LESSONS FROM SWIM TEAM: AS TOLD BY AN ASPIRING IRONMAN
What I learned in a mildew-y council-run pool with my childhood swim team in rural England, continues to stamp itself over my wonderful Los Angeles life today in ways I am endlessly grateful for.
These lessons - amongst others - are the reasons I’ve fought hard, against tradition and therapy stuffiness, to include movement, exercise and the body as a whole, in the work I do as a therapist, treating anxiety, depression and chronic illness. Why? – Because it’s really f-ing powerful stuff, it’s ours for the taking, and we all deserve to know how to access it.
While I’m no longer winning any medals in the swimming department, I am still very much an athlete and proud of it. I continue to learn lessons that apply to my own life and to my work as a psychotherapist as I strive toward new sporting goals.
Right now, I am working on my biggest, baddest, sporting goal yet – the IRONMAN. It’s getting me right up-close and personal with the big lessons I learned all those years ago on swim team, humbling me by making me check in on things I thought I had long ago mastered!
Here are just a few of the life-altering lessons sport has provided me, that I’ve been reminded of recently and that I hope can help you too;
Goals are good
We don’t have to beat ourselves up with them, but we can and should reach for them. Big, badass goals are absolutely achievable over the long term and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
But we need shorter-term goals that we can achieve and feel validated for, along the way. The magic bullet is a mix of long-term, harder to achieve goals, with shorter term more readily achievable goals sprinkled in!
For example, I’ve been doing smaller races as I work up to my big, scary, IRONMAN, goal, like the LA River Half Marathon which was a ton of fun or the Pier to Pier swim in Hermosa Beach. I certainly didn’t break any records but I met some fun people and got jolts of inspiration and motivation for my ongoing training. If you don’t already know, try brainstorming a long-term goal that gets you excited and then ask yourself, what are the shorter term goals that might help get me there?
A goal without a plan is just a wish
Some goals require more planning than others, but one thing is for sure, you’ll get there a whole lot quicker if you plan out the route, rather than hoping to arrive at the right place at the right time. Don’t be afraid to plan and schedule your time to allow your goals to become reality. I block out my training sessions a week in advance in my calendar (but actually have them mapped out in my Training Peaks account months in advance) I then keep these mapped out sessions, as I would any other appointment. I know exactly what I need to do and with that plan in place, I also know exactly when I can fit it all in, without wrecking the rest of my life! Set appointments for yourself on the things that matter to you. Want more time to write, surf, hang with your kids? Schedule that shit and watch it get done!
Find your tribe
We’re only human – we can’t always be motivated, energized go-getters who eat goals for breakfast. That’s when having a support system in place, that ‘gets’ you and your goals, is super important. They can help you out, buoy you up when you need it, and what’s best about that is you also get to do it for them (aren’t we always so much better at helping others than ourselves??!) I’m a bit of an introvert so this one is a toughie for me, but finding like-minded athletes working on similar goals has been instrumental in my ongoing commitment. Whether that’s joining an LA Tri Club workout, becoming part of a kick-ass team like mine, TEAM SOAS, or becoming part of a Facebook group with members aiming for the same goals as you…. Find your tribe, you won’t regret it.
Seek out mentors, coaches, experts
Someone, somewhere has experience that’s relevant to your goal – find them and save yourself a whole bunch of physical, emotional and mental ‘leg-work’ by learning from what they’ve already done. The added bonus is connecting with people who’ve achieved what you want (or something like it), keeps us in touch with the fact that the possibility has become a reality for other people, why not us?! I’m in so many FB groups with amazing triathletes (Women for Tri, Swim Mechanic Ocean Group/SMOG), therapists and business people who’ve knocked the socks off their biggest goals that it’s impossible not to wonder if I could do it too.
Failing can be winning
Okay, so we know Santa isn’t real, right? the Easter bunny is a fairy tale, yes? Well, the idea that we can always win is in that same category (in one sense)... I was a kick-ass little swimmer, but I didn’t win every race back in the day. I set goals and plan for them meticulously but I don’t always arrive at the expected final destination. The thing is – while we may not ‘win’ what we originally set out to - the medal, the contract, the partner etc. - if we learn from the so-called ‘failure’, we’re winning in other ways. One of the big ways I won when I lost races or missed goals back in the pool, was that I learned these things didn’t define me. I could have feelings about them, cry on the shoulder of my various supports, and still bounce back with a few new ideas or clues about how to do better next time (if the goal still served me).
As someone who has completely changed careers in the past decade, this ability has come in very handy – I was able to make peace with letting go of a career I had invested in but that could no longer make me happy. I retrained first as a personal trainer, then as a yoga and meditation teacher and I went back to school for my Master’s, then my Doctorate, to learn all I could about mental health treatment. I ‘failed’ in my first career but really I won a life in Los Angeles that I love, and a career as a mind-body psychotherapist, that I’m almost (see my next lesson!) endlessly passionate about!
Listen to Your Body & Your Self
Like every athlete and human being, I have things I’m insanely passionate about - the power of mind and body in our mental health for example. I can geek out all day on how to use the mind and body to treat depression and anxiety, how the body gives us symptoms in response to mental stress that medical doctors can’t treat, or to how to use the mind to leverage a better physical performance if you’re also a big sports nerd like me! Like everyone, I have my passions, I have goals that are important to me and things I want to achieve in my life, but I also have days when I don’t feel excited about them anymore, don’t want to work on them, feel exhausted and grumpy and sorry for myself (ugh, I have to go swimming now!) The trick is to know when I’m feeling that way because the goal isn’t right for me anymore, or when the goal is right for me but my self-care is waaaaay off.
Being able to make that assessment and take the appropriate action to right my ship, is something I first learned back in that pool. My first step was then and continues to be now, getting some extra sleep and some decent food and seeing if that changes things. And yes, sometimes, we all need a reminder to do these basic things for ourselves (Thanks, Miranda!). Learn the skill of listening to your body and you’ll have a lifetime of great, real-time feedback and we all need feedback!
Whatever your wants and goals for life, there’s a smart, bold and healthy way to approach them that can allow you surprise yourself with your strength, energy, and commitment, without overwhelming your life and your wellbeing.
If you’re facing a big challenge, a goal you’ve been too scared to set, a life event that is threatening to overwhelm you, depression or anxiety, just know that you can get to the finish line. I’ll be with you every step of the way if you want (find out about working with me here).
Call or text me at 310 463 7640 me to schedule a free 15-minute consultation to help get you moving toward your biggest, badass goal. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve - to quote the IRONMAN tagline, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE”.