We are joined by Dr. Greg Wells who is the author of the book Rest, Refocus, Recharge. In this episode, we talked about some of the things that are discussed in his book. He shares some strategies on why doing less will actually achieve more, how to stop reacting to things and be more deliberate, taking full control of your love, refocusing your attention and how you can stop being a slave to busyness

02:05 Slowing Down
04:05 Sleeping As A Tool Tool To Recharge
07:29 Doing Less To Achieve More In A Day To Day Life
08:51 Pump The Breaks, Open More Space and Have More Control
11:29 You Don’t Need To Do What Other People Expect Of You
13:39 From External Validation To Intrinsic Motivation
14:26 Stop Reacting And Start Being Deliberate With What You’re Doing
17:08 Metacognition
21:41 Reaction versus Response
24:50 Helping Kids With Cystic Fibrosis
26:53 Pay Attention To What We Have
29:59 Multitasking Can Lead To Distractions
37:22 Get Away From Your Device – “123 Practice”
39:28 The Psychology Of Being In The Water
43:17 Bring Your Attention Right Back Into The Present Moment
48:00 It’s Process Not Outcome

Dr. Greg Wells:
Rest, Refocus and Recharge
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2020 Hell Week Camp (Thailand)

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Transcription:

Greg Wells:
When we open up space in our lives we can start to fill it with very interesting creativity. And with that it happens, like neuro-physiologically what’s going on is your brain waves are changing, your brain is slowing down its activity levels, it’s relaxing a little bit and we shift.

Podcast Intro:
Welcome to the Effortless Swimming podcast. The show that helps swimmers and triathletes love the water, become a better swimmer and live a better life. Here’s your host, Brenton Ford.

Brenton Ford:
Well Greg thanks so much for being on the podcast. I think your book couldn’t have come at a better time, it’s called Rest, Refocus and Recharge. And after reading through it, I think everyone’s pretty much forced to do exactly that. There’s not much else that they can do at this time.

Greg Wells:
It’s the most bizarre experience ever watching the entire world shut down right as I release a book about taking a moment to pause and breathe, and it’s happening enforced at scale globally. It’s so bizarre. Anyway, I hope it helps people get through this pretty crazy time.

Brenton Ford:
Yeah. I think one of the things that I found and just speaking with a lot of friends is this time has really forced them to slow down. And watching people just go for a walk or sit on a park bench and just not looking at their phone, just kind of staring out into space, it’s a really weird thing where people are forced to do nothing. I find that’ll be one of the positives to come out of all of this.

Greg Wells:
I think so. I was out for a bike ride the other day because we’re still allowed out to do that sort of stuff because you know, keep your distance from people. But people were out cycling with their families, people were out in the parks, as you talk about, like obviously respecting each other’s distances as you absolutely need to. But yeah, it’s amazing to watch people, and they’re just kind of like chilling out there. People are like staring off. People are thinking, people are having meals with their families, people are reading books, people are taking online courses, people are learning to cook. It’s amazing what’s happened now that we’ve paused for a moment just to take a step back.

Greg Wells:
It’s funny, you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s taken away. And so much of our normal lives has been taken away from us. I think a lot of the really interesting thing is going to be when things ramp back up again, can we be a little bit more deliberate about what we put back into our lives so that we don’t end up where we were even two weeks ago, burned out, stressed, fatigue, depression, anxiety, all that sort of stuff.

Greg Wells:
So yeah, I think that there’s tremendous opportunity, knock on wood, like healthy and all that sort of stuff. And obviously a lot of people are going to get sick and are sick. And so there’s no question, going to be some pain as we go through this time. And I want to respect that deeply. But I think that there’s some incredible potential benefits or different courses that we can go on in the future, which is interesting to behold as the world goes through this crisis.

