Friday, 7 September 2012

Swimming and risk taking

Just a week ago I resumed swimming after a pause of two months. Though water in there is getting colder day by day but it’s ok. In fact it’s great as each day I discover a bit more and enjoy a tad more. After perfecting freestyle I’m into breast-stroke now. Inch by inch I’ll continue to learn more techniques and flairs. However, learning to swim for the first time is THE memoir. Some guys do it in 2 weeks, some folks in a month and some just never learn.

It’s a well-known quote that “If you wanna learn swimming, you gotta jump into water”. Now every time a newbie jumps in, there is a certain risk involved. The risk is big – one may get drowned! You don’t get a second chance here. That’s why the economics of swimming is far from cycling which you learn after n iterations of falling and balancing.

To put more sense to it lets shift the canvas to a riverside village. You’re a 16 year old boy who never swam and one lazy afternoon you decide to “just do it”. So you run to the riverbank with your buddies and do a survey.  You observe the pattern of waves, whirlpools, boats, swimmers, weeds and hanging tree branches. You convince yourself that it is doable. So you jump in – you touch the water with your feet and run back home.

That boy just laid the foundation for tomorrow. During this night his sub-conscious will check and validate his learning and impart him courage in addition to another important attribute – CONTROL. It's important here to understand control. Control is the underplay of cognitive and subconscious abilities to perform a task at will - without risk. Sigmund Freud vouched for the higher role of sub-conscious in both daily and rare circumstances, a theory that most scientists previously disbelieved. Only the psychology-research of last two decades have re-established his theories. Role of sub-conscious is probably the biggest reason why one cannot learn swimming in a day. 

Next day the boy enters to knee level, runs back home, day next to waist level, next shoulder, next nose and next full into the water. Remember there is no life guard in place, only his friends watching the show. The river howsoever placid is an enigmatic snake. In next few days he paddles while holding the weeds or hollow branches and in next few starts breathing in and out. The whole learning process becomes a [x] graph of controlled risk taking. The subject's confidence fights fear and stamina matches exhaustion. Key is to keep playing according to these balancing points. But it's all not that smooth. 

Like driving-accidents there are mishaps in swimming too. Tragic drowning incidents happen not only in rivers or sea-beaches but also in swimming pools. Contrary to that of driving, swimming's control path is disrupted by mainly an internal factor- PANIC. Its the main reason why scuba diving is considered more dangerous than sky diving or bungee-jumping. So what causes panic? Panic is just an acceleration of neurotic activity that is automatically triggered to handle extreme circumstances. It's basically a sub-conscious defence mechanism. When in panic swimmers start paddling fast and exhaust early. That's where cognitive senses come into play. If properly practised they judge and forewarn one of a panic-situation. They override the sub-conscious and let you assess. There comes many a times when a newbie falls into a dilemma at 80 percent of pool's length to finish till the deep end or not. Well, don't. Don't trust your new-found stamina. Just back out!

The psychology of risk aversion is worth mentioning here. In that same riverside village, meeting a swimmer would not be rare. Considering the big risk involved, why did so many people learn it? In a noble-prize winning study it was found that people tend not to make bet when chances of gaining wealth is more than chances of losing a comparable wealth. On a toss of coin if there is a 50 percent chance to win 10 bucks and 50 percent chance to lose 8 bucks, people averse the risk. Whereas if there is a 70 percent chance to lose 10 bucks and 30 percent chance to win 10 bucks, they do take it! It's a startling contrast to the rationale but true. The expected gain to swimmers is the useful skill, health benefits and fun while expected loss is you know. But many do take it. Humans on an individual level do tend to engage in an activity of uncertain outcome. [ Though It's a completely different case with an organisation of the same people. A whole another blog topic]

After months of practice, I've realized that effortless swimming is all about rhythm, consistency and a stable mindset. During breast-strokes feel like a frog end to end without jitters and that's it. During freestyle feel like a free weightless soul end to end. So on and so forth. It is no doubt the best exercise both for body and mind. To all those who are yet to learn this beautiful skill, just approach it slower and let it seep in. More importantly stay consciously in control.

P.S. - It might have sound too meticulous and loaded with checkpoints for a seemingly simple activity. Well, you're right. Forget it all. Just go in there and have fun.

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