By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, April 5, 2017
The word “mindfulness” seems like a catch phrase these days. Practically everything everywhere is about being “mindful” — cooking, sitting, talking, walking. Yet, that is the point of mindfulness. Mindfulness means being mindful of ourselves and how we interact with the world around us in every facet of our lives.
What, exactly, is mindfulness?
Being mindful, in a simplistic definition, means being present and paying attention.
For example: if you’re walking to practice, you’re not thinking about tomorrow’s test or what your best friend said three hours ago. If you’re mindful, you’re looking at the world, appreciating walking, noticing the environment, appreciating the weather and physicality of walking. If you’re cooking a meal, you’re not worrying about next week’s obligations or checking your phone’s latest current events updates. You’re paying attention to the recipe, thinking about the ingredients, appreciating where the food came from, the ingredient’s origins, that you have food, how that food comes together, and focusing on cooking.
The goal of being mindful is to fully appreciate the present. Rather than get caught up in worries about the past or future, by fully immersing ourselves in the present, “mindfulness” can help us live better right now.
Being mindful can also help our competitive swimming. Especially when it comes to athletic performance during big, important, scary Championship Meets. Sometimes, swimmers get too caught up in expectations and pressures. Swimmers focus too much on competitors and placements. There are worries about results, parents, coaches, teammates. All this worrying and pressure means swimmers expend less energy on the present task — diving, kicking, pulling, turning, breathing, finishing.
Here are 5 Ways Mindfulness May Help Your Swimming.
1. Mindfulness can let go of pressures and expectations.
Before a big, scary meet, every swimmer has, at one point, felt so nervous and experienced so much anxiety that it actually affects performance. Loss of appetite. Loss of sleep. Tightening up before a race. Swimmers place so many expectations on themselves, they limit an ability to perform. Expectations can feel like added weight. Before big races, it’s important to pause. Breathe. Let go of pressures. Let go of expectations of victory and fears of defeat. Being mindful means returning to the present and to the task at-hand.
2. Mindfulness can help you focus on race technique.
Being mindful returns a person’s thoughts to the immediate and present. So, during a race, rather than worrying about the competitor next to you, or what the scoreboard might say, or if a mom or dad is cheering (or not cheering), being mindful means focusing on a stroke rhythm into the wall on breaststroke. What are you doing with your hands? Feet? Are you ready for the upcoming turn? Being mindful means paying extreme attention to hand placement. Or breathing rhythms. Or extension. By paying extreme close attention to technique, less attention and energy will be devoted to things we cannot control — like a competitor — and instead return it to race technique.
3. Mindfulness can improve pacing.
Are we overexerting ourselves too early on in the race? Are we taking the race out too slow or too fast? Pacing is a huge component of swimming, and yet we’ve all seen swimmers take out races way too fast or too slow. Simply by paying more attention to our pacing — and not letting ourselves get caught up in the pacing of other swimmers — we can slow down, speed up, and adjust according to what we need to do.
4. Mindfulness helps you feel in control.
Sometimes, swimmers feel not-ourselves before big meets. Nervous. Jittery. Inadequate. Some swimmers get so nervous, they don’t even want to race. Being mindful means detaching a bit, and taking more control over those pre-race nerves. That feeling of loss of control before big meets is actually a loss of self-control. Emotions run wild. Emotions can control us. Being more mindful of emotions can acknowledge those feelings. Just by acknowledging those feelings allows swimmers to take control over them. By feeling more in control, swimmers can regain that self-confidence needed before a big race.
5. Appreciating the race itself.
A big, important, scary Championship Meet feels like a blur. It happens so quickly. There is so much emotion and importance, when big meets are over, it can feel like a let-down. Many Olympic Trials swimmers feel this way — that these big meets happen too fast. Many swimmers who compete at multiple Trials say, “I want to appreciate the next Trials. I want to enjoy just being there. Last time, the meet happened too fast.” Being mindful can help slow down those big, scary meets. Rather than experiencing them in a blur of nerves and expectations, breathe. Pause. Appreciate being there. Appreciate competing in a sport. Appreciate the opportunity to race. How, exactly? Listen to the sounds of the races before. Feel the block, smell the air. Bask in the moment.
This is being mindful.
Step on the blocks. Breathe again.
Then dive in, and race.
Follow Mike on Twitter @MicGustafson.