When I started swimming again, I didn’t just one day throw a few things in a bag and show up at a pool. It may have looked like that, the day I started, but in reality it was a series of mental shifts which began months before.
My sister insists this all began years before when she said “hey, you could try swimming!” and i said “Hmmm, no thanks”…and to be fair, she may be right. The stages of behaviour change tend to begin with denial, or ignoring the idea entirely.
In my mind, it didn’t even feel like a conscious thought. “Do I want to go swimming? No, I don’t. End of.” But we still consider things in the early days, even if we reject them. In reality my mind was saying, “I could go swimming, but it’s such a faff.”
I’d have to have the swimming costume, and goggles (I need those to actually see, since my level of vision is pretty negligible without wearing contacts). Not to mention the towel and clothes to change into and needing to take a shower to rinse off all the chlorine…which means you may as well take a proper shower so you get ready for the day, which means blow drying my hair and putting on makeup and getting dressed.
That’s just the practical level of faff. I haven’t even started with what goes on in my mind about how I look in a swimming costume and how unfit I feel. And then there’s the fact that Scotland is cold and rainy much of the time, so it’s an extra level of effort getting out the door and coming outside in the icy frosty morning with a wet head….
…which are all true, but looking back on it all now I realise none of those things really matter to me now because of how much I enjoy swimming. I enjoy it so much it doesn’t bother me to get changed and grab my swimming cap and goggles and drive to the pool and swim and rinse off and drive home and shower and get ready…it’s just what I do so I can get a swim in, which I love.
But at the time I didn’t love it (or I didn’t remember that I did), so I let all the reasons it felt like a faff, put me off. So that was the first stage – rejecting it completely.
The next stage was beginning to consider the idea. I’d been thinking about how I was back to walking every day, but I wasn’t achieving my health goals as quickly as I’d hoped. (Or at all, honestly.) I wondered what it would look like to add another kind of exercise besides walking – something which would get the cardio going. I don’t enjoy running, and have gotten an injury every time I’ve tried it, so I started considering other kinds of exercise. And I used to love swimming when I was younger.
This summer, my sister and I were going on a cruise to Norway for the first time. I’d never been on a cruise before, so I spent a lot of time looking at the cruise ship and the floors and what they had available and how we would spend our time on the ship at sea. I saw they had at least seven pools, and I thought, “hey, what if I did some swimming while I’m on the cruise?” I figured the pool is right there, and my cabin wouldn’t be far away, so it couldn’t hurt to try.
I packed my swimming things and came to the cruise ready to give it a shot….only to discover the seven pools were each about the size of my left hand (I exaggerate only slightly) and it was laughable to consider swimming even one stroke, much less a lap. So that was out. But the idea was beginning to take hold in my mind. Instead of swimming, we found the gym, which had the same principles I’d been considering – it was near our cabin (only two short flights of stairs down), it was open 24-7 so I could go anytime, and because of all that it didn’t matter if I went to the gym for five minutes or fifty. I didn’t have to feel it was “worth the effort” because there was very little effort to get there. So that stage was a little bit of a test – trying something small to see how it landed.
The next stage was considering the practicalities – imagining what it would be for me. What might swimming look like if I tried it? When I got back to Scotland, I thought about all we had done which was new – being on a cruise for the first time, going to a new country I’d never visited before, going to a gym every day – and started to think about how it would actually work.
What pool would I go to? What length was it? Did they have lane swimming? What hours? Did you need a membership or could you try it once as a one off? How much did that cost?
And all of that led to the next stage, which was taking a small action. I knew I wouldn’t be able to swim properly without goggles (I’d swim directly into people or the side of the pool without them!), so I went to the Speedo website to buy some. I picked Speedo because that’s what we always used when I was a teenager swimming every day. There was a deal to buy a cap and goggles together, so I did that.
The next stage was trying it once.
Because I’d done all of this prep, I felt comfortable enough one Monday morning to put my swim cap and goggles into a bag, with a towel, and drive to my local pool and pay a one time fee to go for a swim.
I didn’t even have a swimming costume which I felt comfortable in so I figured I’d wear a sports bra and leggings (turns out that was one of the best decisions ever and that’s what I swim in every day). I was still trying to protect myself from a high level of faff, and my leggings are very quick-dry, so I figured I’d throw a blanket on the seat of my car and just drive back to my house to shower and get ready – reducing any more excuses about all the effort I’d have to make after I got out of the pool.
It worked brilliantly. I still felt a little unsure when I got there, but I asked for help everywhere I went. Could I book a one off swimming session? Where were the changing rooms? Which lane do I use? How does it work in this pool? The more I tried the easier it was…
…but best of all was the moment I put my head in the water and pushed off, and my body did what it knew how to do already. It literally was like riding a bike…I knew how to lift my arms and when to breathe and how much to kick and it was like there was nothing but me and the water and my arms going over and under.
I only managed 8 lengths that first day. I was surprised to discover you can get out of breath whilst swimming (I have no idea why I thought I wouldn’t, perhaps because you don’t feel like you’re sweating whilst swimming?? ha!). I figured it was a good effort and I might try again.
The next day I tried again…which moved me into the final stage which is making it a routine.
And now I have a routine. I’ll wake up, get my swimming things on, make coffee, grab my swim bag, drive to the pool, put on my cap and goggles, swim for a mile, rinse off and throw on my hoodie for the drive home, get showered and changed, and start my day. From start to finish (rolling out of bed to sitting down to start work) it’s usually around two hours of time.
In the early days, the early stages, that would have seemed like too much effort. Too much time. Who has two full hours in a morning?
But now the “extra time” doesn’t feel like extra or difficult or frustrating because I love swimming – I love how it feels and how I feel afterwards and how it clears my mind and how motivated I am the rest of the day. I’ve even started thinking about what I eat and drink the night before, and how that affects my swim the next morning. Or I’ll go to bed earlier so I can make sure I’m up in time for a swim.
I started considering it in June, and now we’re in October. Yesterday I woke up a little later than I’d planned but I still rolled out of bed and followed my routine and went for a swim and was ready for my first meeting of the day at 9am.
It’s a lot of stages. And it takes time. Sometimes we go through the stages in a few minutes, sometimes years.
Before I got in the pool that first time, I hadn’t previously done lane swimming for over twenty years. Now I find myself looking for a pool everywhere I go when I travel – in London, on the Isle of Mull, in South Carolina for the conference I’m going to – and I have been pleasantly surprised to discover they are everywhere. Now that it’s important to me, I realise it’s really not that high of a level of faff, after all. I only have to make a little effort and I get to do something I love.