6 Days: 6 Mental Strategies

Lots of people ask me what I think about when I am training and doing open water, multi-hour swims. So here are six of the mental distraction strategies that I employ while swimming:

Calming visualization

This past spring semester I worked with Milana (one of our assistant coaches at Smith) for her sports psychology course. A component of the class was meeting with a student-athlete about once a week to practice and explore exercises and concepts in sports psych. One week we focused on visualizations and Milana took me through a calming visualization exercise that I have used on (at least) a weekly basis ever since! The basic parts of the visualization include starting on the second floor of a house, walking down a staircase feeling the wooden banister under your hand as you make your way towards the front door, seeing light coming through the cracks of the door, opening the door and seeing your “calm place.” For me I visualize a lake in the Rocky Mountains. The lake is surrounded on all sides by tall mountains and there are no other people, just a little dock with one row boat. I visualize taking the row boat to the middle of the lake, lying down and watching the sky and the edge of the mountains. I try to see, feel, hear, and smell everything in great detail and by the time I’m done with the visualization usually 15-35 minutes has passed and I am supremely relaxed! While I’m swimming the P2P if I ever get overwhelmed, start thinking of sharks, etc. I’m going to put myself in my happy, calm, mountain lake setting.

Smith/JCC pool visualizations

Another tactic that I use during open water swimming is visualizing that I’m swimming in the Smith or JCC pool. I know those pool decks like the back of my own hand! Even though I love open water, occasionally the vastness of the ocean and the thought of the unknown can be slightly disconcerting. Whenever I get that feeling I visualize swimming in my favorite pools, I imagine Kim (our head coach) motioning to me to keep my elbow up and Milana telling everyone to breathe less. 😉 OR I think about swimming at the J with Steve and Tracy trekking along side me early in the morning.

Alphabet game

A way I love to pass time while swimming is picking a category (colors, countries, animals, food) and then going through the alphabet A-Z trying to list one thing for each letter. At the end of each category I try to remember which letters stumped me and compare between categories. X is always at the top of the list for missed answers.

Counting strokes

A staple of open water swimmers is counting strokes. I sometimes make a rule that I have to take at least 100 or 300 strokes before I get to look up to see how close I am to wherever I’m going. It helps pass the time and encourages a meditative/zen mindset.

Body awareness contemplative exercises

A simple exercise I use is mentally tracing the outline of my body. I start at the top of my head and trace my body going counterclockwise. I think about each muscle, joint, finger, and toe I mentally trace. Most people think this exercise only takes a few minutes but when done intentionally and meticulously it can take upwards of 30 minutes to get all the way around! An added variation of this exercise is taking additional time at each major joint and muscle I use while swimming and I imagine colored light radiating from that area. For example, if my left shoulder is bothering me, when I get to that part of the outline I imagine a cooling, healing, blue light radiating.

Singing songs

And last but not least, when all else is boring or fails: singing a song is a great way to pass the time! I sing everything from Queen to Cake to Mumford and Sons to Kanye to Le1f to Meghan Trainor.

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