Brenton Ford:
Yeah. And one of the things that I’ve personally found is that I’ve been sleeping until seven o’clock most mornings where before that I was normally up at five o’clock. So the sleep thing is a massive one. I know you talk about that in your book, where using sleep as a tool to recharge and a number of other things. For me, that’s probably been one of the most interesting things is I’ve been sleeping for eight or nine hours a night, which rarely happens. And look, it might be a change in the time of year as well. Like it’s not light until about seven o’clock, where it was light at 5:30 in summer. But I’ve noticed that is a big change. And also just simplifying, it’s like, “All right, what do I really need in life to be happy and to be fulfilled?” And it’s like, it’s pretty simple I think. And this is really shown that where we’re forced to just a really get rid of and purge all of the things that are unnecessary, that can really come into your life when you do get busy.

Greg Wells:
Is that crazy? I’m also sleeping so much right now. I wear an Oura Ring, O-U-R-A. If anyone wants to check it out, it’s pretty interesting technology. It’s tracking all sorts of data. I was kind of feeling a little bit sick the other night. So given the current environment I was like, “Okay, well, I’m going to sleep as much as I possibly can.” Because I know sleep is related to the immune system. I almost like, “I do not want to get sick right now.” So I slept for nine hours. I haven’t slept for nine hours in years. I felt amazing the next day. And I’m not setting an alarm in the morning. I wake up when I wake up. This morning I had to get up early because I did a call through to the UK from Canada where I am. But I think that it’s great to see that we are actually sleeping, and we’re able to sleep in because maybe we’re not commuting as much as we were before.

Greg Wells:
I mean we don’t need to get to the office by eight o’clock or seven o’clock or nine o’clock or whatever it happens to be. And so that is giving us a chance to recover, regenerate. I know you’ve got a lot of swimmers and triathletes listening, and we know that recovery and regeneration is one of the things that’s so important for all of us at all ages. And the way that we recover and we regenerate is through sleep. When we sleep, our brains wash themselves out. We’ve learned about the glial lymphatic system over the last few years, which is the system inside the brain that washes the brain out. Now, we’ve learned about how growth hormone is released from a structure, and that growth hormone circulates throughout the body while we sleep. And that’s what repairs and regenerates all of our tissues like our muscles and our bones and our skin and our eyes.

Greg Wells:
And then we have hormones that are controlled and regulated like Leptin and Ghrelin. And those are the hormones that control our appetites, that we’re better able to make good decisions around food the next day. So when we sleep, when we actually take that time to recover and regenerate, obviously it improves our immune system, which is incredibly important right now as everyone’s paying attention to that. But it also improves the way that your brain works, it also speeds your recovery from exercise, it also makes you able to learn better and be more creative. So it’s pretty cool to see what’s happening.

Brenton Ford:
Yeah. It’s been such a weird experience, and that’s what a lot of friends have said, for them it’s just really, really weird. But I think when everything goes back to normal, will we sleep as much as we are now? I’m not sure. Probably not because we will get busier with work and all that sort of stuff. But I think it’s been a really a real awakening for a lot of people. And one of the, I guess, the crux of the book is really about doing less to achieve more. And one of the things I find going on holidays, and last year we went on a trip to the Maldives for a surf trip. What I found there was like all we did during the day was wake up, eat, surf, and relax. And sort of just keep on top of emails and that sort of thing.

Brenton Ford:
But from that, I found that I was able to choose the one or two things for the business, For Effortless Swimming, that were most important going forwards. I wrote those things down and wrote an action plan and the steps that I need to do to achieve them. And it allowed me to get really clear on the things that were important going forward. And that was by doing very, very little for a week. And just taking a step back and getting out of my normal environment and normal routine. How do you like to use that way of doing things, like doing less to it to achieve more, how do you use that in your day-to-day life?

Greg Wells:
Yeah. I’m a business person, and so I’m usually firing on all cylinders and driving forwards as fast as I can. So I get what you experienced in Maldives. Judith, my wife, took me there three years ago for our 10th anniversary, and it was one of the most spectacular place I’ve ever been in my entire life. We did a lot of diving, not surfing. But it was incredible.

Greg Wells:
Imagine this, you’re getting a great night’s sleep, you’re eating incredibly healthy food, you’re out in the ocean, you’re out in nature, you’re exercising and you’re resting. And in that rest of time, yeah, you got to clear your email just to keep on top of things, but then that opens up hours a day for you to just basically daydream and contemplate. When we have space in our lives, when we have space in terms of space like actual space and location, and also space in terms of time, when we open up space in our lives, we can start to fill it with very interesting creativity.

