DP posted the following on the TI Forum: Swim practice normally leaves me feeling centered and refreshed but today I just couldn’t find my sense of balance and comfort and things fell apart when I progressed from 25-yard to 50-yard repeats to attempting 2 x 100, mainly because I lost focus. My attention deteriorated gradually from the first 50-yard repeat and, as it did, so did my sense of stroke control. What strategies do you use to maintain focus as you swim farther?
I had to learn to accept my limitations–in thinking as much as efficiency–and work patiently to turn weaknesses into strengths. When I first began practicing Mindful Swimming I wasn’t thinking of it that way. The first aspect of what we now think of as TI Technique that I began practicing was a neutral head position around 1991. I soon realized that 25 years of habit and muscle memory of looking forward would be hard to undo. It took a real conscious effort to put and keep my head in a neutral position. At the time I wasn’t only not used to swimming with a neutral head. I also wasn’t used to holding a single specific thought while I swam.
While spending 25 years swimming with a high head, I’d also spent most of it — particularly as a college swimmer — striving to preserve my sanity during long, repetitive sets by going on a mental walkabout , daydreaming about being someplace else, or musing about what I might do when workout was over. That became just as strong a habit as anything I did with my arms and legs.
So when I began trying to change my stroke from Habitually Human to Mindfully Fishlike in the 1990s, it soon became clear I’d need to rewire my brain for Purposeful Attention first. Since things you practice tend to improve, 10 years later, when I swam 28.5 miles around Manhattan for the first time, not only was my stroke far more efficient (I took 40 percent fewer strokes than the rest of the field), I was also able to maintain a chosen focus for thousands of strokes at a stretch.
Be patient. Keep at it. Before long you’ll begin to sense–as Buddhist monks do–that the calming and centering experience of focus has become its own reward, and you’ll do it even when not trying to change a stroke habit. In fact, it will be a habit.