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Navigating Challenges Part II

In part I, I provided several strategies you can implement whenever you're faced with a significant challenge. As you know challenges are headed your way, even if you don't know when or what form they'll take, it's best to be prepared.

Here are 5 more strategies you can use overcome the challenges you face in the water.

Do something. No matter what the situation, there is always something you can do to continue to make progress in some area that is relevant to accomplishing your goals. Many people will simply stop everything, and they’ll lose any and all momentum they had. That’s momentum that will be very difficult to get back once you decide to pursue your goals again. Anything you’re doing IS progress.

If you can’t perform any physical training, what can you do? You can learn about swimming and search for new ways to improve your skills. You can watch videos of the best swimmers racing, and see if you can pick up on some of the nuanced skills that allow them to swim fast. You can watch videos of your own swimming looking for opportunities for improvement. You can spend 15 minutes per day visualizing yourself swimming. You can even make changes lifestyle changes to better support your future training.

The more you can do, the easier it will be to return to full training when you’re able. The closer you can keep your physical training to ‘normal’, the easier the transition back will be. When that’s not an option, it’s time to get creative and address other opportunities that have been overlooked in the past. If you can feel like you’re still making progress towards your goal, it will help to retain motivation. The more motivated you are, the faster you’ll return and the more prepared you’ll be once you do return.

Turn it down, not up. When met with a challenge in any area of life, the instinct of just about every human being is to double and turn up the effort with the intent to blast through the obstacle with sheer force of will. While this strategy might work in certain circumstances, physical training is typically an area where that strategy doesn’t work at all. It typically makes the situation worse. Considering that many problems in sports are caused by doing too much, particularly in motivated athletes, the opposite strategy.

It’s very likely that this is especially true of you. After all, you’re reading a book about how to improve your performance, the type of person willing to put in extra time and effort into their swimming. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. When given the choice, you’re going to gravitate towards too much work. The solution is to do less.

Take a step back, and turn it down. The three primary options you have are to reduce volume, intensity, or frequency. If it’s a very mild setback, you might be able to get away with reducing one of the 3. If it’s a pretty significant setback, you’re going to need to dial it all back. While it may feel like this is going to make the situation worse, less is almost always the fastest way to get back on track, and the more time you can allow for recovery, the faster it will happen.

If in doubt, remember that you likely followed your instinct to do more, and following that instinct lead you to the challenge you’re facing. Continuing to follow your instinct isn’t going to magically solve the problem. It’s going to make the situation worse. Even if it is really uncomfortable, do the opposite of what your instincts are telling you to do, and turn it down.

Learn from the past. Someone, somewhere, has struggled from the same setback that you’re currently experiencing. They’ve probably written a book or an article about it. From a more general perspective, you’re doing that right now by reading this book. You’re learning from the past about how to address challenges in general. However, it’s very likely that there is a book, a blog, or an article that provides great information about how to overcome your EXACT challenge. And it’s probably free or well within the amount of money you’d be willing to pay. Learn from the experience and expertise of others. Every book you read is a learning from the past of others, and it will dramatically speed your return to normalcy.

Beyond the expertise established by others, you’ve probably had a similar setback in the past as well. Has your performance stagnated? Look back to your prior training clues to determine what was happening when you were performing well. Look back to determine what was happening when you were struggling. How do those situations differ? How do they compare to what you’re doing now? What do you need to do more of? What do you need to less of? What do you need to remove? What might you need to add back in?

Injured? While the specific injury might not be the same, what process did you go through to get back on track. How did you change your training to get back on track? Did you have to change your lifestyle in certain ways? Did you need to change what you were doing outside of the pool? Remember, you’re looking for specific strategies, as well as a general approach, to get yourself back on track.

Learn from the experience. While immensely frustrating, injuries and training plateaus are actually sending you a very valuable lesson- you are doing something wrong. Unfortunately, you won’t get a notification on your phone about your foolish training program or terrible technique. While it would be nice, it’s not the way it works. The only real feedback you get about poor training is bad performance and injuries. That’s how you learn. While it would be nice if these lessons were more often mild rather than severe, that’s usually not a choice you can make. You get what you get.

When confronted with this feedback, rather than getting furious, get curious. From an injury or a setback, there is a wealth of information that you can use to dramatically improve your future performance. Your injury might clue you into a new way of swimming that not only allows you to be more resilient, it’s a lot faster. Your training plateau may cause you to find a new way of organizing your training that leaves you feeling much better, and performing much faster. Setbacks are a signal that something is wrong, and that an opportunity for improvement exists.

You’ve done this before. It’s highly unlikely you’ve never had a setback in the past. Rather, it’s almost guaranteed. Whatever the previous challenge was, you overcame it. You’ll figure out how to overcome this one as well. While the specific skills won’t be the same, the general approach will be the same. To get back to where you want to be, it will take resilience, composure, discipline, and patience. Without these skills, any attempt at overcoming whatever obstacle you’re facing is going to be futile.

Resilience, composure, discipline, and patience are the skills that help you determine which strategies will get you to where you want to be. These are the skills that will help you mobilize the effort required to be successful. These are the skills you’ll need to problem solve when issues arise. If you’ve overcome a setback in the past, you already possess these fundamental skills.

During a prior setback, I’m willing to bet you had no idea how you were going to make it through. You probably didn’t think you had the resilience, and you certainly didn’t have the knowledge base overcome your challenge. Yet you figured it out. You’ll be able to do it again.

This too shall pass. No matter how frustrated and despondent you are, remember that this too shall pass. While the situation may not pass with nearly enough speed, it will pass eventually. All you can do is do what you need to do today, knowing that you’re making progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Keep moving forward.

The only way it doesn’t pass is if you give up. If you continue to work through it, it will pass eventually, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. While unwarranted positivity isn’t going to help you effectively deal with reality, neither will hopeless negativity. No matter how bad it seems, it’s temporary, and the more you approach it with that mindset, the better you’ll manage the situation.


If you’re trying to accomplish a goal you’ve never achieved before, you can be assured that you will experience challenges and setbacks along the way. It’s never smooth sailing. You may run into short-term training challenges, you may run into logistical challenges, or you might simply get injured. No matter how bad it seems, there are typically actions you can take.

In reality, setbacks are short-term, and they usually function as a launching pad for future successes. When looking back, many individuals point to their setbacks as causing their current successes. However, this is only true if you earn to navigate challenges with the appropriate set of skills and frame of mind. Use the strategies that have been described here to help you do just that.

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