Greg Wells:
And with that it happens, like neuro-physiologically what’s going on is your brain waves are changing, your brain is slowing down its activity levels. It’s relaxing a little bit. And we shift from beta brain waves, which are these fast, sharp, quick movements of electricity throughout the course of the brain down into theta brain waves, which are slower, larger waves that are reflective of more sort of ideating, creativity, daydreaming. And that’s where we get amazing insights about what we need to do differently, about how we can solve problems, about how we can consider what it is that we’re doing in our lives. And we only have that opportunity when we pause, when we take a moment to consider what’s going on, and to maybe think about doing something a little bit differently.

Greg Wells:
Interesting, the entire planet’s getting that opportunity right now because we’re confined and sheltering in place at home. But when you’re on that beach, when you’re staring out at the ocean, when you’re watching the waves rhythmically and repetitively come to shore, and you’re thinking about what you’re doing and really contemplating what’s important to you, and opening up the gateway to contemplating that maybe there’s a different way of doing things, that you could then carry forwards into the future. I think you end up in a place where you have a lot more control over your life. And I think that a lot of people don’t realize just how much control we all have over our lives and that we can make the tough decisions, that we can change the trajectory of our lives, we can do more of the things that we love to do like swimming and surfing and running a business that’s aligned with what it is that you care about or going to work, getting work done, and then going to your kids’ sports games. Like whatever it is that matters to you is what you can end up spending a lot more time on.

Greg Wells:
So yeah, I think that what you experienced in Maldives was what a lot of people can experience when we pump the brakes a little bit, slow down, pause, breathe, give yourself a little bit of space in terms of location and time. And then all of a sudden you come up with pole new ideas about how to potentially run your life or overcome challenges or solve whatever problem it is that you’re trying to deal with.

Brenton Ford:
Yeah. Over the last few years, one of the things I’ve had to get accustomed to is not feeling guilty when I’m not working. And I think I’m still probably going through that today, but there’s this… I think we’ve been conditioned, particularly from school, it’s like if you’re not busy, if you’re not doing work, then you’re not achieving anything. And it’s not the case. It’s just something that we have been conditioned over many years.

Brenton Ford:
But, as you said, we’re in full control of what we’re doing. And so if you wanted to quit your job tomorrow, you’ve got the choice to do that. I’m not saying go and do it, but you’ve got the choice to do it. And then you’ve got the choice to do whatever it is with your life. And I think it’s easy to lose sight of that when we’re going through the motions and when we have routine, and something like this where we actually get to take a step back and take a bird’s eye view of everything that’s happening, it’s a lot easier to see those things that are most important to us and see that, yeah, look, we actually do have full control of our lives. We don’t need to do what it is that other people are expecting of us. It’s really in our full control.

Greg:
You know that last thing that you said is probably the single most important thing that at least either of us have said so far in this conversation, that is like you don’t need to do what other people expect of you. That is the key to this entire thing. When you let go of other people’s expectations, then all of a sudden you are free to do what it is that you want to do.

Greg Wells:
And by other people’s expectations, we’re talking about friends, family, coworkers, just society in general. Once you liberate yourself from trying to meet other people’s expectations, you can wear whatever clothes you want to wear, you can do whatever work you want to be doing, you can exercise as much as you want to be doing, you can learn what you want to do. And I think that that’s something that’s so many people struggle with in this era where we’re all… Well, up until this point now it seems so silly, but in three weeks ago you’re trying to get likes on social media or you’re worried about how you’re perceived on whatever picture has been taken of you. Like now all that stuff just seems completely ludicrous and so short sighted in the face of what the global sort of challenge that we’re all faced with at the moment.

Greg Wells:
But yeah, once you liberate yourself from external validation, external rewards, you can shift towards intrinsic motivation, which in the sports’ psychology literature is very consistently shown to be better at longterm motivation to do something. So pivot to what you want to do, think about what it is that you want to do, think about what it is that you love to do, what you’re great at, what brings you energy, what lights your fire, and just spend your time on that as much as you possibly can. And then all of a sudden, amazing things start happening in your life when you do that.

