By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, October 18, 2017
A long time ago, I was a teenage age group swimmer and I wasn’t dropping time. I was frustrated, experiencing that personal time “plateau” every swimmer eventually experiences along the competitive swimming journey.
Then one day, I read advice that caused an immediate change of perspective: “Everything you do and every decision you make will either take you closer to your goals, or farther away.”
We often use paths or journeys as metaphors to describe a competitive swimming career. There is a path. Swimmers are on a journey. With any path or journey, there are twists, turns, peaks and valleys. The important thing, we say to ourselves, is to continue marching along that path, continue that journey, even if we can’t see what’s ahead.
Unfortunately, sometimes that journey leads to unintended destinations: Valleys so deep that those mountain peaks are difficult to see, forks in the road that lead us to burn-out, depression, anxiety, or quitting altogether.
When I heard that advice — that everything we do takes us closer or farther — suddenly, for me, life seemed to click. All decisions were separated into two categories, two paths. A path that led closer to goals, and a path that led farther away.
For example, nutrition. I love pizza. I have an obsession with pizza. Often, I would consume three or four slices of pizza for lunch. Loaded pepperoni pizza, lots of cheese, greasy crust. I knew when eating this pizza that it wasn’t healthy (duh) but I figured, “I’m a swimmer, swimmers are supposed to eat a lot, so it’s okay.”
Obviously, pizza once in a while is no big deal, especially when you’re an active swimmer… but eating that much pizza every week was no good. I would justify it, but my body wasn’t the healthiest it could be.
Then I heard that advice, I began to analyze not just my Pizza Decision, but all nutrition decisions: Which path was I on? The path taking me closer to a personal best time? Or the path leading me farther astray? (Obviously, that Pizza For Lunch Every Day Path was diverted.)
Soon, I analyzed other decisions. Not just nutrition, but also how I spent free time, what classes I signed up for, who I hung out with, how I trained, how I slept, how I ate. And what happened was unintended, but I’m so glad it did:
I learned how to be mindful.
Mindfulness is being aware of what you’re doing, and what’s around you. It sounds simple in theory — and there’s a lot of buzzwords that involve “mindfulness” — but in practice, mindfulness is quite difficult. Like when you’re hungry, and there’s nothing else to eat but three slices of pizza.
But when I categorized decisions as a definition of a path — either taking me closer to my goals, or father away — suddenly, it was harder to actively make poor decisions. It was such a different way of thinking about life, but at the same time, effective.
And once I invested fully in the path leading me closer to goals, I began to drop time. And soon, within a few months, I escaped that strange, mysterious, horrible “plateau.”
Competitive swimming is a journey. The path can lead anywhere.
Which path are you on?
Follow Mike on Twitter @MicGustafson.