Let’s talk about anxiety.
Everyone has experienced anxiety, or at least anxious moments. Before going into that big meeting, before taking an important test, before speaking to that beautiful girl or boy you’ve had a crush on for ages. It’s a part of human nature, the beautiful thing about it is, when harnessed correctly, anxiety or stress is what can propel you to peak levels of performance, we just need to be more open about discussing it when we experience it, what it feels like and how it impacts us.
So I’ve taken it upon myself to become a better swimmer, for better fitness, health, fun and as part of a workplace activity challenge (#sported52). I started on Friday January 15th 2016 and the aim is to swim 11,750 metres by April 14th 2016.
In any new situation, the first time we do something is when our anxiety levels are at their highest. For example, starting a new job, in the beginning you’re at your most anxious as your skill level is not yet proven, and the same with swimming, eventually, as your knowledge goes up and your execution gets better through practice, your anxiety levels reduce and you become more comfortable with performing the task. Well my swimming journey over the last few weeks has been a very interesting and powerful experience for me, so I thought I’d share a few things.
The voice in your head is your biggest enemy, and your number 1 key to success.
When your head is under water and you’re staring at the pool floor struggling to breathe, if you can be conscious enough to make a mental note of the thoughts and comments that flash through your mind, you will be very intrigued. Here are some of the thoughts I was having:
‘don’t f*&k@’g drown’
‘ sh$% that’s deep’,
‘this really isn’t that important’
‘why are you here’,
‘this is long man’
These negative thoughts coupled with a heart that felt like it was about to explode is pretty much how the first couple of swims went, safe to say I had high anxiety levels. But what I realized after a while is that your body and your mind work in unison. So, if those thoughts penetrate my conscious mind and tell me to stop, my body will act as if it is tired and I will stop. However as I managed to stick with it, those thoughts got weaker and weaker, and the beautiful moment for me was when I started saying to myself ‘this is easy’. It came out of nowhere, I was about half way through my length of the pool and the thought just popped into my head; ‘this is easy’.
The great thing about it is that these thoughts, good or bad, hold the exact importance that you give them. So with the destructive ones, I was able to convince myself that they weren’t true, but with the constructive ones, I believed them, I repeated them, I somewhat forced them upon myself until I started becoming them. Here are what some the thoughts transitioned to:
‘This is easy’
‘I am a tadpole’
‘This is just like walking’
‘You got this’
‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming’ (Finding Nemo song lol)
At first glance some of these comments might look silly, but it’s important not to take yourself too seriously, you’ve got to have fun with it. Some of the greatest performers tell themselves the most profound things before going out to perform, whether you’re an Olympic swimmer, practicing for a presentation or Kanye West stepping in front of a live audience, this is your show and your performance, so do what makes you feel comfortable (even if you have to interrupt Taylor Swift).
When I started I had to swim with my head above water, one because I didn’t have goggles, and two because I hated the water going in my nose. But if you are a half decent swimmer you’ll know that swimming with your head above water isn’t a great way to do it.
My first port of call was to buy some goggles so that could no longer be an excuse. Second, learn how to breathe under water. I got some advice at work about breathing out whilst your head is under water and coming up for a gulp of air, then repeat. The first time I tried it I choked on the water and came up gasping for air, but like everything, if you stick with it, it will eventually work.
I’m still 7, 500 metres away from my goal of 11, 750, and it looks like I’m not only going to reach my goal but hopefully surpass it. The reason why I thought it was good to share this experience is because it has been very interesting to take note of the thoughts that have been going through my mind as my technique and confidence in the pool has improved. Swimming can be a daunting task if you don’t know how to do it, it can obviously be dangerous, and like many scary things in life, a lot of us build up a mental picture of worst case scenario’s that make swimming seem a lot more difficult than it actually is. We’ve all been there, scared to do something, say something or make a commitment, and once we actually do that thing, we find that we didn’t really have much to be scared of.
This relates to our every day lives, we all tell ourselves a certain story, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough’, ‘I don’t think I’m ready’, ‘I don’t look right’, ‘nobody really cares about what I have to say’, and the sad thing is… we all live into that story.
What the swimming experience has taught me is that, if you can pluck up the courage to step into your challenge and practice, you’ll find that what you’ve been fearful of is not half as bad as you thought it was. It’s been an amazing experience to go from anxious to competent in the pool, and hopefully I’ll keep going until I can call myself an expert. This is what we need to do with all of our challenges in life.
- Get started
- Keep at it when it seems a bit tough
- When your mind starts with the negative talk, make a mental note and realize that those thoughts are not true, you are stronger than the devil on your shoulder
- Counter-act these thoughts with some empowering words
- Celebrate every victory
‘Losers visualize the penalties of failure, winners visualize the beauty and benefits of success’