Brenton Ford:
And that kind of goes into one of the points that you’re talking about in the book. Talking about how to stop reacting and start being deliberate with the things that you’re doing. I mean, you’re right. It’s so funny, three weeks ago it’s like the things in the book would be like I’d say for 95% of people, would be probably not a challenge to do, but it’s something that really could be really beneficial in their lives, and now it’d say 95% of people are being forced to go through a lot of these steps in the book. For you, what are some tools that you use to stop reacting to things that are happening day-to-day and be less reactive and more deliberate?

Greg Wells:
Yeah, it’s so important. I learned this from a gentleman named Sadhguru, who’s an Indian gentleman who does some really interesting work. And just reading some of his stuff and taking a couple of his online courses and working through some of his thinking. And what I learned from him was the idea of response-ability. So response-ability versus reaction. And so many of us, when something happens to us in, let’s just say someone says something and you get frustrated with them for what they just said, we have this reaction to it. And the reaction can be emotional, it could be something that you think, it could be something that you do. So it’s feel, think, do type explosion that can come out of you.

Greg Wells:
And so that usually doesn’t go well. There’s been so many times when I’ve composed emails to someone and I asked my wife, I’m like, “Judith, do you think I should send this?” And she looks at me and goes, “You absolutely must delete that email right now. Go to sleep, try it again tomorrow. Because if you send that right now, you’re going to be undoing the damage for months, if not years.”

Greg Wells:
And so reaction usually causes problems. Unless it’s sort of like you’re reacting from the start on a gun, to go with the swimming, that’s a positive reaction. It’s reaction time. But when we’re reacting to things that are coming at us very quickly, that is usually extraordinarily problematic unless it’s a trained response that you’re deliberately trying to do. Military for example.

Greg Wells:
But what we find works so much better for people when you actually train this in, is to respond. Respond to the threat, respond to the challenge. And response means that you have this response-ability, like response dash ability, not response ability. And so what you do in that case is you consider what’s happened, you outline a course of action, you think about what you need to do, and then you actually are able to do the right thing, not the quick thing.

Greg Wells:
And there’s this idea called metacognition, and metacognition is thinking about how you think. It’s another brain state. And generally it’s associated with alpha brain waves, which are sort of not quite as fast as beta waves when you’re puzzling and performing, ad not quite as slow as theta waves when you’re ideating. This is sort of the learning and reflection zone and the contemplation and strategic thinking zone. So you’re relaxed, but you’re definitely consciously considering what to do.

Greg Wells:
And a really cool study on this… And I can flip all these references to you afterwards for the show notes. But there was a really cool study that looked at students who practiced metacognition, thinking about how you think. And when they ask themselves, “What do you need to do, how are you going to do it, and why are you going to do it?” They improved their performance on assignments and tests by three to 5%. Now that might not seem like a lot, three to 5%, but if you add that up over time, it can end up in a very, very different place and a very, very different mark.

Greg Wells:
And so if you’re thinking about something right now and there’s a challenge that you’re faced with, that simple pattern of asking yourself, what do I want to have happen, how am I going to get there, and so what am I going to do basically, how am I going to get there, and why do I need to do it? Can make all the difference in the world in terms of guiding your actions.

Greg Wells:
What we can control is very limited. Like literally all that we can actually control is what we think, say and do. And when we practice metacognition, that enables us to take control of what we think, say and do. And that establishes a radical level of control over what we’re able to do in our lives. And then we begin to move in the direction that we want to be moving in very, very consistently rather than just reacting to the environment and getting pushed around by life, which is I think how I was probably operating up until very, very recently. So this is not easy to do and it takes practice and work, but the outcome is that you end up totally moving in the direction of what you want to be doing and loving every second of it as much as possible.

