Trust the Process
TRUST THE PROCESS - - The mindset you need to crush your practices (and PB's)
By Olivier Leroy
The process.
You hear it from your coaches when you are having a mid-season freak-out You see it hash-tagged relentlessly on social media (guilty!).
From the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, whose fans have made “trust the process” close to a team motto, to the coach who popularized “the process”—the University of Alabama’s
Nick Saban, who has won five national championships on the back of this simple-looking philosophy.
The basis of “the process” is simple: instead of worrying or focusing or stressing about the result, you focus on the process.
Rather than worrying about whether or not you will beat the swimmer in the lane next to you, or beat your best time, or qualify for the Olympic team, you concentrate solely on the things you need to do right now to perform well.
This attitude has become prevalent on the pool deck too.
Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’ long-time coach, has brought this focus on the process to Arizona State University. “That man has the plan,” said ASU recruit Grant House, nodding towards Bowman’s office. "Every day, we have to trust the process and perform the best we can.”
Kylie Masse, Canadian backstroke sensation who won bronze in Rio, and then followed that up with a world record in the 100m backstroke at the 2017 Budapest World Championships, “Everyone has what works for them. I try to always keep a positive attitude. I trust the process, my coaches and support systems.”
For swimmers who are tapering trusting the process is especially critical: it is natural—with all that surplus of energy—to start thinking about adding some last minute training, or start to feel rampant doubt. We start worrying more about performing than we do about showing up to the pool and doing our best today.
University of Notre Dame swimmer Rob Whitacre, when discussing the mental aspect of tapering noted the importance of staying the course and having faith in what you are doing: “But it’s just trust the process, you’ve been doing the sets the coaches tell you to do all year. Why would you question that process now?”
The phrase also figures prominently in my mental training workbook for swimmers, Conquer the Pool, with a section devoted exclusively to grasping and mastering the process.
So, even though the phrase gets thrown around a lot, what can you, the enterprising swimmer do with it?
How can a “trust the process” mindset help you become a better swimmer?
The Process Helps You Do What Needs Doing
For a moment lean back and think about all the work you need to do in order to crush your PB at the end of the season.
All those early mornings. The time in the gym. The improvements in technique. Tightening up your streamline. Powering up your underwaters. Improving your core strength. The meters, on meters, on meters.
Good grief—are you sighing yet?
Feeling a little overwhelmed?
Paralyzed even—like, “How can I possibly do all that stuff?”
That’s a natural reaction when we try to swallow our big goal with one bite.
Cognitively, trying to digest a year (or four) of hard work is hard to handle.
After all, swimming elite—whatever that means for you—is complex. It’s chaotic. There are a thousand different variables to consider each day in and out of the water.
This sense of being overwhelmed leaves us feeling stressed, anxious, and hammers performance.
By focusing on the process you zoom out from the big picture perspective that leaves us feeling stunned and paralyzed, and instead get up real close with what needs doing today.
By focusing on the process you focus on the next lap and the next stroke. This makes starting much more manageable as it dampens the anxiety that comes with thinking about alllll that we have to do to accomplish our goals.
This is the sneaky power of the process.
The process gives us a way to clear the chaos and get some clarity of purpose. Something to latch onto when we feel overwhelmed with everything we still have to do to accomplish our goals. Breaks down something that is really, really hard and complex into something that is simple.
The process is being present, it’s swimming in the moment and not allowing ourselves to be distracted by what may or may not happen tomorrow, by the swimmer in the next lane, or by focusing on anything else outside of what you are doing right now.
It’s doing what you need to do.
The process looks easy. It’s not. It’s simple. Big difference.
Trusting the process is hard: it requires faith in an uncertainty. And that’s why so many athletes have a difficult time with it. Because there is no sure thing, we keep looking for something better, something shinier, something more effective than what we are doing, abandoning momentum and progress for the sake of novelty.
Trusting the process is tough: there will be times where you feel like it’s not working, not working fast enough, or it’s simply harder than you anticipated. It’s not a turnkey solution to your motivational woes: it’s not as though you look in the mirror and say, “Trust the process!” and everything is smooth sailing. The process is tough because it requires you showing up and pushing failure each day in practice.
Trusting the process can be counter-intuitive. Focusing on today’s workout—and setting aside the anxiety that comes with stressing about our races—is supremely simple, but hard to do. For some swimmers, it seems ridiculous: the way to achieve my goals is to stop thinking about them? Yeah, basically. Worrying about your goals doesn’t increase the chances of them coming to pass. You already know this. And yet we do it anyway.
Trust the plan. There will be moments where your swimming seriously needs a course correction. You need to do something new. (Just one of the reasons we race: it gives us an excellent barometer of how our training is going.) There is no denying that there will be times where your swimming is broken and needs some serious TLC. But if you are jumping ship frequently, you aren’t giving yourself a chance to allow your training to pan out.
Trust yourself. Being fearful that we won’t be okay if things don’t go our way is typical. But guess what—you’ve been through worse before. And you will persevere through future moments of adversity and pain. You were okay yesterday, and you will be okay tomorrow.
The Next Step
The process.
Sounds important.
Like a metric ton of PB’s, in fact.
So how do we start training and competing with more process?
Focus on doing your best at what you are doing. Be present with your training. Work on crushing this lap and this lap alone.
Prepare for practice like you do for competition. Often swimmers will really buckle down on their preparation only when it comes to racing or when they are tapering. Treat your practices like competition, both in terms of your levels of focus and the lifestyle habits outside of the pool.
Go forth, and dominate your process.
See you in the water,