5 Things That Swimming Taught Me About Goal Setting

One of my goals for 2019 is to learn to swim. Yes, I am almost 40, and I don’t know how to swim, yet! There was a pushed attempt at swimming when I was in Grade VI or VII, but, that left me wrapped in a fear for swimming, something that I realized only now. When I say pushed, it wasn’t something I wanted to do back then, but my parents wanted me to do some “summer-time” activity. But, that was then and this is now. Today, my reasons for swimming are different, and more importantly they stem from me, not from external requirements or validations. This brings me to my first point.

Know Your Whys

This time I am enjoying my swimming only because I have got my reasons right for getting the specific outcomes that I want, learning to swim in this case. Remember, reasons comes first; answers come later. Usually for me, it takes anywhere between 3 and 5 whys before I know my real reasons. When I first thought of learning to swim, the very first reason that came to me was to get fit and improve my stamina. That’s when I contradicted this first why by asking myself, “if this is not the real reason, what is my real reason to swim?” The idea is to go deep in this step by contradicting the first why’s that show up. The first whys most likely come from our need to fit in. Yes, we have all grown up into believing that we have to fit into the subjective realities and social constructs of our upbringing, our peers, our colleagues, our own beliefs, our culture and our society. If I would have stayed with my first why, I would have given up easily. I could easily switch to doing something else to improve my stamina and fitness instead of jumping into a pool filled with a bunch of 7-9 year old kids. Imagine how embarrassing it would be for me to be in the same pool when other parents are watching their kids and perhaps thinking, “Boy, isn’t he a bit too old now to be learning to swim?” I am sure I would have given up. Willpower doesn’t work by itself. It’s a muscle, and like all other muscles, it will reach its fatigue state and will fail. The only reason I am persisting with my goal is because I am constantly thinking about why I’m doing what I’m doing. I am using my Why-power!

Slow Down

One of the things my swimming instructor constantly keeps telling me is to slow down. While my goal isn’t to be an olympic swimmer, it is certainly to be an efficient one. And slowing down is the only way to it. The only way to reaching my swimming goal. Swimming is a technique-driven sport, but you should apply this principle broadly to any area of your life and your goals. The world is moving fast and slowing down helps you from not getting burned out. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Sadia Badiei, a Canadian-born foodie and Dietetics graduate, and the creator of the YouTube channel called Pick up Limes shares a very interesting video where she lays out a 7-day guide to slowing down while still getting things done. Slowing down helps you make sure that you don’t waste resources, like energy in case of swimming. Slowing down also helps you learn lessons and avoid making the same mistakes. When it comes to your goals, slowing down helps you retaliate against the rat-race. It helps you focus and refocus, which brings me to my third point.

Focus On One Thing At A Time

Being a highly technical sport, there are a number of factors involved in swimming – body balance, body line, and rhythm. And, within rhythm, there are myriad other things like gliding, pulls, kicks, the angle of your head and spine, and your breathing of course. When you try to do all of this at once, you fail. There are days when my swimming instructor tells me to glide, some days to use only my feet to kick, some days to focus only on my hand movements, while other days to breathe just once and stand up. There are days when I am swimming using a kick board, while other days using a pull buoy. Even when I am doing these specific actions, my instructor constantly tells me to focus just on one step at a time – one kick at a time, one pull at a time, one breath at a time. Water isn’t a familiar environment for our brain and body, and so are the goals we set. When we set our goals, we usually stretch ourselves and end up being outside of our comfort zones. And, if we try to do all things at once, chances are that we will get overwhelmed, and most likely give up on what we are doing. When we focus on doing just one thing at a time, we get 3 benefits. First, it helps us take consistent and fearless action. Second, it helps us gradually incorporate that action into our doing, till it becomes automatic. Third, we get acutely sensitive to knowing if what we are doing is working or not and not get caught up in our patterns. In other words, it helps us change our approach if we notice something isn’t working.

Enjoy The Journey

One of the other things my swimming instructor keeps shouting out is “Enjoy your swimming!” It’s not about knowing to swim as much as it is enjoying every stage of this evolution. Enjoy the process. Enjoy each day of your practice. He keeps reminding me of the progress that I have made over these weeks – the things that I have achieved when it comes to my real goal. Setting and achieving goals is not binary. It is not 0 or 1. It is a flow-based condition. And we often forget that part when we solely focus on the target, our goal, and not realize how much we have grown out of the journey. Bill Gates says, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” I would say why ten years, we even underestimate what we can do in three years. In this era of instant gratification, we go about setting “realistic and time-bound” goals guided by the popular SMART acronym sworn by management gurus and motivational speakers, that we simply miss out on taking in the scenery. We are so blinded by the ‘T’ in SMART goals that we forget who we were at the beginning and what we have accomplished in all related as well as unrelated areas of the goals we set.

Practice Makes Progress

Contrary to conventional wisdom that practice makes perfect, one of the things I learnt from swimming is that practice makes progress. And that’s more important! If I look back at my life and everything I have accomplished, I realize that I could have done much more only if I would have let go of the need to be perfect. This drive for perfectionism often takes on the form of self judgement, self consciousness and even procrastination. Over the last year I was on and off from swimming, mainly because of this need for perfectionism along with its underlying doubts and fear. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) helped me quite a bit with overcoming this. I am getting certified as an EFT Practitioner myself. That aside, I have been consistent with my practice lately. With just over 3 weeks of showing up consistently, I have been able to swim laps without any support gear. My trainer is constantly pushing me beyond what I think is possible for me. He helps me see what I cannot see, and calls out on all my bluffs. More importantly, he helps me focus on what I want, and not what I don’t want. That’s what coaches do!



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