I’ve been giving a weekly lesson for 11 years to Jeanne Safer, a prominent psychotherapist and author. You might wonder what Jeanne might have to learn after 400+ hours of lessons, and countless additional hours of practice.
Jeanne swims for health and the pleasure of learning and self-mastery. Like me Jeanne feels that the promise of Kaizen is lifelong, so she eagerly looks forward to the next insight–and to our dialogue during lessons.
Last Friday, we spent the entire lesson working on two subtle aspects of how she streamlines beneath the water in breaststroke. The first was to feel that her aligned head position resulted from releasing her head’s weight–just as in our Superman drill–rather than pushing it down. The second was to consciously streamline her feet behind the lower leg. The first involves turning off muscles. The second involves activating a different set of muscles. Both reduce drag.
She swam multiple repeats of 10 to 20 strokes in the Endless Pool working on the first focal point, which she found subtle and elusive. She was erratic at first, but after about eight repetitions she began to show real consistency, releasing her head between her outstretched arms every time.
Before I could even give her my positive feedback, she said, “I got it right that time. Do you know how I could tell? Because it felt so good that I couldn’t help but smile!”
Smiling is an under-appreciated strategy for swimming–or doing anything–well. Last night at yoga class, while we held a Warrior pose for long enough for muscles to ache, our teacher Jacqui said “You all look crazy serious. Smile!” As soon as I did I felt noticeably better–physically and psychically.
One of one of my all-time best swimming memories has a smile as its centerpiece. It happened while swimming across Maui Channel with two swim buddies in March 2010.
On the day we swam there were small-craft warnings posted for the channel and signs on the beach outside our hotel warned “Extreme Water Conditions. Do not swim.” But it was our appointed and only possible day to make the swim so we went ahead as planned.During the boat crossing from Maui to Lanai, we rode up and down on very large swells and had to carefully time our swim into shore on Lanai between sets of crashing 7-foot waves.
I’d felt nervous about the swim during the boat crossing and as we left the beach and swam through sets of waves out to meet our escort boat I remained pretty unsettled. But once we got through the sets and settled into our ‘synch-swimming’ rhythm, it took only a minute or two before I looked to my right and saw Dave’s familiar figure close by then to my left and saw Willie’s (we’d swum this way for scores of hours in other locales). Immediately I broke into a smile and the rest of the swim was beautiful.
The next time you attempt anything challenging, try doing it with a smile. You may find it goes easier. You’ll almost certainly enjoy it more.
You’ll find countless occasions for smiling during and after working on the drills and skills on our latest and greatest improvement aid–the Ultra Efficient Self-Coaching Toolkit.