict)
  • some inferior goals (those that are less intrinsic, more extrinsic)
  • how some goals don’t quite line up with your values
  • how some daily behavior/practice could be made to more effectively support your goals

From this examination, when you return to swimming, you might be able to make some improvement in what you spend your time doing and how because you understand better about why you are doing it. Remember that awareness and attention precede your ability to change, to improve, so taking time to look inside is a critical first step.

Why Do You Do This?

One way to examine the values behind your activities and goals is to just ask you why you do this…

Here are some common values for swimming to help you think:

  • feeling good physically, emotionally
  • improving my sense of self
  • pursuing mastery of skills
  • pursuing full mental engagement, flow
  • seeking stimulation, a sense of novelty
  • status, having others recognize and admire my abilities, achievement
  • conforming to personal or social standards
  • feeling more secure (against physical or social threat)
  • feeling freedom to choose, explore, create

Why do you swim? What does it give to you? When do you get the payoff? How long does the reward last?

Why do you train? What does it give to you? When do you get the payoff? How long does the reward last?

Why have you chosen to sign up for that race or big event? What does that achievement give to you? When do you get the payoff? How long does the reward last?


What If It Was Taken Away?

Another way, perhaps a more revealing one, is to ask you how you would feel and how you would respond when something is taken away from you, temporarily or permanently. The strength of your negative feelings to the scenario and the resistance to thinking of creative alternatives would be a sign that this loss would be attacking a deep value of yours.

How would you feel and how would you respond to the following scenarios?

What if you had swimming taken away from you for the next year? What if it was taken away from you forever? Other people would go on swimming, but not you. Must you swim, or die? Could another activity possibly fill this need?

How would the removal of swimming from your life affect your self of identity, to yourself, and among your family and friends? How would it affect your sense of pride or status or meaning? 

What if there was no longer any way to measure objective performance and compare to others? What if you permanently lost some amount of physical ability from illness, accident, aging, etc.? Must you be able to swim at some performance level or not want to swim at all? Could you learn to be pleased with a lower level or by switching to some other measure of quality?

What if no one was around to join you or notice your dedication? What if you had to do this alone, noticed only by yourself for the years ahead? Do you need other people to motivate your regular practice or you would quit? Could you find a way to eagerly keep going on your own?

What if there were no more events to participate in? Do you need an upcoming event to motivate and structure your regular work or fall into boredom and quit? Could you come up with some other ways to be motivated, to structure your practice and remain totally engaged?

What if there were no more public recognition for achievement? No recognition for participation or performance. What if you were the only person to ever know you did something amazing. Do you need to have other people recognize and admire your achievement or it would seem pointless? Could you privately achieve and be pleased within yourself when no one else ever knows?



Did you discover some strong negative feelings to any of these? You may ponder this for a while and see whether that strong value is worth holding on to. Or you may affirm the worth of that value and determine how well your goals are serving it. You may consider alternative ways of honoring the value, pursuing the goal, if such obstacles were thrown in your way (because you really don’t know what the years ahead will bring, do you?)

Values are expressed through goals. You have a range of them and can have (and most people do have) conflicting values. This means you can also have conflicting goals, and likely do. You can reduce or remove those conflicts by this kind of self-examination.
If you prioritize the value of how swimming makes you feel inside, right now in the act of doing it – do commitments to events, schedules, and deadlines enhance those good feelings or detract from them?
If you prioritize the value of being with others, being supported by and giving support to others – are your activities and goals designed to maximize that experience? Or if you prioritize the value of quiet and solitude – are your activities and goals designed to maximize that?
If you prioritize the value of achieving something big (for you) or reaching a clearly defined level of performance – is that lining up well with your value and goal for health (personally and in relationship with others), longevity and well-being?


Action Plan

If you’ve made a discovery here – something you want to change or something you want to protect and reinforce – list a few things you are going to do differently when you start up swimming again to better line up your values, goals and behaviors.


This Series

This essay is part of a series discussing the kind of complementary training you can do while kept away from the pool that will prepare you to be even better when you go back. These are not merely nice suggestions, these are actually essential, fundamental skills that, if made present or if made stronger, could dramatically improve your performance as a swimmer.  




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