By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Thursday, July 6, 2017
Every Monday, answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know you wrote an article about “Starting Over…” It was a great letter, and oh how true. However, my layoff is much longer. I’ve always been active and became competitive in triathlons in late 80s and early 90s, even competed in long distance open water swims (4+ miles), etc… However, that ended in 1994, and I tried coming back several times with the last oomph back in 2000. So many things have changed in my life.
Back in the day how dare anyone get in my way of exercising. I am now 58 and probably a minimum of 50 pounds overweight. What would be a good goal for me to try to accomplish? I’m frustrated because I’m not where I used to be, but that is all mental because every time I get back in the pool, it is a great feeling regardless of pace or distance. Every June, there is a one-mile ocean swim I say I am going to do, but that gets overwhelming for me to think about.
Any suggestions on starting over workouts and/or advice? I have plenty of workouts from swimming with the masters but they are beyond my limitations right now. If I do too much too soon, then my shoulder bursitis hits the wall and you know how that goes.
Starting Over Again
Hey Starting Over,
I can't express to you how excited I was to receive your email. Not only because I’m excited for your upcoming personal journey back into shape, but I think what you're going through is very similar to what many age group swimmers go through after returning from an off-season. Getting back into shape, for anyone, is hard to do. It’s as much mental as physical.
Here’s my advice — not just for you, but for any age grouper about to tackle an overwhelming endeavor:
Whatever your goal may be — to swim 1 mile in the ocean, to swim 1 mile in a pool, or to swim 1 mile at the Olympic Trials — the goal process is the same. It’s sort of a cliché, but clichés can work. Especially when it’s 6 a.m., your alarm clock is blaring, you’re hungry, it’s cold outside, and you just don’t want to.
One stroke at a time.
Literally tell yourself that — “one stroke at a time.” Simplified: Make daily goals, and do not let yourself fail in those daily goals.
What I want you to do, is to put a very large calendar somewhere on a very large wall where you can see it. Then I want you to pick one goal per day. The same goal. Maybe that goal is to swim for 7 1/2 minutes a day. Maybe that goal is to eat better. Maybe that goal is to wake up and say to yourself, “I’m going to be positive today.” The point isn't necessarily the goal — the point is consistency.
Then: Every single day that you accomplish that goal, take a big fat red marker and scratch a big fat X across the day. Don't break the streak. I repeat this again because this is very important advice: don't break the streak.
I stole this goal-setting trick – using calendars and big fat red exes – from comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It was a trick he used when he wasn't feeling motivated to write comedy. I've used the same trick for all sorts of goals. And what I've learned over the years is that the goal isn't what matters. What matters is the daily consistency.
To climb any mountain, the arrival at its peak is the result of many, many thousands of steps.
Just like swimming 1 mile in the ocean is the result of many, many hundreds of strokes.
Of course, tricks, mottos, and clichés won't help you accomplish that goal. The only thing that will help you accomplish that goal is holding yourself accountable. Simply do not let yourself fail for the next 24 hours. Rather than feeling overwhelmed with the magnitude of any far-reaching endeavor, journey, or goal, focus simply on the steps or strokes directly in front of you. Tell yourself today, “I will do one stroke. Then the one after that. Then the one after that.” Before you know it, that’s one hundred strokes.
Then mark it off on the calendar. A day accomplished. One big X across the day.
Before you know it — after a multitude of big red X’s streak across this month’s calendar, and last month’s calendar, and the calendar before that — you won't only be looking at a few months of continuous consistent achievement.
But you'll also be looking at one whole glorious mile of clear blue waters behind you.
I hope this helps.