How to Excel at Thinking (and consequently at Swimming)
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on July 2nd, 2011

Some time ago I became fascinated by the “Study of Excellence” – a relatively new field of psychology that tries to answer the question: “Is there a gene for excellence, or is it earned via special efforts?” In observing and interviewing top achievers in many fields, researchers cataloged a strikingly consistent set of attitudes and behaviors which strongly suggested we all have the capacity to become great at something we value.

One of the most interesting studies looked at the diagnostic ability of doctors, which is easily measurable. If you diagnose correctly, you can thn prescribe the optimal course of treatment and your patient can recover more quickly, experience fewer complications and setbacks and — the reason the study was performed — result in saving tens of thousands of dollars on a single patient.

And here’s the difference between top performers and the rest: Average diagnosticians would make a diagnosis and move on. Excellent diagnosticians were in the habit of revisiting their diagnosis and painstakingly examining their thinking process at the time., asking themselves questions like:

“Why did I interpret those signs in that way?”

“Why did I reach that conclusion?”

Thinking about how you think is called Meta-Cognition, or Meta-Consciousness.

Swimmers and coaches have constant opportunity to do this. Every practice, set, or lap presents us with multiple choices. Some are highly likely to improve our swimming. Some will bring no benefit (while wasting our time). And some could actively imprint bad habits.

To practice Meta-Consciousness — or Examined Thinking — effectively, you need to do the following

1. Base your thinking on Core Principles — a set of firm convictions about big issues that never change regardless of the stroke, distance, goal or situation.  (How we form those Core Principles is a question for another blog, or a whole series.)

2. Examine any choice in light of your CP’s.

3. Avoid autopilot or reflexive thinking.


4 Responses to “How to Excel at Thinking (and consequently at Swimming)”

  1. Dan says:

    Mr. Laughlin, where can I get an E-Copy of this Book?

  2. Scott H says:

    Have any interests in guest blog posts?

    Id be happy to oblige



  3. By all means. Scott and anyone else who’d like to make a guest post, please send to me at or call me at 914-388-3929 to chat about it.

  4. Dan
    To which book do you refer?

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