Learning to Swim and other Challenges

I have a small confession to make: I never learned how to swim. I did do swimming classes as a little kid, but I guess I didn’t do well on them. Later, when I got older I was one of the awkward kids who never learned to swim. I always wanted to, but just never learned.

Lately, my daughter is learning to swim at her local YMCA, and this inspired me to start swimming too. I wanted to swim for two reasons: one, I am tired of not knowing how to swim. It’s not fun to get in the pool with the family and not be able to enjoy it.1 And two, swimming is very good exercise. It works the entire body at once: legs, arms, heart, etc. Plus, there’s less risk of a sport-injury while swimming, and I’ve been injured before, so I didn’t want to get injured again.

But I didn’t know how to swim, so what should I do? The first time I went to the pool was embarrassing. Many people in the people were dedicated swimmers, and could swim very well. But, I got a small body-board (those small, blue boards people use) and just started going back and forth. I went to the pool twice a week.

After a month, that got kind of boring, so I started practicing the back-stroke (背泳ぎ, seoyogi in Japanese) a little. It was hard at first because I was really afraid of getting my face in the water, and that did happen a few times. Then, I moved to the shallowest part of the pool, and kept practicing until I got it right. Then, I went back and started practicing in the normal part of the pool until that became easier. Finally, I could back-stroke all the way from one end of the pool to the other.

But that got boring too. So, I started trying to swim normally. Because I could float on my back, I found it easier to float on my stomach too. Soon, after a few tries, I found I could swim forward. It was sloppy and slow, but I could do it.

And now, after 2 months, I can swim. 🙂 Not great, but much better than 2 months ago.

I learned an important lesson from this though: if you want to be good at something, you need to practice the basics over and over until they become easy and boring, then move up a little to the next challenge. If you try to push yourself too hard at first, you will fail. I tried to swim forward early on, and I inhaled a lot of chlorine-water, which was miserable. After that, I went back to the basics again until it became much easier.

Also, if you’re afraid you will fail (like me), practicing the basics is a good way to build confidence. I know now that if I get into a pool, I can at least swim with a body-board, and do a decent back-stroke too. With more practice, I can swim forward more strongly and with more confidence too.

So if you want to improve yourself in some way,2 the key is lots and lots of small steps.

P.S. Another benefit of swimming is that I’ve lost a lot of weight. About 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds). Plus my stomach got smaller too.

1 My wife is a strong swimmer and gives me helpful tips sometimes.

2 Language-learning, meditation, sports, cooking, whatever.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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