Jamie Lawrence

Why I swam 2 miles this morning - the power of habits

Because I like it. True, although the first 1000m are pretty much torture and I can’t skip them. I have to swim the hardest lengths every single time. 30-60 minutes listening to the sounds of lapping water can be quite meditative and/or a bit like sensory deprivation depending on your point of view. In the grand scheme of things, swimming is definitely something I enjoy but that doesn’t make me get into the pool.

Because I’m good at it. Yes, I’m pretty good compared to the average person (who probably doesn’t swim at all), and there’s only 2-3 people I’ve met in the pool that can give me a run for my money. But I’m not club-good, or competition-good or triathlon-good. I average about 32mins for a comfortable mile — pretty ok but not great. I’d like to do better.

Because I’m competitive. Nope, not at all. I last swam in a club 25years ago, and last raced when I was about 15. Occasionally I notice people trying to race me but I keep to my own pace.

Because it keeps me healthy. Kinda. I’m sure that swimming is one of the things that nudges the odds in favour of me being alive long enough to see my kids grow up and have kids of their own. But at 8am, these thoughts are not in the front of my mind.

Ok, none of that stuff actually makes me get into the pool in the morning and swim. This is how I do it…


It all starts (and ends) with the bag.

Last night I threw my togs, hat and towel into the pool bag and left it in the hall.

That’s it. I’m swimming now. Once the bag is packed, the commitment is made. It’s almost impossible for me not to swim once I’ve made that commitment. And all I did was pack a bag.

In the morning, I pick up the bag and put it in the car, usually in the passenger seat. Once the bag is in the hall, it’s going into the car.

I drop my son to school, drive away, and I reach the junction for the pool. With the bag sitting next to me as a subconscious reminder, I turn off towards the pool. Only once in the past 1.5yrs have I forgotten that I was going swimming. I can’t help it. Once the bag is in the car, I’m going to the pool.

Once I arrive at the pool, I get out and head into the changing room. I change and get into the pool. There is no choice now. It’s all a foregone conclusion.

That’s the power of creating a habit.

How hard is it to swim a mile? It’s as easy as packing a pool bag.

Internal Commitments

I don’t always swim 2 miles. Sometimes a bit less, sometimes a lot more. So how do I decide how far I’ll swim?

Sometimes I just swim a mile — it’s my regular distance that I’ve established over the past year or so. It holds some psychological significance because 1 mile was my last distance badge as a kid and then I basically lost interest in swimming. Now I do it a few times a week. If I’ve been sick or injured, I might only swim 1km but that’s pretty rare. A mile is my habit. 80 lengths. 4 sets of 20 lengths. Easy, regular, doable. But not really an achievement.

So quite often I lie in bed the night before, and a distance pops into my head. Last night I thought: 2 miles sounds reasonable. It’s Wednesday and the first swim of the week so it should be more than my usual mile. I’m not too tired or currently sick. No pressing meetings. 3200m. 160 lengths. 2 x 80 lengths. 8 sets of 20 lengths.

I almost always knowing before my toe hits the water what distance I’ll swim. I don’t tell anyone what I aim to do — it’s none of their business and frankly they wouldn’t care if I did it. In fact, most people would discourage you: “Don’t tire yourself out”, “give yourself a break”, “just do your usual distance”. But this is just between me… and me.

I’ve used the same technique to swim 5-7km in a single session. All because I decided to.

I half-jokingly set myself a goal of 7000m/week every week for the year. 365km in 2014. 365,000m. It’s a target, and I’m very unlikely to reach it (just over 51km to-date). But it’s a guide to what I should be doing. And again, it’s just between me and me. No commitments to anyone else.

One day I’ll lie in bed an 10km will pop into my head. And I’ll just do it.

Reusing this technique

I’m really proud of my swimming habit and I’ve defended it, protected it, moulded my work life around it. It’s that important.

It feels like it’s easier to habit-ise a physical routine but I want to reuse it elsewhere in my life. I want to take the habits, the small simple steps, and personal commitment approach to something else. Probably a starting product business on the side. I’ll blog again when and if I conquer the new habits for doing that.

But I won’t tell you what my goals are.