Eventually, you get there
At age 31, I couldn’t swim. Every time I tried to swim, my Lizard Brain would send my body into a panic. My heart rate would skyrocket, my muscles would tense, and within 25 yards, I’d be out of breath.
It made me feel insecure, incomplete, and even weak to not be able to swim. I loved the water, but this stood in my way of fully enjoying that.
But standing in my way of learning how to swim was a tower of self-doubt: I took lessons as a child, and they didn’t work; I’m too lean, and not tall enough; how can I even fight through the shame and embarrassment of being an adult trying to learn to swim?
I decided I couldn’t allow this to continue. I gave myself permission to suck, and started going to the pool.
I was able to relate to Tim Ferriss’s story of learning to swim as an adult, so I decided to use the same methodology – Total Immersion (book & DVD) – to teach myself to swim.
Tim managed to teach himself how to swim in only 10 days. This is not such a story.
Just last week week – almost two years to the day after I bought the book and DVD – I finally had my breakthrough swimming workout. After doing my usual warm-up drills, I was able to continuously swim 7 laps (14 lengths, 350 yards), and eventually stopped, not because I was tired, but because I just felt like I had done enough swimming for that day.
Don’t let a little waiting stand in your way
How could I have the patience to spend two years learning how to swim? Well, it reminds me a bit of my first transpacific flight, which I recently took: 15.5 hours direct from Chicago to Hong Kong.
Thousands of people take such a flight every day, so it’s not really a big deal, but there are many people who would do anything to avoid taking such a flight. I even remember, when I was in high school, telling one of my friends that I had no interest in ever going to Europe, simply because I didn’t want to be on a plane that long.
Thankfully, I changed my tune. The thing I learned is that: eventually, you get there.
Patience, in pieces
It’s true. If you just sit on that plane for a bit, eventually, you will get there. To put it in perspective, 15.5 hours is less than .2% of a single year of your entire life. Of course, the experiences of international travel are ones you will remember for the rest of your life!
So, if you want to learn to do something, just spend two years practicing it, right? Like a transatlantic flight, eventually, you get there. Easier said than done. Here’s how to make it bearable.
- Find pleasure in learning: At first, my swimming “workouts” were mostly frustrating. I had to do humiliatingly simple drills: just floating on my back, tweaking the position of my chest and arms and face. Inexplicably, I just didn’t float as well as the book and DVD seemed to assume I would. My goal was to find some way to enjoy my swimming workouts. Maybe I’d float the right way for a moment, or I’d really get the rhythm of my breathing down. If I couldn’t do that, I could at least appreciate the feeling of having water all around my body.
- Wait for the want: Many times, I left the pool feeling totally defeated. I didn’t want to go back. So, I just didn’t. For weeks. Eventually, I would remember some moment of success or pleasure I had experienced in a previous workout – or the promise of eventually learning how to swim would spike enough dopamine to motivate me to go back. I waited until I wanted to go back.
- Eventually, magic happens: Slowly, things started to happen. I didn’t feel panicked when I was in the water. The drills in which I just couldn’t float, suddenly and magically seemed to work! I moved on to more advanced drills that improved my rhythm turning over in the water. I started to get a clear mental picture of what a good swimming stroke was supposed to look and feel like. I even started to see flaws in the strokes of swimmers who could somehow swim much longer than I could.
- In the right conditions, the snowball will grow: If you’ve ever made a snowball before, you know that you have to have the right kind of snow – or it just won’t stick. But if conditions are right, you can make the snowball roll it in the snow and – well, you know the rest. This framework I worked with – finding ways to enjoy swimming, only doing it when I wanted to, and trusting in eventual magic – lead me to want to swim more. I started going every week, sometimes multiple times a week, and my progress accelerated, until I had a total breakthrough in my ability.
It’s very easy to be impatient. I’ll avoid the cliché of suggesting that it has anything to do with this day and age, because it’s simply a part of being human to want progress and results. Your Lizard Brain wants to be reactionary, but your prefrontal cortex knows that if you’re patient and learn to enjoy the journey, eventually, you get there.
Eventually, you get there: kadavy.net/blog/posts/eve…
— David Kadavy (@kadavy) November 12, 2012