As I get older, exercise is a critical part of fulfilling on my desire to maintain my weight, energy, and mental clarity.
As a former competitive cyclist, I am no stranger to rigorous training but the reality of aging is my body lacks its former flexibility and resiliency.
Due to a shortened right femur and mild disc degeneration, my back doesn’t react well to heavy loads meaning running and weight training are off the list of intense exercises available to me.
While cycling is still a passion, my busy schedule rarely has the necessary two to three hours needed for a proper workout.
Many folks turn to swimming as they age because it is well-known that swimming represents the most efficient exercise in terms of caloric burn rate. It is also a nearly zero-impact, full-body workout that builds muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness.
While swimming would seem to be the ideal solution to my needs, one small problem has kept me from turning to this sport for fitness and weight loss…
I hate swimming!
While the idea of swimming is appealing, I find the actual act of swimming to be a miserable and tortuous experience I refer to as prolonged drowning.
As a youth, I was part of a swim team and even competed in a few meets. Somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to coordinate my paddling, kicking, and breathing which turned an otherwise enjoyable activity into something I imagine comes as close to water-boarding you can get outside of a CIA facility.
One morning while enjoying breakfast with my good friend and colleague Bob Smith, I remarked he was looking quite fit these days and asked what he was doing to stay in shape.
Upon learning he had been swimming regularly, I shared my frustration that this sport was not an option due to its strong resemblance to torture.
His response surprised me.
“So use a mask, snorkel, and short-fins like I do!”
“Isn’t that cheating?” I asked
“Not if your goal to is to get in shape” he replied.
I was speechless. The idea of using a different approach had never occurred to me.
“It’s actually a better workout with a mask, snorkel, and short-fins” he continued… “Besides, professional swimmers and triathletes use this setup when they are training for power and endurance.”
Given his strong recommendation, you’d think I would have gone out the next day, purchased my gear, and headed to the pool.
Yet for some reason, it took me more than six months to walk into a sporting goods store and purchase less than $100 worth of equipment needed to open a door once closed for me.
As I write this, I am almost four weeks into my re-introduction to swimming. I swam my first full mile today (in under 40 minutes) and feel better than I have in years!
To identify the lessons learned here, I believe it is instructive to ask two questions:
1) Why was such an obvious solution impossible for me to identify?
There are two answers to this question. First and foremost, I would say my problem was not acute enough. Despite being limited in my choices for intense exercise, I was able to maintain my weight somewhat by adjusting my diet. While my cardiovascular fitness suffered, I was not out of shape ‘enough’ to find away around my discomfort with swimming.
The Lesson: If you want to solve a problem, making the situation worse (which appears counterintuitive) is often the best way to spur innovation.
Second and perhaps more significantly, the solution presented by my friend Bob existed in the area of knowledge referred to as ‘what you don’t know you don’t know.’ Of course I was familiar with the use of masks and fins for snorkeling but I had never seen or even or heard of these being used for swimming. Because I lacked any reference point it is highly unlikely I would ever have come up with this fix on my own.
The Lesson: Talking about your problems with others (which goes against our natural instincts) is the best way to source innovation.
3) Even when presented with a simple solution, why did it take me so long to take action?
As I mentioned above, it was more than six months before I translated a powerful and simple solution into action. Sometime around my second week back in the water when I started to feel and notice the differences in my body I asked myself why it took so long to embrace the change. After much reflection, the honest answer emerged: Swimming laps with a mask & snorkel was sufficiently different from my image of what swimming was supposed to look like I resisted out of a concern for how this would make me look. As much as I wanted to take my friend’s advice, my ego kept me from (literally) taking the plunge.
The Lesson: In order to take advantage of innovation, you will need to confront your perceptions about how a new process, approach, or behavior will make you look. Even the most confident of us are not immune to this effect. To move things along faster, I could have ‘forced the issue’ with myself by reflexively asking ‘what’s holding me back?’ rather than simply waiting for time to overcome my resistance.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it by clicking HERE. It would mean a lot to me as well as make sure more people see it.