How To Transform Your Mindset And Swim That Extra Mile (Or Twenty)

How To Transform Your Mindset And Swim That Extra Mile (Or Twenty)

Guest Post By Nicola S. Morgan

We all remember the first time we take the plunge.

The first time we say, ‘I’m going to give open water swimming a try’.

My time was in 2016 at Chepstow Quarry and I was terrified. The deep, dark water seeped through the seams of my damp wetsuit. The mind-numbing cold, pin prickled every pore on my body. I probably lasted about 30 seconds before immediately jumping out, shivering and panicking.

But I wanted to overcome this fear. I was determined.

In the best-selling book ‘Atomic Habits‘, author James Clear explains that successful people, for example, Olympians, are really good at handling boredom. Routines, regular schedules and doing the same thing over and over is, let’s be honest, really boring.

However Olympians stick with it, they do the boring stuff, improve and win medals for our country. The takeaway? Do the boring thing and it’ll help you get where you need to be, or ignore it and stay where you are.

So that’s what I did. Each week from then on I went back, staying in the water a little bit longer every time. A gradual build-up, a manageable goal for myself.

Whether you’re a casual or more serious swimmer, we all know that acclimatising to the temperature is essential. We follow the rules for our safety, listen to our bodies and respect the water.

But building up that endurance wasn’t the end goal, oh no I was going for a much bigger one – swimming The English Channel.

From 50m to 21 miles

Over the next year, I trained, and I trained.

What an adventure that was – from being able to swim the length of the pool to preparing for my first Channel swim.

Breaking down this challenge into smaller parts, regular swims, testing my endurance in cold water – otherwise, as I’m sure you understand, it feels totally overwhelming.

However, on the big day, this great adventure and challenge, despite all the training, the ice baths, and doing ‘the boring stuff’, I failed. I couldn’t complete the swim.

Have you been there too?

Have you ever set yourself a goal or challenge, that from the outset feels big? Yet you believe. You train and train and aim to complete it, but sometimes belief alone isn’t enough.

This experience taught me that you need a kitbag of strategies to help you go beyond your belief to a change in mindset that helps to ensure success.

We don’t call this failure. We call this unfinished business.

That’s what the boat’s pilot said to me once I was back onboard. It’s not failure, it’s unfinished business – and what a motivating change in language.

Was I, an entrepreneur, teacher, international education consultant and author going to leave business unfinished? Was I hell?

Strategy 1: Words are powerful, so use different ones

Changing the language from failure to unfinished business had such a profound impact on me.

I love this quote by Henry Ford ‘If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right’.

And it’s true isn’t it, the stories you tell yourself influence your physical ability to achieve something. There are two stories I like to run through in my mind during these kinds of challenging situations, I call it ‘play it forward’.

In the first story, you get out of the water, onto the boat, disqualified from the competition, have a shower, eat, warm up – and then what? Will you regret you didn’t stay in the water and push through? In the moment it’s the easy option, but the hard always comes, and the hard feelings will likely be those of regret later on.

Now imagine it the other way around, play it forward and keep going. The hard is now. The hard is training your mind so you believe you can keep going – it’s not your body that gives up, it’s your mind. But you push through, telling yourself you can keep going.

Choose the moment to experience the ‘hard’, if you do it now, the reward will come later.

Strategy 2: Delay the urge to give up by tackling smaller milestones

Keep going – easier said than done right?

In the case of the English Channel, 21 miles is a long, long way. Impossible some might say. But what if you just swim for 30 mins at a time – that’s not overwhelming, you’ve done that before haven’t you?

And then what if you just do that, over and over again? The goal isn’t to swim 21 miles, it’s to swim for 30 mins.

Breaking down the overwhelmingly big challenge into smaller chunks helps you get through. If you hit the wall and want to give up, say to yourself, ‘Okay just 30 more minutes’ – you know you can do that.

Strategy 3: Overcome the challenge within the challenge by changing your focus

Typically, pretty much every challenge comes with its sub-challenges, but when you’re in open water, you can’t afford for them to stack up and drag you down. You need to change your focus from the pain, the cold and the big challenge to something else.

Focus on mindfulness, acknowledge that you’re uncomfortable and focus on your breath. Do a body scan – check in with every single part of your body, is it ok, how do your toes feel? How is your neck doing?

My favourite focus is to find something you can appreciate in the moment within the challenge. For me, it was the sky, the opportunity, the adventure – more people have climbed Everest than swam the English Channel, how amazing is it that I’m doing this right now?!

Taking on your next challenge

The US Navy SEALs live by a powerful mantra, the 40% rule — ‘When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done.

The human mind is an amazing thing. It both propels us forward and holds us back’1.

My journey from a fear of deep water to becoming an English Channel swimmer was a hard one, and it was these three strategies that got me through. A kitbag of strategies that helped me access that extra 60% and complete all 21 miles of open water swimming.

Hear all about the challenges I overcame during the second pursuit of the English Channel in my TEDx Talk.

Share this post with someone who needs that extra boost of motivation for their next swimming challenge.

Enhance your open water swimming approach with Nicola’s coaching and discover research-backed techniques to refine your mindset. Connect with Nicola S. Morgan on her website

Nicola S Morgan
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