Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.
Self-discipline, self-control or willpower, there are numerous ways to label what it is to have the mindset and fortitude to do the things that you have to do, even when you simply don’t feel like it or feel up to it.
Self-discipline is what keeps you on track with your swimming goals, makes your choices simpler and more clear cut, and provides you a powerful inner compass.
Now that we are aware of just how valuable unleashing discipline on our goals can be, and how important it is to our success as an athlete, how do we go about developing it?
1. Be realistic about where you stand right now.
It’s easy to look in the mirror and decide simply, “Now I am a self-disciplined swimmer.” You must be able – and willing – to acknowledge where you stand right now. There is no shame in coming to terms with your uneven and inconsistent output of willpower in the past.
Taking an objective overview of where our willpower levels are at can be a stab to the ego. Do you slacken off breathing patterns early in sets? Do you find your focus wandering quickly during practice? Do you struggle making what otherwise should be easy decisions regarding your training?
Figure out where you stand right now so that you have a baseline moving forward.
2. Self-discipline is a skill.Treat it as such.
It’s not a mysterious art or something that defies explanation. It’s not gifted to us via genetics. It’s not something elite swimmers were born with. It knows no race, sex or gender. It’s out there, freely available to any who choose to wield it.
Just like any other skill, the more you exercise it, the more you work on it, and the more you live it, the better equipped you will be to deploy it to achieve your goals.
3. Start Small.
Rome wasn’t built overnight, and neither will an iron level of self-discipline. Changing your life overnight is unrealistic, and so is changing habits and behaviors that have formed your current lifestyle and swimming habits.
Going from swimming 3,000m per day to 6,000m per day isn’t a slight adjustment. But if you can tack on 200-300m per day, within 2-3 weeks you will hit 6k per day. Progression is just a real thing in physical activity as it is with building self-discipline.
Set small goals, and use the resulting confidence and new-found willpower to set bigger and more ambitious goals.
4. Recognize the moments where you exhibit discipline.
Doing so gives intangible proof that you can be as iron-willed as you want to be. Recognize and note the moments where you exhibit increased willpower where you hadn’t before. It’s important to see and feel progress with this skill development; doing so will provide a reassuring jolt of motivation to push you on further.
5. Having trouble deciding whether to deploy your new-found willpower? Use this litmus test.
Things will not always be cut and dry. You will have to make a decision between two equally good, or conversely – two equally bad, options. Instead of agonizing over it, here is a quick litmus test you can apply:
Will doing XYZ bring me closer to my goals? Yes or no?
Don’t argue; come to terms with a yes or no answer and move forward from there. Making things black-and-white removes the inner banter and back and forth that inevitably arises whenever we need to summon our willpower to make a decision.
6. Being a self-disciplined athlete requires work.
We are bombarded with the notion that there is a shortcut to everything. If you only wear this bathing suit, if you wear these goggles, if you listen to this song, blah blah blah.
There is no magic pill, no crazy new space-age swimsuit or magical stroke technique that will replace the gritty, day-to-day grind that is showing up every day. It’s the consistency that will hard wire positive self-control.
7. Be accountable to yourself.
Until that moment when your self-discipline has become part of your daily armor, you will continue to fight the daily battles brought on by procrastination and excuses. Combat this by creating structures that will force you to maintain the gold medal standard.
How can you do this? As mentioned above, set goals and targets. Share your goals with your coach or a teammate. Set rewards and incentives to keep short term motivation ablaze. Track and evaluate your progress with a log book or workout journal.
8. Self-discipline becomes a lot easier when we love what we are doing.
No amount of self-discipline will help you if you hate what you are doing. Sure, it might help you occasionally through the dark days, but over the long term forcing yourself to do something you hate will make you resent the process, the sport, your coach, and the time wasted doing something you didn’t want to do.
Research has shown that our reservoir of willpower on a daily basis is limited. Meaning that we only have so much of it to throw at not only our swimming, but our dietary choices, our social activities, and other general day-to-day stuff.
Get passionate about your swimming, about your goals, about improving your stroke and you can save that big tub of willpower for when you are debating dunking your face into a bag of buttered-down popcorn at the movie theatre.
There ya have it, 8 strategies for helping you to increase your willpower and self-discipline.
In closing, there is some good news– it gets easier. Yes, eventually even breathing every 42.5 strokes, showing up 15 minutes early, and keeping your head down at the finish becomes second-nature. You’ll get to a point after a while where these things no longer require the taxing use of your limited availability of willpower. Swimming like a boss will simply be what you do.
YourSwimBook is a log book and goal setting guide designed specifically for competitive swimmers. It includes a ten month log book, comprehensive goal setting section, monthly evaluations to be filled out with your coach, and more. Learn 8 more reasons why this tool kicks butt.