Some time last year, I began swimming regularly. I’ve made it a habit, three times a week. This was not easy. I’ve never had a regular exercise routine in my life. At my yearly physical, my doctor was stunned. She wanted to know how I had done this.
There are a couple of exercises that I’ve used to get myself past the mental barriers that would have otherwise prevented me from forming this habit:
- I state my intention, out loud, to another person. This means that the night before I tell my husband, “I am swimming tomorrow morning.”
- The only thing I have to do is get in the pool.
I don’t have to do a certain number of laps, or swim more or go faster than I did last time. I can get in the pool and just stretch, or swim one easy lap, or do all breast stroke (my easiest stroke), and that’s cool. Just so long as I get in the pool. I set the bar really really low, and I am not hard on myself if I don’t have much of a swim. That’s a fast rule.
Now what actually happens is – almost every time – I swim pretty hard, for as long as I can. Not every time though. If I was hard on myself at all for taking it easy, I might never get back in the pool again.
Above all else, I have to maintain the habit. The habit is far more important than achieving something every time I swim. So just getting in the pool is all that is needed to maintain the habit.
There are still mornings when actually swimming seems like a series of hurdles and the only way I can get myself into the pool is to tell myself, just get in the pool (and don’t worry about anything else).
This has turned out to be a useful technique for other things. Recently I gave a talk at WordCamp Raleigh. This was my third time speaking at WordCamp and I am starting to feel more comfortable with it. I was reasonably well-prepared.
Still, I was nervous. Really nervous. I was speaking about an idea of my own and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. Having that personal stake made it much more difficult.
Just get in the pool has now become shorthand in my mind. It means, do not worry about what comes after you start this thing you want to run away from. The only requirement is to start. It seemed to apply. I would have gotten up and done my talk anyway, but telling myself to not worry about anything beyond just getting up there helped a lot.
3. making all big things small
Something I have been teaching my son is how to confront a large task, and break it down into smaller pieces that can be managed. Small things are so much easier to contemplate and actually do. But sometimes a thing can only be made so small. Just get in the pool can allow me to ignore the entirety of a large thing and focus on the one crucial part that has to be done – the rest will follow.