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.
Going through your days and workouts trying to accomplish everything by virtue of willpower is not only mentally taxing, but comes with a cap. Willpower, or self-control, is much like a muscle in that it gets fatigued after it is used. Combined with the fact that it comes with a limited daily supply, it becomes necessary to find a way to insure that each day, each workout, we are unleashing our best and most intelligent effort.
The secret to making this happen is with habits. Habit takes the behaviors and actions – sticking to your 5-dolphin kick rule even when you are tired – and makes them routine, to the point that you hardly have to think about doing them anymore.
Similar to the way that we don’t have to think about how we brush our teeth, or put on our pants in the morning, you can imbed these positive habits to help you improve your swimming faster than you ever thought imaginable.
All it takes is application with repetition. Sounds simple enough, right?
Here are some strategies and tips for installing those awesome, brand new training habits:
Start so small that it is impossible to not start.
Wholesale habit-changing works for some people, while it is utterly disastrous for others. If you are like most (including myself), you need to work at a habit for a while before it sticks.
Let’s say you want to instill the habit of doing 5 dolphin kicks off of each start and turn. If you are currently doing none, than jumping from 0 to 5 is not only excruciatingly challenging to the point of being overwhelming, but keeping up that level of change over the long term is very untenable.
Chip away at the habit by committing to doing one dolphin kick off of each wall and no more. Once you are fully comfortable with that, and it has become an engrained habit (meaning that you hardly have to think about it), step it up to 2 or 3 dolphin kicks, and scale upwards accordingly.
When you fall off, jump back on quickly.
Momentum can be your best buddy, or the thing to send you hurtling backwards. When we nail off a series of victories we feel the wind behind our back and our confidence surges. Likewise when we hit a couple defeats in a row we panic, get demoralized, and tell ourselves that we are in an unshakable rut.
The common mental trap that ensnares swimmers when there is a hiccup is that they take it personally. They view missing the rep or workout as indicative of something that is profoundly wrong with them.
See, I don’t deserve success. I had a bad workout, I’ll never swim as fast as so-and-so.
Similarly, staying true to your new habit shouldn’t be a make-or-break proposition. View your habits as a work-in-progress, as something you are continually refining and improving to implement.
You’ll slip up. And it’s okay. It’s what you do what matters next that is key.
Piggyback current behaviors with your new habits.
Disrupting your current life and routines in the name of a new workout habit is difficult. Despite the sudden willingness to uproot our way of training (“Today is the day I become a championship swimmer!”), try making those things that are going to make you a championship swimmer fit into what you are already doing.
This will make the habit stick harder, and by combining the new habit with an old behavior, you are installing new and productive aspects to your training without completely uprooting your life. Partner up something you are already doing with your new habit, allowing them to become super friends, and the likelihood of the habit sticking will be greater.
Here are some examples, in which the first part is something you are already doing, and the second is the new habit you would like to attach to it:
- After I am done warming-down, I’ll stretch my hamstrings for 20 minutes.
- Once I finish eating dinner on Thursdays, I will do exactly 90 minutes of homework.
Make Fewer Decisions.
There is a lot of value in keeping things extraordinarily simple when it comes to not only your goals, but also your habits. By sticking with just the essentials, you are able to focus better and avoid the multi-tasking Kool-Aid that today’s society demands that we drink out of.
It is no different with our habits and willpower. The less decisions we have to make on a daily basis, the better equipped we are to make the right decisions with the ones that matter most. Even choices that seem simple or easy – should I hang out with so-and-so after school? What should I eat for lunch? – all things that are relatively necessary in our day-to-day life, but also drains the tank of willpower.
The solution? Routinize as much as you can. From the things you wear, to your meals, make all of those relatively mundane things routine so that you can devote your willpower to the things that will impact your life (and swimming) the most.
Prepare for the “what the heck” moments.
You’ve been there. I know you have. Because I have as well. It’s that moment, where you first begin to slip, where your fingers are loosening from the edge, and suddenly a resigned thought floats to the surface, “ah what the heck.” In a dizzying rush we release all of that bottled self-control and drop our new habit with remarkable speed.
Those glorious new habits, so fragile in the opening days and weeks, require some insulation from those moments where you find yourself inundated with thoughts telling you that it doesn’t really matter, that you can skip just one, that no one will notice.
The key in being ready for those moments – and they will happen – is to make things as easy as possible for the execution of your new habits. Any reason, any justification you will and have used in the past to skip out on staying true to your new habit should be minimized.
If you are having a hard time getting up in the morning, get everything ready the night before. Similar to the first point about keeping the starting steps as small as possible, align your life to help your habits have a chance to crystallize and stick.
The Next Step:
Pick 3-5 things that you want to improve with your swimming.
Improving your dolphin kicks. Not picking your head up in the finish. Keeping your elbows up in your catch when you are getting tired.
Pick out the things that will have the most profound impact on your swimming and vow to make these excellent new habits part of your day-to-day training moving forward.
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.
NEW: It now also comes with a 76-page mental training skills eBook called “Dominate the Pool.” It is free with your purchase of YourSwimBook and is emailed to you within 24 hours of your order.