AUG BLOG - URGENCY AND FOCUS (PART 2)
In my last blog post, I wrote about the ability to create urgency for yourself and to spark life into actions. In a similar vein, this blog post is going to be about how to develop focus on the actions that you take, to ensure that you are delivering them in the best way possible.
The two areas go hand in hand if you are to complete tasks to a high level consistently well. Just like urgency, focus is something that individuals can create and learn to tap into more often. There have been huge amounts of discussion and research into focus over the last few years, but my aim in this blog is to make it swimming specific. How do we focus in the pool and complete tasks to a high level. I believe it comes down to the following areas:
- Create interest and excitement (urgency) about the specific areas you wish to focus on
- Learn how to focus intensely on these areas (especially during tougher sets)
- Develop your ability to focus intensely for longer periods of time
I think these three areas are the main points for swimmers to develop. The first point is recapping my previous blog post in a lot of ways - for swimmers to focus intensely, there must be a level of interest and excitement to the area they are focused on. Like I said in my previous blog, this can be as simple as goal setting conversations with your squad coach and highlighting the areas that you need to improve or researching the best swimmers in the world at these skills. If you know that you need to improve your speed around the turns, then watch videos of Caeleb Dressel, Sarah Sjostrum or Minna Atherton and look at the areas that they do well. By doing this, you allow yourself to zoom in on an area that you want to improve. Before you push off the wall to complete a task in training, try to have a real interest and knowledge of what it is that you are trying to work on.
The second part is more to do with the mindset you need to adopt during this intense period of focus. When you are completing a physically challenging set, your heart rate will be up, your mind will be stimulated, and you will be experiencing all sorts of thoughts that can go through your head. Focus is about taking each repetition and being “in the moment” for that specific repetition whilst trying to avoid breaking your focus with distractions. Great athletes will often finish a repetition and have a specific routine that they will follow during the set. This can include how they are breathing, when they are drinking from their water bottle and even how they prepare themselves to push off the wall. Some of the breathing techniques that I have seen athletes use in the past have been as simple as counting to 5 as they breath in and counting to 5 as they breath out through their nose. These routines can take away the distractions that occur during a hard set and give you an opportunity to practice self-evaluating the previous repetition (Did you manage the right number of fly kicks? Did you hit your target stroke count?). By doing this, you are keeping the mind on the task at hand and by practicing breathing techniques, you are giving your body the signals that everything is fine and it is able to handle the challenges of the set.
These above routines are challenging to settle into at first. They may even feel awkward or unnatural and particularly when you are in a group setting, the temptation is always there to have a chat with your friend next to you or find the distractions that take away from what you need to focus on. This is where the 3rd point becomes very important: how do swimmers develop their ability to focus for longer periods of time? Some tough sessions as swimmers get older can require intense focus for 60 minutes. This can be a huge challenge and will often result in swimmers performing skills to a lower level as the set progresses. There is an analogy that I really like for these situations. For anybody out there who has learnt to play a string instrument such as a guitar or violin, you will know that initially when you started to play, the tips of your fingers would get sore from the strings rubbing against them. Or for those of you who have been in the gym, when you have picked up heavy weights your hands would get blisters. Eventually, the more that you practiced these exercises, your skin would toughen up to the point where it no longer hurt. The mind is very similar to this. Initially when you try to focus intently for a large amount of time, it is going to feel uncomfortable and your mind will wander. However, keep trying to maintain focus for a little longer each time before giving your mind a chance to relax. By doing this, you will improve your ability to focus for longer periods of time. To start with, if you can only focus for 3 minutes, that’s fine - give your mind the chance to drift but the next time you want to try and focus for 5 or 6 minutes and keep progressing your minds ability to focus intensely. Eventually, you will create the callouses on your mind that allow you to keep your focus for extremely long periods of time.
I hope this blog gives you some ideas of how to improve your ability to focus for extended periods of time. As I mentioned in my last post, there are lots of really interesting articles on the internet that go into the body and minds’ ability to focus. So if you wish to read more, then I would suggest looking into some of the Andrew Huberman podcasts or if you find some more interesting articles, please feel free to share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org – they will be very much appreciated!