The swan that gracefully moves on a lake is a picture of elegance in motion but what is hidden from the eye is the activity going on beneath the water’s surface. We don’t see the hard work conducted by the swan’s webbed feet which propels the graceful motion we see and admire.
The swan’s movement is an ideal metaphor for expertise and excellence. We admire the very best in their fields because they are able to make the sublime look easy. They are like white swans. They do all the hard work in the shadows and display excellence and elegance in the open. It is common consensus that genius makes the hard look ridiculously easy, thus giving the impression that it is effortless. Albert Einstein once said that “the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
Day in the Life: Michael Phelps
Since the age of seven, Michael Phelps has been swimming competitively and even went through a five-year streak during his teenage years training every single day, 365 days a year. Sundays, Christmas and Thanksgiving included… and twice on his birthdays, according to life-long swim coach Bob Bowman.
Michael and Bob rationalized that swimming each Sunday for a year would add over fifty training days that his competitors would be missing, “… so they were always playing catchup. I was just getting that much further and further and further and further away.”
Bob describes Phelps as one of the “most goal-oriented people I’ve ever met” and believes what separates athletes at the elite level is “their mental game”.
Another long-held tactic Michael employs at Bob’s coaching is visualization. While lying in bed at night, Michael will visualize himself swimming the entire distance of a race, both from the perspective of someone in the stands and from his own point of view in the pool. He will visualize both best and worst-case scenarios, planning in his head what to do if his suit rips or goggles break. Phelps famously credits this part of his training for success in the 200m butterfly at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where he won gold and set a world record despite not being able to see for the last 75m when water filled up his goggles.