How I keep improving by writing everything down

Earlier this year, I began to include swimming as part of my normal workout routine. The gym I go to has a swimming pool that I'm free to use at any time, so I decided to try including swimming into my regular workouts so I could add some variety to them.

It actually took me a while to reach this decision, though. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I would occasionally head to the beach with my family and friends, and when I was in my early teens I would go just about every weekend with my friends to the local pool in town, which would open for anyone for a couple of hours. So while I'm comfortable in the water, I was not comfortable with the prospect of swimming whatsoever. I never had any type of formal training when it comes to swimming, and those times I went to the beach or the pool was just to splash around in the water. I just felt completely unprepared for swimming with the purpose of exercising. After a few weeks of reading up on basic swimming techniques and building up the courage to go to the pool in the gym, I willed myself to go.

That was a little over five months ago. I would have forgotten most of those initial swimming sessions if it weren't for my habit of journaling. Every evening during the week I spend 10 to 15 minutes with my favorite notebook and a nice pen and write down how my day went, how I'm feeling, important events that happened, and so on. Every few months I go back and read some of the older entries, and some of them caught my eye regarding my progress when it comes to swimming. Although I didn't realize it at the time I wrote these entries, I learned quite a few lessons along the way, all the way from the first time I wrote about how my swimming was going.


May 31, 2017

This morning I went swimming at the gym. I went for the first time on Sunday, so this is my second time here. Today I was feeling a little more self-conscious since there were more people there. I am also not a very good swimmer to begin with, so I feel like I'm just thrashing around in the water. I swam a total of 320 meters in the hour I was there, which is okay. I can barely swim the length of 20 meters without feeling like I desperately need air, though.


This was my first journal entry where I wrote about my swimming workouts. I now remember I was feeling really nervous because I didn't know how to swim, and while I'm in relatively decent shape, my body was not used to the rigors of freestyle swimming and I was gasping for air just swimming once from one end to the next. I would swim to one side of the pool, stop to catch my breath for a minute, then swim back. I honestly felt a little embarrassed because I was the only person doing that.

Looking back, I shouldn't have felt embarrassed at all. It was just my second attempt at swimming. There's a lot of people who don't even take the first step of getting into the pool to begin with. So just the fact that I was swimming at the pool should have been a win for me, but I didn't see it back then.

At the beginning of any new task you take on, most likely you'll feel just as I felt when I began to swim regularly. You'll feel nervous, unprepared, and wondering how you'll ever get any better at this new task. Going through these feelings is actually one of the tougher parts of taking on anything new, and it often stops people from even beginning to do anything in the first place. Don't let these feelings stop you from trying anything - they won't last forever. As it's commonly said, starting is half the battle.


June 8, 2017

I went as early as I could to the gym to swim. I enjoyed it but admittedly I felt a bit inadequate when some older ladies who are at least twice my age and were swimming in my lane much quicker. I know I'll get better with practice, but the feeling is tough to shake.


Despite knowing that I was only just beginning with my new swimming habit, I began to put myself down a little bit by comparing myself to others who have been doing the same thing for months or even years. I realize how silly it is, but I admittedly go through this a lot more than I'd like to admit.

I've lost track of how many times I've previously started to learn something new, see someone who's been doing the same thing for a long time, and immediately think "I'll never be able to reach that level, I might as well not even try." I almost fell into that same trap just a week and a half after my first swimming session. Thankfully, those thoughts didn't develop further and didn't cause me to give up.


June 22, 2017

My session went very well. I'm breathing a lot easier and I am not getting as winded as before. I swam 680 meters before I had to leave. Still, I felt like it was a solid victory. I want to keep at it.


A few weeks later, I had a bit of a breakthrough and swam much better than I had in previous weeks. I'm glad that I wrote this down because at the time I had totally forgotten that I was now swimming double the distance I originally began with. I'm not breaking any records here, but to double my output - no matter how little it was in the beginning - is still a pretty big victory.

If I hadn't kept track of this I most likely would not have realized how much or how quickly I was improving. As much as we like to think that our brains can retain massive amounts of information and retrieve it at any time, that simply doesn't happen. We often forget how far along we've come along in our lives, so it's good to have markers of our progress along the way. We can see the progress, and that in turn fires us up to keep on improving.