Brenton Ford:
I really liked those three questions that they posed to the students. Looking at I guess how we kind of structure the clinics that we do, and even just looking at how I’ve been going about… I’ve been surfing a lot more, and one of the things that I noticed… So we’ve got this wave pool near the airport that just got built, so you can basically book in for an hour and you end up catching 14 to 16 waves an hour. It’s the first wave pool in Australia, and I’ve been going there quite a bit. And I’ve noticed that my surfing’s improved dramatically. But one of the things that really made a difference was they’ve got these photographers there, and they’re there every session. They’re taking photos and they post them online.

Brenton Ford:
And one of the things that I noticed about my technique when I was surfing was, one of the first things was I wasn’t looking at where I wanted to go, which is one of the key things on being able to turn. I was always looking down. So over the last couple of sessions I was looking at where I wanted to go and that really just helped me shift my weight and be able to do tighter turns and to be able to surf better. What I’m sort of getting at here is, in terms of my surfing technique, which can really relate to your swim technique is, so I go, all right, what do you want to do? Well, I want to surf better. All right, what does that look like? Well, for me, I want to be able to do tighter turns, I want to be able to do some different maneuvers. And what do I need to be able to do that?

Brenton Ford:
And so kind of breaking it down and actually having this environment in the wave pool where you can really practice this stuff and you can learn it and you can repeat these movements over and over again. My surfing’s improved dramatically over the course of the last three months or so. And when we’re looking at running clinics, the way that I like to sort of explain things is, all right, well the goal is you want to swim faster and you generally want to swim longer. That’s what most people want to be able to do. And so we try and keep it really simple. We look at how you can do that. Well, you can reduce drag, increase propulsion, and you can also look at your stroke rate, as another lever that you’ve got to work on.

Brenton Ford:
And then we just kind of go through all of the drills, all of the ways that you can do each of those things. And so just keeping it really simple and thinking about what you’re actually doing, I think it’s such a great approach, and as you said, that three to 5% can really accumulate over time. It’s really interesting to see that. Just actually thinking a bit more about what you’re doing. I mean for you, your background was swimming and you had quite a bad accident when you were younger, and then you came, you were able to sort of come back from that accident. Do you want to talk a little bit about that and how this sparked your want to sort of learn about all of this stuff?

Greg Wells:
Yeah, sure. Since we’re talking about surfing, might as well go there. Also, just to leverage off the analogy that you just threw out there before we move on. When you talked about seeing those pictures of yourself and noticing that you were looking down and you needed to be looking where you want it to go rather than where your board was at, I mean, that’s a perfect example of reaction versus response, right? The threat is you might fall off your board or what’s going to happen to you in the immediate environment. That’s the threat. So you’re looking there. As a result, you’re reacting to what’s going on and maybe you’re not surfing to your capabilities. But as soon as you extend your vision beyond the immediate, and you start to think about where do I want to be going in a 10th of a second, half a second, and or one or two seconds down the road, it shifts you out of that reaction mode into the response mode and you’re suddenly doing very, very different things, and you’re able to execute a whole bunch of new skills that you wouldn’t be able to do before.

Greg Wells:
So this applies to absolutely everything. It applies to business, music, drama, sports, arts, math, like all of it. So it’s super cool that just even a couple of minutes we were able to throw a few ideas out there. And the surfing analogy is perfect because that’s what you asked me about. When I was younger I was a swimmer with the Canadian youth team and I was with my club team down in Florida and we were training in March when I was like 15 years old. And a bunch of my friends and I went out into the waves to do some body-surfing before all the meat we had that afternoon. And so while we were out there, there was a particularly big wave on a particularly… A beach with a bad break that was like quite steep.

Greg Wells:
And so I just got picked up by the wave and just driven into the sand. Ended up breaking my neck in a number of different places. So got out of the water, my muscles all seized up to hold the bones in place. So I wasn’t paralyzed. I managed to get to the hospital. And then once in the hospital, they X-Rayed me and they saw all of the broken bones in my neck. So that was obviously pretty difficult to have happen when you’re 15 years old, but spent three months in a halo brace and then had neurosurgery to repair all of the bones and put some metal in my neck to hold it together. Neurosurgeon said, “You’re never going to swim again.” I was basically like, “Screw that. I’m going to swim.” So I spent the summer in physiotherapy, and then came back the following year, got back into the pool and just sort of swam my way into shape, rode my bike into shape. The stationary bikes, I couldn’t really turn my head too much. Lifted weights and just got myself back into swimming.

