Turning a swim disaster into a total win

This was not going well.

I didn’t feel quite on during the warm-up portion of my swim workout. My legs felt heavy but my arms were light. I wasn’t pulling myself through the water with any force. There was no sensation of gliding, only awkward movements through the water. So it really was no surprise when I looked at my watch after my first timed 200 of the day and saw a time that was off. Way off. Like 30 seconds off. Over the course of 200 yards in the pool, that’s pretty off.

I put my head down and swam my second 200. It was better, but not great.

My breathing was difficult. My form was a disaster. My speed was non-existent. Yep, this was not going well at all.

In the past year I’ve frequently stumbled upon a saying: Be better than yesterday. I’ve read it, or versions of it, regarding everything from athletics to business to creativity. The sentiment is to do a bit more today than yesterday, to give all that you have every day. To me, being better was implying something quantitative, something I could measure. In my training, that would translate (for the most part) into going faster. That’s one of the goals, right? Today, I was failing miserably at this definition of being better.

I started to think of excuses as to why I was slow. I was wearing an old, stretched out swimsuit. Surely the drag was causing problem. And I was sharing a lane with side kicking Sally who had already kicked me pretty good in the sternum during my warmup. Then I started to judge myself, thinking of the cookies and wine I had the previous day at a holiday celebration with my family, the convenience meals of the past week and the unnecessary stress I created for myself. I was in danger of heading into the “I suck” hole right in time for Christmas.

Ah. But wait! No! I will not succumb to the comfort of negativity. I will be better than yesterday, because I will do my best. Right here. In this moment. Focus! Instead of thinking, I started counting. I noticed my body position in the water and the form of my stroke. My times still missed the plan, were actually still way off the plan, but each 200 was faster than the last. On each one I got a little bit better. I worked hard, not just physically but mental to avoid one of my biggest gremlins — negative self-talk.

By the end of the workout, I shrugged my shoulders. My times? Well, they were what what they were. It wasn’t only about showing up and finishing the workout. It was about how I showed up when life went off the script. I could panic. I could make excuses. I could wallow in self-judgement. Or I could offer the best I had available in that moment. My best effort is not as quantifiable as say my 200 yard split times, but I know for sure that because I gave my best, because I didn’t give in to my negative mental trappings this time, I was a bit better than yesterday. And that gives me a whole new platform to start from tomorrow.

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