Life Lessons Learned in the Water

Last Sunday I did what I previously viewed as the unthinkable - I completed an open water triathlon.  

Prior to February 2023 I did some semblance of swimming (visualize a fish in a puddle on a boat) on no more than 10 occasions in my 11,000+ days of life.  And the last of those was 10 years ago.

I started my Youtube lessons in February and by May I was able to “sometimes” swim 100m straight. Which was a problem as I was signed up for a  triathlon that month.

Well, I got rescued out of the water ~150m in after stopping 5x to get to that point. 

Embarrassing. I knew I wasn’t ready but I paid and have grown an increasing amount of audacity as my years have added. 

Being in the water learning I had no business being there and was playing with my life was terrifying in a sense, though the timid, restricted 8 year old in me who dreamed of adventures really has gotten a kick out of me audaciously risking it all time and time again since I was teen.

Is this a blog or a journal entry?  Both really.  I rewrote this several times as it was therapy quality & I’m not sure you want that. (if you say so I’ll write it though).


5 months in, by late June I was able to consistently swim 100m.  In July I did my 1st 150m and later that month I did my first 400m swim.  

Early August I doubled again to an 850m and then last week I did a 1,300m swim.

Speed-wise, in June I could swim 100m in just shy of 4 minutes. On Wednesday, my fastest 100m was 2:35. On Sunday, my average 100m pace on a 375m lake swim was 2:35 (on Strava), including me floating for :30-60 to overcome a panic attack I had.   

Improvement has been exponential and gratifying.  

I reflected, assessed, and daydreamed about many things in this journey.  Here are 2 that I hope can be of use to you.

Environment > Will Power

Willpower is the muscle to overcome inertia, environmental control lowers how much inertia you need to overcome.  

Creating a schedule, logistics, and emotionally fulfilling social interactions as it relates to swimming allowed the inertia to drop tremendously.  

I do big swims on Wednesdays and on a weekend day. Short swims midday 1-2 other days. I live and work less than 1 mile from a pool. 

I talked to people about swimming a lot and grew my relationships with people I like who swim.  This added positive emotion to swimming as I associated with people & interactions I cherish.

If your friends, romantic partner, family, etc are not supportive of what you want to do, it increases how much willpower you need to use to overcome the inertia of action.  

Example, if your parents or spouse are prohibitively risk averse, it will take a lot of emotional and physical energy to ever travel abroad, or start a business.

My home doesn’t contain snacks so nearly all of my sugary snack intake comes from buying pastries at boutique bakeries. When a single cookie costs $2-3, I eat less of them because I don’t have 36 count package of Oreo cookies at home that cost the same. “Buying” more than 2 feels indulgent so I rarely do.  

But I’ll eat 10 Oreos in one sitting if I have them available.

How can you curate your environment to make it easier to act? This is where the discipline actually comes into play.

Harnessing Anxiety to Be Disciplined

Yes, I get anxious at times.  Familial & romantic concerns generally are the main factors as well as “the future”.  I imagine these 3 things cause much of your anxiety.  

I’ve learned for some people anxiety hinders them from acting and for others, it propels actions. This varies in intensity & I can only speak for myself.  

I act. Not acting feels like being under a collapsing building.  

At 21 I used to think it was because I was strong. At 31 I realize, I fear the consequence of not doing something - not acting always makes my problems worse or prolonged.  

If you’re a person who gets jittery to act when anxious, consider how you can use that to act on what matters most.  Discipline is a way of living that allows you to live as the version of yourself you value most. 

While outcome goals are great, say finishing a triathlon, the structure created to achieve is where your personal growth happens. 

And alleviates the jittery anxiousness. It’s calming.  

Sitting down to write this article alleviates the anxiety of failure and not doing my tasks to grow GHP. Which helps with the anxiety of this all failing and feeling like I wasted my time.  

But unlike years ago when I just did indiscriminate tasks that may or may not have been useful, I used that to fuel creating a structure that provides order (calm).  This is a task on my checklist.  

Checklists create and alleviate anxiety. I get a thrill out of checking things off. 

Do you?

There is a flowchart as well that leads to the actions to alleviate each level of anxiety.

Fear of not being someone who just talks about things (embarrassment v. triumph) < I told people I’d do a triathlon (& paid) < I need to learn to swim < I need to optimize my life for it

So every time I swim I feel relieved. Relief is a nice feeling. Plus the added benefit of enjoying it as I increase competency (joy).

Maybe this makes sense to you. Some of you read this and said “Donald what in the world are you talking about?” 


Now I do often use positive motivation to act. Joy is a big motivator for me. 

And fear is a fuel I use as it is powerful. 

And with swimming, fear was the fuel.  

Now, having finished a triathlon in a lake, and enjoying the triumphant feeling, fear/anxiety is less of a fuel for swimming.  

Now just the joy of conquering.  

Do you relate to any of these?  I’d love to hear your experience.  Send me a message.  

Global Human Performance
Global Human Performance

Life Changing Fitness

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