I am off my game. I’ve been wasting time and have been having a tough time getting myself to focus. Never one much for politics, I became absorbed in the election three months ago. I have been consumed by wanting to stay on top of knowing the latest, regardless of how ugly and upsetting it might be.
My plan is to get through the next three days and then take a deep breath and get back to a routine.
My favorite routine story is about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who started swimming when he was seven to burn off his excess energy that drove his mom and teachers crazy.
When local swim coach Bob Bowman became Phelps’ coach at around age 9, he knew Phelps was under a lot of stress. His parents were divorcing, and Michael had trouble calming down before races.
Bowman had a strong belief in the power of a routine. Coach Bowman helped Michael Phelps develop one. A routine leads to a day of small wins. There is much to be said about the power of small wins. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win, and another.
Go back in time with me to the 2008 Olympics. Michael Phelps followed his routine:
- He woke up at a designated time and started following the routine he used before any race. He pulled on sweats and then ate the same breakfast he eats before every race.
- Two hours before his first race, he started his stretching regime: arms, back, ankles.
- By 8:30 he was in the pool doing an exact warmup routine for 45 minutes.
- At 9:15 he exited the pool and started squeezing into his racing suit.
- While he waited for the race to begin, he listened through earbuds to the same mix he likes before a race: hip hop.
His habit of a routine has taken over. He’s been successful at everything he’s done so far.
The first race of the day was the 200-meter butterfly. Back to the routine: When his name is announced, he stepped up on the block, then stepped back down…like always. He swung his arms three times…like always. When they announced the race, he got back up on the block, got into his stance, and when the gun sounded, he leaped into the water.
And he knew that something was wrong as soon as he hit the water. A leak caused moisture to seep into his goggles. By his second turn, everything was blurry. As he approached the third and final lap, his goggle cups were completely filled with water. He couldn’t see ANYTHING.
He couldn’t see the line along the pool’s bottom, not the black T marking the approaching wall. He was swimming blind. But he did not panic.
Everything else that day had gone according to plan. So on the last lap, he estimated how many strokes the final push would require and started counting. On the 21st stroke with his arm outstretched, he touched the wall.
As he burst from the water and ripped off the leaking goggles, he looked at the scoreboard. Not only had he won, but he had set a new world record.
A routine of focus on small wins is a beautiful thing.