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written by Višnja Željeznjak on November 10, 2009
I quit smoking a month ago. I was a happy smoker and would continue to be one, if only there was no nagging fear of death by stupidity.
So I decided to live a healthy life. I would drink freshly squeezed lemon and orange juice very early in the morning (say, 6 AM) and go swimming immediately after that. This would last for at least 45 days. If I didn't like this trial after 45 days, I would end it and go back to my old ways. So far, so good.
But this is not the story about me quitting smoking.
This is the story about how pushing your physical limits makes you confident that you can go beyond your imaginary mental limits.
After all, "It's all in your mind", or so they say. It's a wise quote, but you won't believe it until you experience the power of your own mind, first hand.
There is this woman at the pool. I see her every morning; she's a regular like me. About my age, but much more fit. Yesterday she swam in the lane next to mine. While I was gasping for my breath after only a few laps and stopped every once in a while to rest, she would swim and swim and swim. She swam pretty fast and did not stop to get rest for at least an hour.
"She must be coming to the pool for months to be in such great shape. I wish I could swim like that. I guess, if I came here every day for the next two or three months, I could reach that level of fitness."
That was yesterday. Yesterday was a great day at the pool for me. I managed to swim five laps (250 meters) without stopping for rest. It was my personal record in ten days, although I felt completely exhausted.
This morning we shared the same lane in the pool. I stopped to get some rest after first three laps. She did not.
An idea came to my mind: "I wonder if I could swim six laps without stopping for rest."
30 seconds after that, I began my quest. I finished another three laps. Just prior to finishing my sixth lap, I thought: "I think I could go for just one more lap, I am not exhausted yet."
And then it started to happen.
I just swam. I broke my personal record from yesterday and was hungry for more. I'll finish just one more lap. I'll reach ten laps record. Let's swim for just five more minutes. Hell, let's swim until it's really time to go to work (I get out of the pool around 8:00).
My body knew no fatigue whatsoever - I could not believe it. Yesterday I lost my breath after only 5 laps, today I felt like I swam at the Olympics. Was it coincidence that just the other day, I read about the amazing superman-like powers a human body has, like lifting a car?
I started to push myself even more, as soon as I realized my body will endure the physical exertion. I put more effort into the swimming technique; I consciously monitored my breathing, how I moved my legs and my arms. Because I was focusing on little things, I was improving with every stroke.
The woman swimming next to me - my yesterday's role model for fitness and endurance - was actually nothing compared to me. Not only could I swim just as many continuous laps as she could, I was actually faster than her. If there was an actual competition, she might outswim me, but this is not important. Important is that yesterday I picked a random someone to compare myself to, and immediately decided that I must be inferior to her.
As soon as I told myself "I can", I exploded with power and confidence that I will be writing this post today. I swam my 20th or so lap, while writing this very blog post in my head. I wanted my blog post to read: "I never stopped swimming until it was time to go to work." And so it was.
How different could I be from yesterday? Do you think my actual physical strength and fitness increased 3x, 4x compared to yesterday? Do you suspect I was on drugs or stimulants? The only thing I had before going to the pool was a nice, freshly squeezed lemon and orange juice. I haven't even had coffee.
It's because yesterday, I said to myself: I cannot. Today, I first posed a simple, yet powerful question: what if I could? And then, as I was in the middle of outdoing myself, I said to myself: "Sure I can!" It's a simple journey from "no" to "maybe" to "yes". The beauty is: this journey can be completed in just one single session - you don't have to wait three months to become good. You just must want to try today.
Gordan Kozulj, Croatian swimmer and world champion in 200 m backstroke (2000 Athens), said in a recent interview that extreme physical exertion brings out the worst and the best in a person's character. Top athletes are not born with mental superiority, but must become mentally superior to achieve top results in any sport. Once you outdo yourself mentally and physically in sports, you are much more likely to excel in any other area - in business, for example.
What is harder: pushing your physical or your mental limits? Your body can only do so much - can you train yourself into jumping up 100 meters high? Physically, there is a limit beyond which you can never possibly go. But your mind is a beautiful thing - it really has no limits.
My father always says that for every activity, you must have 1) the will and 2) the proper tools. In swimming, I bought the best swimming goggles I could find. They fit very nicely to my face and are waterproof. You cannot go beyond your limits if you have to stop every two laps to get the water out of your eyes.
And always be on the lookout for even better tools. Chances are, the tool you are using today is not good enough for tomorrow. You'll want to be better tomorrow.
Today you are pushing your limits to become good - tomorrow you will refine to become perfect. Today, just focus on action.
Maybe the swimsuit does not fit you perfectly after 20 laps. But when you're breaking your personal records, there's no time to stop and fix the swimsuit. Nobody cares, and nobody can see you under water. Sure, the guy swimming in the adjacent lane may wear goggles as well and can see well under water, but you can be pretty sure he's got his own limits to push, and doesn't give a damn about you.
Once in the zone, do everything to stay in the zone. One wrong breath and you're out of it.
You don't need formalities, like checking your pulse and measuring the exact speed of your heartbeat, to know you're kicking some serious ass. That's what your gut instinct is for. Listen to it and let it guide you; let it comfort you in times when you think you're failing or feel like quitting.
Learn about breathing and how important it is in swimming. Practice breathing - you cannot learn to breathe properly by reading about it.
When a cute, half-naked guy walks by, just... dive. And swim on. There will be plenty of opportunities to feast your eyes on him later.
You might not have reached your physical limits today, but be aware that you have them. Risking your health to prove a thing is not worth it. To become excellent tomorrow, you must stay healthy.
After my successful morning at the pool, I had a perfect breakfast. It's just me, my RSS feeds and my perfect espresso - Italian style, the best one I had in weeks. And some peace and quiet.
And this great day was not over yet! I knew I wanted to outdo myself once again today, by writing the best blog post I can. I edited and edited and refined my words today, more that usual.
Well, everything, obviously :-) What, didn't you get the metaphor about using the best available tools money can buy? What about learning about and utilizing the techniques the pros use? And how the cute, half-naked guy is the metaphor for unproven, risky and cutting edge new technologies? Oh, nevermind.
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