August 31, 2017

I did awesome at the gym. I swam 1040 meters, but more importantly, I swam 80 meters at a time for the whole session. It was not easy and I doubted myself a lot, but pushed through.


In a little over two months since I began swimming on a regular basis, I reached one of my personal goals, which was to swim 1000 meters in one session. I didn't set any goals when I began since I just wanted to have a different type of exercise to incorporate during my week. But as I noticed that I was increasing the distance I was swimming every few weeks, I set a goal to work towards.

The main reason why I set a goal is that when you're doing something over and over again, there will eventually come a point where it feels like a chore and can lead to boredom and complete disengagement. This can be a dangerous spot to be in since it can easily cause us to quit and do something else that will most likely be less productive. Having a small goal can greatly help prevent this by giving us something to strive for.


October 12, 2017

I went to the gym to swim. For some reason, the beginning of the workout was rougher than usual, to the point where I was considering cutting my workout short. But I kept at it and it eventually got easier so I was able to finish swimming my usual distance.


A few weeks after hitting my initial goal of swimming 1000 meters, it became my "new normal", and I started to notice that I was falling into a rut. I started to feel stuck since I felt like I couldn't get past that initial goal. And I think that played a bit of a mental game with me because it made my sessions feel like a struggle. This lasted for a few weeks, to the point where I started to substitute my swim sessions with other exercises. Once again, I was really close to giving up altogether.

At this point in time, reading my previous journal entries was super-important because it reminded me how far I've come since I began. It gave me perspective and the motivation necessary to go through this plateau, and really prevented me from giving up just because of a rough patch that was going to inevitably happen. It always does once you start gaining traction in any new venture.


November 5, 2017

I tried altering my breathing technique and it worked so much better than I expected - I was even able to swim 200 meters without stopping once! I had been dreading to go swimming since the last few weeks felt horrible, and trying this new technique was rough, but I want to go and try it again.


After weeks of feeling like I was regressing, I took some time to sit down and think about why I was feeling that way. A good friend of mine suggested that I try out a new swim stroke since I had been just swimming freestyle all this time. I'm sure that would have helped, but I really wanted to get to the root of my issue.

Something that I felt was holding me back was my breathing while I swam because despite being able to swim for longer distances, I would still often feel fatigued after a relatively short period of time. So I did some research on that, and it turns out I had been committing a rookie mistake all this time when it came to breathing. When I had my head submerged underwater, I was holding my breath for far too long instead of slowly exhaling while I swam and coming out for air more frequently.

The next time I went to the pool, I tried exhaling more while swimming and coming up more frequently for air. After I tried it out, I was blown away by how much better my swimming session went. I swam my now-usual 1000 meters in a lot faster time and without feeling as tired as before. On top of that, I was able to swim 200 meters without stopping once - My previous high before that was 120 meters. It went so much better than expected that I was certain that it was a fluke, but a few additional sessions proved that it solved my biggest issue and it made things enjoyable again.

A lot of times when we have a roadblock in front of us, we tend to try to go through it by banging our heads against the wall repeatedly with little success instead of trying to find an alternate path. That's what happened with me here. All it took was taking a step back and finding one small adjustment and it changed everything for me.


November 19, 2017

I went swimming today and I crushed it by swimming 1500 meters, including 480 meters at once without stopping.


With my improved breathing technique in hand, I've been able to find even more success with my swimming than I thought possible. I hit another personal milestone by swimming 1500 meters, and more than doubling the amount I could swim at once without stopping to catch my breath. That was definitely a win for me.

Again, I'm taken aback by how much I've improved since the end of May. In just five months, I'm able to swim almost five times longer in total than I could at the beginning, and 24 times (!!!) longer without stopping to catch my breath. Those are not small wins - those are huge victories that need to be celebrated. I believe that's just as important as hitting the milestone itself.

I can't talk enough about the power of writing everything down and keep track of the important things in your life. Having written how I've been doing and going back to it has been great for so many reasons. It helped keep me grounded in seeing where I started and how far I've come since then. It's made me realize that I shouldn't compare myself to anyone and I should just be focusing on myself. It's made me realize the power of taking a step back and finding my way around obstacles. More importantly, it's helped me just enjoy the journey, which is something that I should incorporate more in my daily life.

Where will I be with my swimming in the next five months? I have no idea. But I do know that I will be keeping track of my journey and continuing to enjoy the ride.

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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