The ‘Rules’ for Swimming Well and Living Well are Identical
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on August 9th, 2011

I’ve previously posted several prior drafts for the Introduction to the new book “Swimming That Changes Your Life.” In this post I’m sharing the final draft. This will give you a small window into the creative process for writing a book. Not only is a book a large undertaking, it is also something that will document your beliefs and principles for decades. So I do tend to work through multiple drafts, and the final draft will often have little resemblance to early drafts — at least in my case. The Intro has two parts. I’ll post Part II tomorrow. Enjoy and please don’t be shy about comments or critiques.

Intro I:  Not just swimming better. Living better

The Purpose of Swimming is the Pursuit of Happiness.

If you’re surprised to find this as the very first sentence in a book about swimming, I promise it will make perfect—even compelling–sense shortly. For one thing, in The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living the Dalai Lama wrote that the purpose of life is happiness. But let’s look more narrowly at swimming. Your conscious goals probably include one of the following:

  • To swim a short distance safely and comfortably.
  • To swim a longer distance for health and fitness.
  • To have a low-impact way of exercise as I age.
  • To swim for recreation and relaxation.
  • To swim faster—whether for personal achievement or competition.

And perhaps a goal that no one dreamed of 20 years ago, but is remarkably common today:

  • To swim an ‘ambitious’ distance (one-half to 2.4 miles) in open water, at times in a semi-chaotic environment, while keeping my wits about me and my heart calm enough to cycle and run a much greater distance, complete a triathlon and enjoy it enough to be eager to do another.

The interesting thing about happiness is that while it used to be just an emotion, today it’s a science (one the Dalai Lama is intimately familiar with, as we’ll see later) studied by researchers from empirical fields like economics and psychology. The attitudes, habits, and behaviors of people who report the greatest satisfaction with their lives turn out to correlate to a remarkable extent with those of people who:

  • Achieve more in a wide variety of fields, including math, science, music, art, sport, chess, and business.
  • Enjoy better health, experience less disease, and recover more quickly when they do.
  • Enjoy better family and social connections.
  • Report a greater sense of engagement with their world.
  • And even live longer.

While these scientists stress that connection is ‘correlative’ not causative, it seems evident that Happiness should be a touchstone for anyone who wishes to feel they are thriving, and not merely living. My main purpose in writing this book is to explain that a particular and highly untraditional way of swimming has unmistakable potential to be a vehicle for increasing happiness, and achieving all the holistic benefits associated with it.

This book tells the story of a groundbreaking ‘experiment’ in which hundreds of thousands of swimmers all over the world–most of them adults who only began swimming in middle age–discovered an entirely new way to swim. While each person’s initial goal was only to swim a short distance safely . . . swim a longer distance for health . . . etc. they serendipitously, and collectively, discovered that the same approach that helped them achieve their utilitarian goal also made them noticeably happier and improved the conditions for creating related benefits in health, personal relationships, professional endeavors, etc.

And here’s the key part: Their happiness didn’t occur only because, or until, they achieved their original goal. It occurred because they were working, in a stepwise and mindful way, on solving a difficult problem or challenge. They discovered they experienced a sense of purpose, enjoyment—even transcendence—while doing so, which proved so addictive that experiencing happiness replaced the original goal as the motivational ‘fuel’ to maintain unblinking focus and persist through any difficulty.

An anthropologist once wrote: Learning to swim well is the prototypical example of the capacity that makes us distinctively human: the ability to master something evolution never prepared us to do. Using that as a guiding insight is the key to developing a thoughtful, strategic and opportunistic approach to achieving any swimming goal you value.  And that type of approach–so different from the limbs, lungs, and muscles approach that has predominated throughout history–will not only help you swim well, but live well too.


One Response to “The ‘Rules’ for Swimming Well and Living Well are Identical”

  1. Tom Norris says:

    As you observe, the key is mindfulness. And we can generalize this to all aspects of our life. Thrashing about in swimming, or in life for that matter, isn’t very much fun. Mindfulness is the journey.

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