Learning To Forgive Yourself

One of the more common characteristics of competitive athletes across all sports is that they tend to be really hard on themselves. You know the story: You have a bad meet, a disappointing showing in your best events or you lose to someone who you know you're faster than and you respond with frustration and self-directed anger, emotionally beating yourself up! “I should've done better!” “I really suck!” “This meet ruined my whole season!” etc.

While your success in the pool is largely determined by how hard you're willing to work physically, this does NOT include being hard on yourself emotionally.

Getting down on yourself for a bad practice, discouraging meet or any kind of failure will NEVER motivate you in the way that you might think. In fact, when you emotionally beat up on yourself whenever you struggle, it will have the opposite effect. This kind of self-treatment will undermine your confidence, de-motivate you and raise your nervous system into the “Red Zone!” As a result, you'll get more frustrated with and angry at yourself and this will tighten you up, ensuring that your next swim will be subpar.

Furthermore, when you turn on yourself in this way, you'll end up being hijacked by your emotions. When this happens, you'll be unknowingly distracting yourself from constructively using the failure or disappointment to get better! What do I mean by this?

One key principle of success in swimming and every other sport is that you always want to build your successes upon your failures! That is, when you have a bad race or huge disappointment, this setback actually provides you with a valuable opportunity to learn two critical things necessary for improvement and success: #1) What you did wrong; #2) What you need to do differently next time.

However, when you get emotionally down on yourself after a bad race, the only thing that you'll take away from this experience is the mistaken belief that you're not that good a swimmer. It would be like you looking at your image in a fun house mirror. What you'll see reflected back is a totally distorted and inaccurate image of yourself. When this happens, your negative emotions will actually prevent you from accurately identifying and correcting your mistakes.

You don't have to like the frustration, discouragement, self-doubts and the other uncomfortable emotions that come from experiences of failure. However, it's absolutely critical for you to keep in mind that getting down on yourself for failing does NOTHING constructive for you.

Instead, you want to continuously work on learning to be a better coach to yourself. When you have setbacks, you need to respond with patience and kindness, rather than harshness! Keep in mind that being kinder to yourself after a bad race doesn't mean that you're accepting mediocrity or that don't care! It's just that this less emotional response to your failures will always help you begin to figure out what you did wrong and what you need to do differently next time!

When you approach your disappointments in this way, without being hard on yourself and instead with curiosity about what went wrong and what you need to do to improve, this attitude will ultimately form the foundation of your future success in the pool!