Hold One Thought
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on March 20th, 2012

Since January I’ve been teaching an Effortless Endurance class series at the Greenwich (CT) YMCA — a series of four 90-minute sessions on Saturday afternoons. Every fourth week we begin another series. I’ve benefitted personally from repeatedly leading new students through the TI foundational skills, in being reminded of the common challenges facing adults learning to swim in mid-life.

Learning to control your body in the water is is a big one. Learning to control your mind is even bigger. Inez, a participant in the current series, emailed me to report feeling overwhelmed when she went to the pool yesterday to practice the skills we worked on two days earlier in the second session, during which we focused on a Rag Doll recovery, Mail Slot entry  and using the extended arm to Separate Molecules. That’s a lot of thinking and coordination.

I wrote back that–when learning a skill as complex and counter-intuitive as swimming–feeling overwhelmed is normal. I felt it as well, back in 1990 when I first realized my stroke needed a complete makeover after 25 years of swimming the traditional way. I discovered then that I needed to learn a new way to think before I could learn a new way to swim.

Between 1965 and 1972, when I was developing my inefficient stroke habits,  I did all my swimming in workouts– i.e. racing teammates for a couple of hours each afternoon. In 1990 I swam mostly alone, practicing the drills and skills I was teaching in TI clinics and camps. (Weekend workshops didn’t begin until 1993.) Learning to be alone with my thoughts, undistracted by teammates, was a new experience.

I began my stroke makeover with a focus on head position, which had been forward-looking for 25 years and millions of strokes. I quickly realized that before I could learn a new way to swim, I would need to learn a new way to think — specifically how to Think About One Thing, and  ignore or dismiss other thoughts.

I thought about little else but head position for three months, and didn’t feel that a neutral head position had become my ‘new normal’ for six months. By then, I’d formed two invaluable new habits:

(1) To swim with a neutral head position.

(2) To always leave the wall with One Clear Thought about technique.

(PS: Inez want on to say that after returning from her ‘overwhelmed’ pool practice, she reviewed the video I’d shot Saturday and posted online and felt encouraged and calmed by seeing how much her form had improved from a week earlier.)

9 Responses to “Hold One Thought”

  1. Celeste says:

    Great post! I resonate with the swimming in group vs alone experience. It’s challenging to hold focus in a group (during training/event) when my focus drifts to everyone and thing around me other than my own strokes. At the end, I benefit more on fitness than on technique while trying to keep up. So my one focus in group swimming will be to cocoon myself in calmness.

  2. Kim Orifice says:

    How do we get this at our local Y in Temecula, California?

  3. You could start by telling the Y management “I want my MTV, um, TI.”

  4. Sharon Songer says:

    How do I order this book? I have been a master’s swim coach for an aggressive triathlon program in metro Atlanta at Concourse Athletic Club. I am now in another state and looking at trying to introduce TI to the people at the club where I am swimming.

    Would this be a good book for me to expand and renew my knowledge plus find out what is up to date in technique in TI at this time.

    Sharon Songer

  5. Sharon, where are you coaching now?

  6. Brenda Bell says:

    Just thought you’d like to know that I taught myself to swim from the Happy Laps video. This was after having taken countless swimming lessons with each lesson leaving me feeling more dejected and disappointed than the last.

    The whole process took about three weeks — I spent 7 or 8 days just learning to breathe normally with water hitting my face in the shower. It never occurred to any of my instructors to teach me I could breath with water in my mouth.

    Oh… I did this about 4 years ago at the young age of 52… and after my husband saw the transformation, he watched the video and swears he can now swim farther and longer with less effort than when he was a teenager and he’s been swimming since he was 5 (or so he thought 🙂

  7. Renee Noto says:


    I stumbled upon your Total Immersion program on Youtube when I was looking for some tips to improve my swimming. I got in the pool yesterday and worked on many of the points you made in the workshop I saw on youtube. I was a bit slower due to working on technique but swam for almost 50 minutes without any effort. I am a member of the Greenwich Y and would like to know when you plan to be there next as I think coaching/instruction would be the best way to improve quickly.

  8. I’m nearly 75 and want to learn to swim freestyle! What is the “Happy Laps” video, Brenda Bell refers to. And is it the best way for me to learn?

  9. […] But the thing is that I had to be incredibly mindful. As in concentrate. If I simply plowed along without thinking, the lead arm would drop. Keeping it relaxed out front took a lot of mindful effort on holding one thought. […]

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