We continue this exploration of what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the Attitudes of Mindfulness with a discussion on how  patience plays an important role in our swimming practice. You may enjoy hearing Kabat Zinn briefly describe this attitude.

Mindfulness for our swimming (or other endurance activities) includes having awareness and attention tuned into to this moment and what is emerging in our whole sensory experience, from inside and out, in all its richness, including the pleasant and unpleasant. It means not wandering into thinking about the future or the past, or anything outside this present experience of us being in our bodies, in this water, in this place and time, moving along. 

Patience is that attitude that decides that being fully engaged in the activity of this moment is more important than engaging with a memory of the past or engaging in the anticipation of something to come. It is especially important to apply when there is something unpleasant or uncomfortable about the current experience. Kabat Zinn explains, “We give ourselves room to have these experiences. Why? Because we are having them anyway! When they come up, they are our reality, they are part of our life unfolding in this moment… Why rush through some moments to get to other, “better” ones? After all, each one is your life in that moment.” (Kabat Zinn, 2009)

Patience partners with acceptance to allow the person we are right now to be as we are – stronger or weaker, faster or slower, more eager or less.  We are working with the person we are right now, not some version of you/me from a different moment. Some features in us today may more favorable to our objectives and some may be less. It is what it is today so we work with it like it is the first time.

Patience permits a recognition that we are always undergoing some sort of change, often subtle, and change involves processes. Some processes we initiate for ourselves are taking us in directions we have chosen to go (like training), and some naturally-occurring processes are taking us in directions we’ve been trained by our culture to feel averse to (like aging). By noticing that we’re in a process and respecting it’s nature we have the opportunity to respond in a way that produces growth. “Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.” (Kabat Zinn, 2009)


Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash


Examples of Applying Patience

Here are ways I apply patience in common swimming experiences…

When injured or ill, or feeling the threat of either, I change my expectations and my activity to set up the conditions for healing, recovery and restoration. No short-term gain is worth a long-term loss.

When I’ve been kept away from swimming for a while and have experienced significant de-training (from interruptions in pool access, illness, switch to running focus, etc), I know there is a process of building up again and I need to tune in and over the weeks ahead work patiently with the body I have each day. The more patient I am with this careful process early on, the sooner I will be able to safely get back into full intensity training and performance.

When doing my warm up routine I need that time to scan and find out what body I have to work with today, and not assume it is exactly the same as it was yesterday. The subtle signs and signals in the body are giving me important information about what the body needs from training today. My expectations for the work in this practice need to be adjusted by the discoveries I make about my current internal conditions.

When in the midst of a set, especially when it is uncomfortable or attention wanders, I remind myself that I am alive right now in this moment and at no other place in time. I am often able to regard discomfort is a signal of ‘aliveness’, reminding me of the wonder of consciousness and treat it with curiosity rather than aversion. And there are other pleasant sensations and positive experience occurring at the same time, if I would not be obsessed with the unpleasant and lose the opportunity to savor those. I can compose a rich, satisfying impression of this experience by accepting all of it, rather than dwelling only the negative.

When experiencing some possible symptoms of aging – taking longer to build up a base, or build up power, or recover after an intense practice or week of training –  I remind myself that patience and persistence are the responses that allow me to greatly moderate the effects of aging and make it a graceful experience rather than a tragic one. What am I training for, after all? To stack the deck in favor of high-quality life in the years ahead and remain a strong, contributing member of society. Every mindful, sensitive, responsive step I take fulfills that objective, no matter my starting condition on this day. 

When I notice myself feeling impatient I can even be patient with myself and explore the causes of that reaction in my body and mind, then bring myself back to the present and appreciate the sensations of being alive.


Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Rev. and updated edition, Bantam Books trade paperback edition. New York: Bantam Books.


View the whole series on the Attitudes of Mindfulness for Swimming:


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