USA Swimming News

Monday, January 4, 2021

Mastering Negative Thinking and Self-Doubts During This Crazy Season

Mastering Negative Thinking and Self-Doubts During This Crazy Season

As a swimmer, you’ve probably had your world turned upside down since COVID-19 knocked on your door last March! The end of that short course season was suddenly cancelled along with this past long course season. If you’ve been lucky enough, you may have been able to find a pool or lake to train in, but since the fall, the insanity has continued and at present, it seems to be accelerating as the virus spreads more rapidly around the country.

The result of all of this uncertainty and disruptions in your training is that it’s been really tough for most swimmers to motivate themselves to keep working hard! This makes perfect sense given that it’s so difficult to work towards your big goals when you don’t even know if you’ll have any championships meets to measure your progress! 

Because of this, many swimmers have been flooded with a steady, internal stream of negative thinking and self-doubts on the way to and during their practices! “What’s the point?!” “Why bother?!!” “I’ve lost so much training time and I’m slower than I’ve ever been!” “I’ll never get to that dream of mine now!” etc. If you as a swimmer allow yourself to tune into this negative “self-talk,” it will take the motivational wind out of your sails, robbing you of your determination to keep working hard!

While you may not be able to do much about the uncertainty caused by Covid, you can certainly learn to master the accompanying negative chatter so that it doesn’t bring down the quality and intensity of your training! Here’s what you need to do:

#1) Understand that negative thinking and self-doubts, especially during this time, are absolutely normal! Everyone is struggling right now and the negative chatter is a natural part of this struggle. When practices get cancelled, shortened or altered so that you can’t swim with your whole team, then the natural response is to hear that negative part of you loudly weighing in!   

#2) Stay exquisitely aware of where your focus of concentration goes both before and especially during your practices. This awareness will form your first line of defense against the demotivating power of negative thinking. If you’re not aware of what you’re focusing on, then it will be impossible for you to turn the tide on this negativity!

#3) When the negativity and doubts start, try not to “engage” them. That is, you don’t want to listen to and believe the negativity. You don’t want to try to push it away. You don’t want to try to replace the negativity with positive thinking, etc. Engaging your negative thinking means that your focus of concentration leaves your swimming and goes “upstairs” to your thoughts. Focusing on thinking while you are trying to focus on something else is a great way to make yourself nervous, tighten up physically and end up having a bad performance!

#4) Instead, the instant the negativity starts up, you want to immediately shift your focus of attention to what you are doing in the pool or in your dryland workout, to the feel of your movement. This might mean that you want to focus on staying long, how much water that you are pulling, your form during a workout, etc. This varies for every swimmer and what they are working on. Focusing on feel when you train is what I call the “gas pedal.” This is how you go fast. However, focusing on your thoughts, whether you’re training or racing, is the “brake pedal!” That is, when you do, you’ll always tighten up and hinder the outcome.

#5) Whenever your concentration drifts back to your thoughts, quickly and gently “reset,” bringing your focus back to feel. Understand that you will drift! That’s perfectly normal, especially under the stress that we are all dealing with here. Drifting to your thoughts will NOT hurt you as long as you are aware enough to immediately catch yourself thinking and then bring yourself back to the feel of your movement.

#6) Do not allow yourself to get discouraged even if the negative chatter persists! If you have to bring yourself back 20-30 times just during the warm-up, so be it! Same with the main sets or dryland workouts! Do not allow yourself to think that this technique doesn’t work just because the negativity is persistent and still bugging you! As long as you catch yourself immediately and refocus on your feel, the negativity won’t have its’ demotivating effect on you.

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