"At the higher levels of competitive swimming, something like an inversion of attitude takes place. The very features of the sport which the "C" swimmer finds unpleasant, the top-level swimmer enjoys. What others see as boring- swimming back and forth over a black line for two hours, say- they find peaceful, even meditative, often challenging, or therapeutic. They enjoy hard practices, look forward to difficult competitions, try to set difficult goals." Daniel F. Chambliss in The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers.
Daniel Chambliss spent years in the 1980's studying the training habits and behavior of swimmers of all ability levels. The fascinating conclusion from his study was the very best swimmers were not doing anything quantitatively different than their peers (i.e. they were not swimming more). The best swimmers simply found joy in doing what others found uncomfortable or boring. The best apparently enjoyed the mundane, often repetitive swim sets, the early 5:30am workouts, and the hours spent tracking above the black line.
This is not surprising. When you find joy in the mundane you begin to perfect details that other miss. You think a little deeper about every stroke. You put in a little extra effort into every jump off the blocks. You tighten up every turn and hold your breath just a moment longer. Even if you and your neighbor swim the same number of yards, you can get more out of the same practice session.
Today's athletic culture seems designed to kill boredom by offering constant feedback, data, and metrics that often mean nothing in the moment and only contribute to distracting the athlete from the task at hand. The demands on the athlete's attention is often relentless, with many athletes feeling compelled to take pictures and post about their workouts rather than engaging their full attention to the training itself. Remove these distractions and the athlete will feel bored because they are conditioned to being constantly distracted and entertained by outside influences.
A person who seeks to avoid boredom has missed the point: boredom is not something that happens to you, it is something you create in your mind. Boredom happens when you fail to see the interesting details that lay just below the surface of all things.
Learn to find joy in the mundane, and your performance will benefit from it.
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