Last Friday morning was a typical chilly and gray January day. I had just finished a strenuous but fun workout with my trainer at the gym. His next client was there and we were just chatting about the weekend and how they were doing a triathlon on Sunday.
“You should do it, too!” my trainer, Benjamin said. Ha, I laughed.
“I don’t swim.” I told him. “I’ll leave that to you guys!”
I left to get on with my day of design and website work. But if I’m being totally honest (and that’s sort of the point of these emails), there was a whisper inside… what if I could, and then I wondered if I still had that old swimsuit. You see, at least a decade ago, if not more, I thought I would try swimming. It seemed challenging, but also a great low, impact workout. I took one lesson and gave up.
I couldn’t figure out the breathing. I was too freaked out by the water and nothing about it came easy. But interestingly, I kept that sports suit and the crazy swim cap all these years. And then, I’m not quite sure when or how, but during the course of the day, that whisper that I almost didn’t acknowledge turned into me telling my husband, “Hey, I’m gonna do a triathlon on Sunday!”
I felt slightly crazy and totally exhilarated, but mostly curious about how this was going to play out. I confirmed the specifics of the race online and with my trainer: 300 meter swim (which I had no idea how long that was or how many laps), then a 10 mile bike ride and a 3 mile run. It would be all indoors at the St. Peters Rec Plex. For $19.00 I was going to see how my body was going to respond. But really, it was a test of the mind.
One thing I’ve learned from Toastmasters is that when you’re going to do something that requires you to be out of your comfort zone, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the space. More on that below… So, I went up to the Rec Plex to get the “lay of the land” and to practice swimming.
Jumping off, Jumping In
I decided to sign up for race before I even checked out the pool; mostly because once I made up my mind to do it, I didn’t want to be a quitter. And if I didn’t do it before 3:00 pm, then I was going to have to pay another $4.00 to sign up! I got the day pass and then asked for a quick tour. It was smaller than I thought inside and I could see how easy it would be to go from one part of the race to the other and that I could change clothes.
And then the pool.
I’m fortunate that I’m friends with some elite athletes. My trainer gave me good advice and lots of encouragement. One of my best friends has done two half Iron Mans, so I got her perspective, and another is professional swim coach and long-distance runner and she also gave me some valuable tips. I also watched a youtube video… so I was totally prepared, right??
I snagged a pair of goggles from the lost and found and sat at the edge of the pool contemplating what the heck I was doing. I was there for awhile. And then I just jumped in.
The water took my breath away. My heart rate immediately skyrocketed. I grasped the edge of the pool, sputtering. I’m not being dramatic. It was a pivotal moment. I felt like a total idiot. And then I turned around kicked off and started to swim. And felt more like an idiot!
I imagined the life guard laughing at me. I thought that the people in the next lanes were probably wondering how I wasn’t drowning. I kept trying to breathe when my face was down IN THE WATER, not when it was to the side. That doesn’t work out so well, in case you need clarification.
The Difference Maker
But I kept on going. I made it 8 laps of 25 meters with some breaks. And here’s what changed, from that initial manic lap. I controlled my thoughts. Actually, I surrendered to what I wanted most of all, and that was really just about curiosity if I could actually do this challenge.
I let go of worrying about the life guard or the other people, of if I was doing it right, if I should even be attempting it. Everyone starts somewhere. I turned inward and focused on my body, my heart rate, and just relaxed.
It was hard, but also freeing. And I left the pool knowing that I wasn’t going to drown and feeling empowered.
The event didn’t start until 3:40 pm, so I had a lot of time on Sunday. My husband said I was quiet and asked if I was nervous.
“Yes,” I responded. Wondering a little bit what I got myself into. There’s something about the moment of “ready, set go” that can do that. I packed my stuff up, ran through the checklist of what I would need and then headed out the door.
On my way there, I used the Think Up app to help settle my nerves. I recorded some affirmations in my own voice and then listed to them against music. I felt myself relax and the the nerves turn to excitement. Controlling your mind and your thoughts is a powerful tool. I walked into the Rec Plex feeling ready, committed and curious.
