Can the recession help you live (and swim) better?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on January 3rd, 2010

This article in the NY Times Americans Buying Less, Doing More made me mindful of flow states and swimming.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing,  the central idea is contained in these excerpts:

“Rosario and Igor Montoya used to buy, buy, buy for themselves and their two children . . . But with the recession slashing the Montoyas’ workload and income by more than half, their priorities have shifted from products to activities. . . over the past year, Americans have rejiggered their lives to elevate experiences over things. . . not just getting by with less. They are also doing more.

Some are working longer hours, but a larger proportion are spending additional time with family and friends, gardening, cooking, reading, and engaging in hobbies . . . Psychologists have been saying for years that shared experiences lead to more long-term happiness than the latest bauble. “

Fifteen years ago, the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly (MC) began to powerfully inform my thinking on how to teach and practice swimming.   MC wrote that his book was about “how to live life as a work of art.”

What I got from that was the idea that if you practiced swimming by his principles, your swimming would improve far more than if you followed traditional “more and harder” approaches . . . but more importantly you’d not just swim better, but could also live better.

“Who wouldn’t want their swimming to have a higher purpose,” I thought.

MC’s core insight was that life’s most transcendant and fulfilling moments (flow states) occur when we embrace challenges and focus thoughts, intentions, and senses on a meaningful-and-exacting goal.

Swimming is unquestionably healthful, but is exceptionally challenging to do well. Perfect!

How does Flow relate to this article? MC contrasted pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure is the experience we gain from passive activities like a hot bath or massage. To gain enjoyment we must make an active contribution to the result

MC said people generally understand little about what makes them happy but did report feeling generally unhappy “doing nothing”, and generally happy doing things. “Most people are happier gardening than power-boating, talking to friends than watching TV. “ But most happy when absorbed in a mindful challenge.

When swimming, you are obviously doing something. To experience Flow while swimming, add the following ingredients (all adapted from the book.)

1) Focus on improving, not just doing

2) Seek improvement by finding and fixing–rather than avoiding–errors.

3) Develop strategies to fix errors and swim better.

4) Have a clear, specific purpose for every stroke . . . rather than “get the yards in.”

Happy-and flowing-Laps!

2 Responses to “Can the recession help you live (and swim) better?”

  1. Steve Leveen says:

    Thanks Terry. I remember you told me about this book years ago, but this time I’m off to read it! You’re an inspiration, and not just in the water. –Steve

  2. bkjagadish says:


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