It starts with an email: “I’m thinking about swimming tomorrow, anyone else?” More emails float in as the women in my water aerobics group weigh in on air temperature, how cold the lake might be, wind factor, how sunny it is, algae reports, our schedules. Usually one crazy voice saying “I’m going!” is enough to tempt a few others to join.
This year, we are bolder, more daring, willing to tolerate some not-quite-ideal conditions to continue our swimming and water aerobics into autumn. We’ve been eager and giddy in the face of pushing past our goal date of Sept 15 (as I wrote about in part 1, The Mermaids of Lake Nokomis). We crank up the heat in the car on the way home after we emerge shivering from the water, and some have brought fluffy robes to wear afterwards.
We had a warm spell in Minneapolis last week, with afternoon temps in the 80s. The morning temps in the 60s (balmy compared to the low 50s we’d braved the week before) had us continuing to say “one more day,” even though the lake itself was officially, scientifically, Eff-ing Cold Degrees.
The idea of “Swimming in October” had five of us in the lake on Friday the First. Yay, we did it! But the colder forecast for next week and the increasing algae will probably mean hanging up our suits for the outdoor season.
I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from this adventure of lake swimming over the last few months and how it applies to the rest of my life. I present to you Lessons from the Lake, for when you maybe get a little stuck when going-after-a goal, or need a refresh in your perspective.
Lake Lesson: Friends Make a Difference
While I’m always glad afterwards that I swam in the lake, it’s not necessarily a pleasure to get up early and contemplate the cold water, the sand that gets everywhere, moving my body when I feel sluggish, or how much time it takes to drive there and back and shower afterwards. However, knowing I’ll be hanging with a group of my friends makes it irresistible for me. It’s like double-endorfins: getting exercise and socializing all at once.
What other areas of life can I pair something challenging with friend-time? I’m remembering moving in my 20s, which usually involved friends and pizza. It could be helping each other with yard work or cleaning house, or signing up for a 5k together. Many hands make light work
And in the case of doing something you’re resisting— like getting into cold water to swim— seeing other friends already in the water gives me the boost I need to take the plunge.
Lake Lesson: Accountability
This doesn’t work with every personality type, but for many of us, if we tell others we’re going to do something, we’re more likely to do it. Whether it’s doing it publicly (posting on social media “I’m going to run a marathon!”) or telling a friend or two that you’re signing up for tap dancing lessons, just knowing someone else might ask you about it could give you the push to keep going when the shiny newness of the idea wears off.
For me, if I announce in our email group that I’ll be in the lake the next day, the accountability means I’ll do it. I can use that to my advantage.
Lake Lesson: Build Up Tolerance
I’ve really noticed it this year: how getting into the lake day-after-day as the air and water gradually get colder leads me to say “it’s not so bad” to temperatures that would have been appalling to me in July.
It reminds me of how we gradually get used to winter in the northern states— every temperature drop feels So Darn Cold at first as the year winds down. Our bodies soon acclimate, getting used to the cold so that when we have a 10 degree day in January, it actually feels <warm> to us.
Change is hard, and that can be big or small changes. Knowing that we can build up tolerance if we keep taking small steps forward can help. You can have hope that it won’t always feel like such a big shift.
Lake Lesson: At Some Point, You Just Have to Jump in
You walk into the lake and it’s not so bad, the water on your feet and shins. More steps, knees and thighs, that’s okay. Hips next, still tolerable. But when you get waist deep and the cold hits your sensitive waist, it gets real. How long will you stand there, bargaining with the lake, waiting to warm up? There’s the moment of truth, the urge to hesitate and knowing you just have to do it. It won’t get any better if you wait. Just jump in.
This happens in plenty of areas of life, when you want to make a change or pursue a challenge. You can wade in and pause and think about it and back off before taking more steps forward. Maybe anxiety or fear is making you hesitate (that happens for me a lot).
You can stay stuck in this place in the waist-high water for a long time, or gradually just return to shore and get out. But if you really want to tackle those challenges, then at some point you have to jump in. That is a tough moment, but most often, it gets easier after that. You are in it, and soon you’re moving much more freely.
Lake Lessons: Laughter Really Helps
Even though I really enjoy swimming and getting some exercise, sometimes I Just. Don’t. Wanna. I’m tired, my body is creaky, my energy is low. I get in the water and think about how long it will be before the hour is up. But the laughter when we swimming friends get together really does make the time pass fast. I forget about how hard I’m working, I get distracted from any discomfort. My energy shifts from a good belly-laugh. I leave the water feeling renewed in my body for having moved, but also in my mood from the laughter and silliness.
This gets me to think about ways I can inject laughter, fun or pleasure into other parts of my day, especially tasks that are more of a necessary drudge. Listening to a comedy podcast while I do the budget, blasting favorite dance music while I clean the kitchen, or taking a 15 minute break with a favorite book after raking leaves for an hour. It sounds better already.
Lake Lessons: Be Present
One more lesson from the lake is to be here now. Take a deep breath and look around. Soak in your surroundings. Notice your environment and find the pleasure in what you see, hear, feel or smell. (Don’t drink the lake water.)
Being outside, in nature, viewing the world from a body of water, is such a full-on sensory experience. There is the deep navy of the water, the particular color of the sky that day, our audience of green trees surrounding the lake and always giving us standing ovations. There have been bonus pleasures of seeing eagles, ducks, geese and cormorants. There have been fish leaping, paddle boarders (some with pups sitting on the boards), kayaks, all shapes and sizes of rowing boats. We’ve gotten to know some distance swimmers who pass by. We’ve even had a rainbow bringing special moments of delight while we swim.
It’s so easy to get lost in our heads, our busy schedules, in our lives, and forget to actually be present. I live in the past or the future so much. The lake helps remind me to slow down and really enjoy the fact that there’s so much beauty all around us. Stopping, breathing and paying attention can bring such rich rewards.
With that, may your week go swimmingly, with maybe a few lake lessons to help things out!
Photos by Shari Albers, Alice Browne, Diane Pearson; art by me.