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Avoid negative thinking on the swim

  • By Sara McLarty
  • Published February 16, 2016
Things getting rough in the water? Combat negative thinking with these techniques. Photo: Endurapix/Thierry Sourbier

Your mental outlook toward swimming can have a tremendous effect on your results in the water. When things get challenging, do you stay positive and motivated or tend to go through bouts of negative self-talk? Negative thinking creates stress and destroys your self-confidence, which can hinder performance.

The process to change your feelings about swimming is more than just “think positive.” Self-talk for success must be positive, but it also needs to be believable and achievable. The first step is to be aware of your thoughts and actions before, during and after a swim practice. Listen to your internal monologue and make notes of how you are talking to yourself. Observe how you are presenting yourself to the world. Would you say the same things or act the same way toward your best friend while watching him or her swim?

The next step is to look at each negative thought with rational thinking. Challenge each one with a rational answer or explanation:

“I am a terrible swimmer.” Are you consistently putting in the pool hours to become a better swimmer? Are you receiving coaching and tips from knowledgeable resources? If you are swimming laps in a pool, you are a better swimmer than a large percentage of American adults who cannot cross the pool.

“I am going to be last out of the water in the race.” Your performance should not be judged by things outside of your control such as other participants. Commit to be the best you can be and don’t fixate on how you measure up to others.

“I am embarrassed by what the other swimmers think of me.” Surprise! No one in the pool is thinking about you, except for you! Everyone has his or her own internal monologue and it is often self-critical, so try to let it go.

Finally, replace the negative thoughts with positive ones and specific affirmations. What you say to yourself must be possible and believable in order for the self-talk to be effective:

I am training to become a better swimmer. I am practicing to achieve my goals.

I am prepared to complete the race. I am ready for everything that might reasonably happen in the open water.

I am doing the best I can. Other swimmers respect me for accepting the challenge of learning to swim.

Simple tips to stay positive
Smile each time you think about swimming, while you drive to the pool, and as you walk to your lane. Your external outlook can help shape your internal attitude.

Set short- and long-term goals that are measureable and attainable. Write them down and cross them off when achieved. You can easily forget how much you have improved since day one.

Ask questions. Seek help. Try new things. Sometimes the smallest change can result in the biggest improvement.

Allow yourself to forgive and forget. Don’t punish yourself after a bad set or experience at the pool. Analyze it with rational thoughts (e.g., Did I have to wake up extra early for work?) and then don’t allow yourself to dwell on the negative.

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