Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

As human beings, our behaviors and the things that we do are very much dictated and determined by our beliefs. Every single day, and in everything that you do, the decisions you make, the actions you take, and the way you train and perform in the pool are all greatly influenced by what you believe about the world around you, the sport of swimming, and most importantly, who you think you are and what you think you’re capable of as a swimmer.

For today’s article, my objective is simple – To help you dispel and rid yourself of some of the harmful, limiting beliefs that could be holding you back and keeping you from being the best version of yourself that you could be. Let’s jump into it.


Limiting Belief #1 - “I can’t win if I start behind off the block.”

Let’s rewind to 2008. It’s the Olympics in Beijing, China. Michael Phelps is going for the record of winning the most gold medals in a single Olympics. In order to keep that dream alive, he needs to win the 400m fre relay en route to the record. However, the French have their eyes on winning that relay and preventing Michael from achieving that record. Before the race, they said this: “The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”

Michael Phelps leads off the relay, and he finishes his leg in 2nd behind Australia. Garrett Weber-Gale swims the 2nd leg and gives the Americans the lead, with the French having moved from 3rd place to 2nd place. Cullen Jones swims the 3rd leg, and during this leg, the French take the lead with the Americans dropping to 2nd. Starting the 4th and final leg, Jason Lezak is a full body length behind, but in the final 50m, roars back to out-touch the French and win the Gold.

Get rid of this limiting belief that if you start behind off the block, you can’t win a race. If you focus on yourself, concentrate on your performance, and execute to the best of your ability, there’s always the possibility that you can come from behind to win. On top of that, you never have any way of knowing how your opponents are going to perform. They may make a mistake, tire early, or get discouraged and fall off once they see you coming up on them. Never, ever give up on a race until you touch the wall. Anything is possible.


Limiting Belief #2 - “I can’t finish strong once a race starts to hurt.”

Whether you realize it or not, you have a belief about how much pain you think your body can handle when you swim. If the amount of pain you’re feeling during a race doesn’t reach what you think is your physical limit, then you will continue to push yourself as hard as you can. However, if at some point during a race, the amount of pain you feel does reach what you think is your physical limit, then you will force yourself to slow down to alleviate that pain, even though your body is perfectly capable of pushing through it.

A swimmer can have either a positive attitude or a negative attitude about any given level of pain. If you have a positive attitude towards pain, you will be less bothered by it and are much more likely to push harder and finish strong. If you have a negative attitude towards pain, you will be more bothered by it and slow yourself down more than you need to, even though your body can physically handle that pain and keep pushing forward.

Get rid of this limiting belief that, when a race starts to hurt, you’re not strong enough to handle it and finish that race as best as you can. This belief is harmful because it will limit you from pushing past your pain threshold and swimming as hard as you’re actually capable of at the tail end of a race. The human body can handle pretty much any amount of pain and fatigue you experience during race. That’s not the issue. The issue is how you perceive pain and fatigue. Have a positive attitude towards pain, and you can overcome it.


Limiting Belief #3 - “I could never be as good as they are.”

Levi Brock wasn’t recruited by any big NCAA schools. His times just weren’t anything spectacular. He swam about a 56-57 in the 100y Breast during his senior year in high school. Seeing as how he wasn’t recruited by any major school, but given that he still had the burning desire to swim for a major school, he asked Indiana University if he could walk into their team. Recognizing his determination, the coaches at Indiana allowed him to walk on.

His freshman year at Indiana, he dropped 2 seconds off his 100 Breast to a 54.78. His sophomore year, he dropped it further down to a 53.36. By his junior year, he dropped it even further to a 52.88. And finally, in his senior year, and during one of his last collegiate swims, he swam a whopping 51.45, getting an NCAA “A” cut and automatically qualifying for the NCAA National Championships. He went from being essentially a nobody to being one of the best breaststrokers in the country.

Get rid of this limiting belief that other swimmers who are currently better than you are, are these untouchable invincible people that you’d never be able to compete with. This belief is harmful, because as long as you put other swimmers on a pedestal, you’ll never have the confidence and self-belief necessary to rise to a higher level, and you’ll limit yourself from ever realizing just how great you can potentially be. As I mentioned earlier, human beings have unlimited potential. Never allow yourself to put a limit on what you could do.

When working with my swimming clients, I’m always testing them by telling them to constantly question what they believe. As a swimmer, you should be periodically checking in with yourself and asking, “Am I holding onto any limiting beliefs that are holding me back and limiting me from being my best?” If you don’t take the time to ask yourself this question, than you can fall victim to a number of false beliefs that will limit your ability to grow, improve, and succeed. Always be looking to overcome limiting beliefs.