Psychology of open water swimming – How to control your thoughts

When I initially decided to swim the English Channel I didn’t have any open water experience and didn’t know what was needed to achieve it. Whilst training in Dover harbour with other fellow channel challengers as well as dear Freda on the beach, I started to learn more about it. I never googled people’s past experience and didn’t look at the tidal system to understand what could happen, I went with the theory ignorance is bliss. As I took on the other swims 2 way Gibraltar Straits, Molokai Straits, Catalina etc I continued with this outlook. It is important to understand what you are embarking on, however if you analyse other peoples negative swim experiences and look at too many details on the swim you are about to undertake, it may pollute your mind with negative thoughts and you could very quickly talk yourself out of it.

So my tips to stay focused

1. Trust your ability, you have to believe in yourself even if others doubt you. It’s your belief that counts!!

2. Don’t talk about failure if anyone asks you how you feel about the swim dismiss any negatives and say ‘I know I will get across.’ It is human nature to protect ourselves from disappointment. I found that being positive, even when at times in reality I wasn’t quite as confident as I made out, I could almost trick my brain to shut out any demons.

3. Surround yourself with only positive people. A good friend of mine who is a hypnotherapist always reminds me that negative people can be like emotional vampires and sap the life out of you and make you doubt yourself.

4. Never say negative words such as c*ld don’t make them real. I would constantly tell myself I was warm and comfortable. I once repeated hot/warm/hot for 6 hours thinking nothing else!! If you are thinking positive thoughts you can’t be thinking negative ones at the same time. There are thought stopping techniques you can use if you find you’re drifting into negative ones.

5. Think about why you are doing the swim i.e. charity or to challenge yourself, keep reminding yourself of those reasons and how much you want it!! I used to leave notes for myself by my bed ‘I am going to swim the channel!’ I would also listen to motivational CD’s.

6. Day dream about the feeling of achieving the swim, how accomplished you will feel and how proud everyone will be of you. Focus on the end goal!!

7. Always have a next swim planned, then the first swim isn’t the only challenge and is part of a process. After the Gibraltar 2 way I had 5 more swims to think about, so each individual one wasn’t the be all and end all as I had to progress to complete the 7.

8. Laugh lots enjoy the experience!! It will be tough at times but if it was easy everyone would be doing it. No you are not alone others are feeling just the way you do. I always try and joke through any nerves and enjoy the moment. Be proud that you are different and unique. Remember this is your destiny and you are in full control of it!!

‘Never give up on your dreams!!’



4 thoughts on “Psychology of open water swimming – How to control your thoughts

  1. Great simple guide… Thanks for the reminder.

    As you believe, so you become!

    When I swam a 3 man relay across the channel in 2010, the guys I was with were worried about finishing… I’d set my sights on the 3 man record, I defaulted to work with them as a team. We missed Cape Gris by 200 meters which cost over 45 mins, we missed the record by 30 mins…..but we did get the fastest non 6 man relay for the year!

    There is always a way!



  2. Adam, great post. Thank you. If you would ever like to share your experience(s) with my audience, I would very much enjoy having you on my show for channel swimmers.

    I try to interview people that have an expertise in OW swimming and are willing to share their passion with others. If you would like to be a guest on my show, please advise.

    My best

    Douglas Clydesdale Comstock


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