The actual race left me with a true and long-lasting endorphin high. Were there times when I felt physically challenged? YES! Could I control everything? NO! Like when my music stopped working during the bike portion… so frustrating! Was I the last person out of the pool? Uh, yeah…
But in the hard parts, I paid attention to the thoughts in my head and also let my love of movement take over.
Be deliberate ~ especially your thoughts
The biggest take away for you is not about how you too can do a triathlon. It’s about deciding how you are going to handle and process situations that are hard.
Here are 10 ways to help you with this that I’ve incorporated in other times in my life, not just physical.
- Familiarize yourself with the space
The brain likes familiarity. It can conserve energy knowing you’re safe. If possible, be in the space where the challenging event or situation will occur. Last week I had to give a speech to 30 people at a client site. A couple days beforehand, I went to the office and stood in the spot where I would be speaking.
This goes along with 1 a little bit. Picture what you want the outcome to be like. In the book The Power of Habit, the author told how Michael Phelps would visualize every race over and over, so much so that he could do it blindly, which happened one time when his goggles fogged over and he ended up setting a world record (beating his previous times). It’s not just for tests of physical strength. This can be used for conversations, too.
- Be intentional with your internal dialog
I don’t think we realize how powerful this is: Thoughts shape our beliefs, which shape our actions. Here’s a screenshot of what I was saying to myself on the way to the race. Please pay attention to this and try to change it, if it’s negative.
- Be intentional with your actions
I wrote an entire blog about this. Read it here and download the free guide.
Before I do anything, I ask myself: What is my intention here? What am I hoping to feel? My goal for the race was to be curious and feel strong.
- Be gentle with yourself
In American culture, we think that if we yell, we are tough and that it leads to better performance. Maybe you work better like that but yelling makes me shut down. I prefer surrendering to the power that exists in me. It’s softer and more joyful. This doesn’t make me weak; it actually makes me stronger. I’m less tense and more in tune.
- Surround yourself with positive people
I’m not sure I would’ve done this race without my trainer’s encouragement. His belief in me, the support of my athlete friends and the positive vibes from others at the event allowed me to see something in myself. We definitely feed off of each other’s energy, so again, be aware of that.
- Fear is a lie
I like this acronym: FEAR
Sometimes fear is good… as in, don’t touch a hot stove. But most of the time, it keeps us from doing things we want to do. Saying things that we want to say. And experiencing those moments of life that make it joyful for us. Sometimes we do have to push past the fear in order to experience the fulfillment. At the end of the race, I wanted to get my 3 mile run to under 30 mins, so I just went for it and upped the pace on the treadmill. I could’ve let fear stop me, but I chose exhilaration instead.
- Turn anxiety into excitement
Anxiety just means you care about the result. But it can also be debilitating because it supersedes DOING. Anxiety keeps you stuck. Action brings clarity. Can you take that anxiety and focus on an aspect of doing that is positive and motivating?
- Breathe, breathe, breathe
There are so many benefits to controlling your breath. You can manage your heart rate and it calms the mind. It’s like an internal massage. The goal is deep, belly breaths! I use this in many, many scenarios — from giving speeches, to stressful parenting moments, and definitely when I was swimming laps.
- Believe in yourself
I think the whole reason why I was able to complete the triathlon is because deep down I believed in myself. I didn’t look at it as success or failure. It was more about the experience. And believe that you are worthy. Because I do!!! You’re worthy of whatever it is that is going to bring you joy!!
I’ve used this framework to help with other stressful situations like when I had to call a client and tell him about a problem with his website. I hope that you can use it, too!!! And if you’re wondering, here are my times: 300 meter swim – 11 mins / 10 mile bike ride – 31 mins / 3 mile run – 29 mins.
I’m so glad I didn’t let the fear get in the way of trying something new… and that I kept that old suit all these years. May you do something today that helps you create a joyful life!!
Here are some of my favorite pics!!
Here are some of my favorite pics from the day!
I help stressed out working professionals stop destructive habits and be healthier and more joyful, so you can make lasting changes and achieve goals, even if you are busy. I do this through one-on-one coaching packages that provide a customized visual gameplan that you can actually use. Just hit reply to talk to me about scheduling a complimentary breakthrough session to get started on your personal plan.