What do you think about
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on December 9th, 2009

I was just emailed an invite to cast my vote in an online poll on the topic “What do you think about while open water swimming?”

As I scrolled down the list I was surprised about the omission of my most constant and critical focal point: I think about my stroke — one at a time, in the moment I’m taking it, until I’m finished — even when I take 25,000 or more strokes as I did in swimming 28.5-miles around Manhattan.

My stroke thoughts are primary, conscious and explicit. Anything else that passes through my consciousness is momentary and mostly implicit. Even my observations of other swimmers leads back to thoughts of my stroke – either to mirror or emulate something they’re doing well, or to strive for even greater efficiency, ease, relaxation or sense of leisure when I see examples (far more common) of the opposite in their strokes.

When I looked over the list again, I realized that “stroke” was indeed among the choices – at choice # 11 of 19, lumped in with “course,direction and pace.”

The first two items on the list – probably tongue-in-cheek – were Pray and Fantasize. Choices 8 through 10 – probably reflecting reality for many swimmers – were:

Think about work or school.

Think about friends or family.

Think about nothing (zone out).

For me, stroke thoughts require an entirely different thought process than those on course, direction and pace. Those are primarily analytical and will result in a momentary change in action.
Stroke thoughts require a constant self-assessing and a choice to adjust or maintain your focus — and thus a great deal more “bandwidth” in your brain. And once you choose a new stroke thought, you hold it at the center of your consciousness until you choose differently.
As well, I think of pace as an outcome of stroke thoughts, rather than a distinct thought. I analyze whether my pace is appropriate to the situation and if I feel it’s not I adjust it via a change in my stroke thought. At one point it might be a thought about integrating weight shift with stroke. At another about a more dynamic leg-drive on my 2-Beat Kick. At another moment I will adjust pace via a ┬áchange in tempo. But each is a distinct and targeted stroke thought.
This is the essence of mindfulness in all swimming, but particularly in open water. In open water, stroke thoughts are the foundation for creating a “cocoon of calm” that helps the OW novice – especially the new triathlete – keep anxiety or stress at manageable levels. Eventually this sense of calm control should convert into flow states and pure pleasure in environments that cause anxiety or distraction in others.
When you think Perpetual Motion Freestyle stroke thoughts, you might want to base them, in  part, on these pictures of Terry Laughlin (L) and Shinji Takeuchi (R) from the Outside the Box e-book.

4 Responses to “What do you think about”

  1. […] This post was Twitted by lakotega […]

  2. None of the listed items – including praying and fantacizing – were included as tongue-in-cheek.

    Also, the list was not a ranking of the items. It was simply a random list for polling purposes.

    The poll is a simple – not scientific – means to obtain a global sampling of what actual activities are performed by open water swimmers around the world.

  3. Steve, thanks for the clarification. I find it revealing that the list of potential things to ponder while OW swimming is so lengthy. I have little doubt, that your list may be an accurate reflection — and therefore suggestive of the value for the universe of OW swimmers, of learning effective focus.
    For me “effective” is quite literal – to focus only on those things that can effect the outcome of the race or the quality of their experience.
    This suggests another possible poll “What aspects of focus do you think can materially improve your race performance or experience?”
    I may post that one on the TI Discussion Forum.

  4. I found your site via yahoo thanks for the post. I will bookmark it for future reference. Thanks

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