I’ve said it a million times before, but I’ll say it yet again – The mind is what makes the difference.
If you take two people of equal or near equal talent, skill, ability, and preparation, the one with greater mental strength, emotional resilience, and better overall mindset towards swimming is going to perform better, achieve more, and have a greater overall level of life satisfaction than the one that doesn’t.
You can receive the best training in the world and physically work hard every day, but if your mind isn’t in the right place and if you don’t mentally approach swimming in the best way, none of that will end up counting for much of anything as your poor mindset and approach will keep them from being utilized to their fullest.
Of course, developing the right mindset and mental approach towards swimming is always easier said than done, like most things usually are. However, to help yourself develop that and find the right mindset and mental approach, you can sometimes take inspiration from those around you, learn from them, and incorporate their way of thinking into your own. And that’s what we’re going to do today.
Recently, Sarah Sojstrom did an interview for Olympic.org where they discussed several things about her swimming and her life, and in that interview, she gave some key, important insights as to what she thinks about swimming, what drives her, what she uses as motivation, and how she mentally approaches the sport as a whole. Let’s break down what she had to say and explore it a bit further:
What is it that gives you the edge to make you an Olympic and world champion?
“I just like to compare myself to myself. I just want to be better than what I was before. I want to find ways to be faster in the pool. That is my motivation. I never say, ‘I want to win this medal and that medal.’”
This has been tirelessly researched for decades and the result is inarguably conclusive at this point – It’s much better to be motivated by a process rather than a reward. Things like medals, trophies, and rewards are fine to use as sources of motivation in some form, but they should never be used as your main source of motivation. Your primary source of motivation should always be something intrinsic in nature. What motivates Sarah Sojstrom isn’t a trinket she can hang around her neck. She’s motivated by an intrinsic process that’s centered around growth, improvement, and mastery. You want to do the same.
Secondly, Sarah isn’t interested in comparing herself to anyone else. She knows the dangers of falling into that trap. She’s more interested in, not trying to see if she can best others, but seeing if she can best herself; to defeat the version of herself that she was yesterday and overcome her lesser-self. By focusing on herself and her own swimming instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing, she removes a massive impediment to her own enjoyment and growth in swimming and that gives her a massive edge.
Would you say you are a perfectionist then?
“No. I wouldn’t say I am a perfectionist. I am quite chilled actually. Even in the pool, I try to relax and not stress too much. I don’t think about every detail; I try to just go with the flow and not think too much. I feel like the technique comes naturally for me. If I think too much about my technique I swim slower.”
No one has ever mastered swimming or perfected the sport, not even Michael Phelps. And, no one ever will.
You are imperfect. You always have been, and you always will be. You’re not going to be able to change that. And, you shouldn’t want to. To be human means to be imperfect. Trying to erase imperfection is like trying to erase your humanity. You need to embrace your imperfect self and be at peace with the fact that you can’t always get everything exactly right or always be the best version of yourself. However, that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to get as close to perfect as you can.
Its fine to strive for perfection in swimming, but only as long as it’s done with the understanding that you can never get there. All you can ever ask of yourself is to give it your best shot, leave it all in the pool, and try to be the best version of yourself that you can be on that day. All you can ever do is dedicate yourself to learning, improving, and growing as close to your full potential as possible, whatever that may be.
Lastly, Sarah said she tries to relax and not stress when swimming. I love this approach, and I think it’s by far the best way to approach competition. Things like nervousness, anxiety, stress, and anger create a physiological response in the body where your muscles tighten up and your body becomes much more tense, both of which are awful for swimming. Nerves and anger are great for survival situations. They’re terrible for efficiently and smoothly performing the technical actions that come with doing a swim race. If you want your mind and body to be able to perform efficiently, you want to be relaxed and stress-free.
What is it that gets you out of bed and into the training pool every day?
“My biggest motivation is that this is a dream, to have this as my job. I get to work hard every day in the pool, to try and find ways to get faster. I travel, I see new places and meet new people all the time – that is the motivation. I never want to change this job. It’s a great life. It is easier when everything goes smoothly, but I do really like swimming, with or without the medals. I really enjoy the journey to the medals. That is the most important thing.”
This kind of ties into the other question she was asked from earlier, but it’s so important that I don’t think we can talk about it too much.
When it comes to swimming, Sarah has what’s called Harmonious Passion. Her passion and motivation for swimming comes, not from the results, rewards, or recognition she can get from the sport, but rather the joy, happiness, and fulfillment she gets from swimming itself. What gets her out of bed in the morning and drives her to want to train every day isn’t the thought of winning a medal or trophy. What motivates her to work hard and train each day is the satisfaction and unbridled love she has for the sport that she loves and the life it allows her to live.
As we discussed earlier, intrinsic motivation is vastly superior to extrinsic motivation. Being motivated by a process, a journey, and a love you have for something is always going to serve you better in the long run than being motivated by things like results, rewards, and recognition. In fact, it works quite the opposite of what you might think: The more you’re motivated by the process, the journey, and love you have for swimming, the easier you’re going to make it to get the results, rewards, and recognition you want.
If you want to learn more about the mental aspects of swimming and want to improve your mindset as a swimmer, I wrote a sports psychology book that’s just for swimmers such as yourself. It’s called “The Swimmer’s Mind: Mastering The Mental Side Of Swimming”. It contains 12 lessons and over 300 pages on the mental side of swimming where I discuss the same concepts I use when working with my NCAA, international, and professional level swimming clients. It releases November 12th at Barnes & Noble stores nation-wide as well as on Amazon, but if you’d like, you can pre-order your e-book copy today using these links:
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again soon!
About Will Jonathan
Will Jonathan is the owner and founder of Green Rhythm Swimming, a professional mental coaching service that provides world-class coaching on the mental aspects of swimming to swimmers from the age group level all the way through to the Olympic level, as well as the author of the book “The Swimmer’s Mind: Mastering The Mental Side Of Swimming”, a mental training book for competitive & professional-level swimmers. His past and present clients are age-group national champions, NCAA D1 All-Americans, International swimmers, and Olympians. He also works as a Mental Coach for the swim team at Florida State University.