Greg Wells:
I was able to sort of swim up to the national final level in Canada and swam all the way through college, which was great. Most of my friends made the Olympic team and I ended up having a cool experience at the Barcelona Olympics with Canadian Television, and subsequently in 2010 and 2012, when we were in Vancouver and London as a commentator. That was super cool. And I had my Olympic experience. That was really great.

Greg Wells:
But that whole breaking my neck thing, really started to spark an interest in how the body work. So I ended up taking kinesiology in my undergrad while I was swimming. And then after that did a Master’s and PhD in physiology, and sort of transferred things from swimming into cystic fibrosis, which was a respiratory disease. We applied what we learned about swimming to help kids with breathing problems, because swimming you can’t breathe whenever you want. You’ve got to breathe in time with a stroke.

Greg Wells:
So we applied that to help kids with CF, and then that led to an understanding of what was going on with children who have cancer and go through STEM cell treatments, which then affect the lungs. So we looked at that. So it’s been a long journey into this world of the human body. But it’s pretty fascinating. I’m still involved in swimming triathlon, and I was a training fireman this summer. I’m actually probably training better now that all of this stuff has shut down than I was before. But who knows when we’re going to have the next Ironman, it’ll probably be 2021 before I do one.

Greg Wells:
But yeah, swimming has been part of my life and training and science of the human body and physiology and all that sort of stuff, and continue to play in that world. And it’s just been… I’m very, very fortunate. Like if you asked me to go back right now, I’d be like, if you… 15 minutes before that happened, if someone came up to me and said, “You know what, you can change the trajectory of your life by not going in the water and not breaking your neck.” I think right now, knowing what I know, I would probably go in and go through the whole thing again because it’s put me in a very cool direction with where I’ve ended up.

Brenton Ford:
And that’s how I’m trying to look at all of this Coronavirus stuff. It’s like right now everything’s really strange, really weird and nothing is normal. It’s very easy to kind of get down about that and not being able to go out and see friends and do all the normal things. But then six months, 12 months, and 10 years in the future, I think we’re going to look back at this time in a way and go, “Wow, wasn’t that an amazing time.” I think we might miss a lot of the things that we’re doing now, we’re spending more time with the family, going a little bit slower in life. That stuff, there’s a good chance that we will look back at it and go, “That was pretty incredible.” Aside from all of the obvious stuff that’s that’s happening with it. I’m just trying to look at the positives in the time where it’s very easy to be negative about it.

Greg Wells:
Couldn’t agree with you more. Even just talking to neighbors as they walk by, you can really see who’s taking this as an opportunity and really see who’s struggling with the negativity of it. Just now I was outside and one of my neighbors was like, “This just continues to get worse and worse and worse. Now it’s another week we’re going to be isolated.” And said, “How are you guys doing?” I’m like, “We’re doing great. We’re healthy, we’re happy, we’re doing school at home, we’re all exercising every single day, we’re doing story time. We’re actually enjoying this time.” And again, fully respecting people are sick, people are going to die. This is very, very, very challenging. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to be effected by this. I don’t want to minimize that in any way, shape or form, but in the microscope of my little world in this house, we are trying to take the time to have the family dinners, which we weren’t doing before because I was traveling and everyone’s “so busy”. Swim practice is at night for my daughter and stuff like that. We’re reading the books.

Greg Wells:
I recently have been taking a lot of courses on photography at night just for fun to learn something new. Was not doing that before. And you’re right, I think we will look back upon this as a time that provided us with a new perspective on what was going on and gratitude, a level of gratitude that I don’t think existed three weeks ago. It’s amazing how people come together in this time. Like even in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service put out a call for people to help elderly people in this country. And so 400,000 people in the United Kingdom this week volunteered to go help elderly people, maybe go grab them some groceries or go do a couple errands, maybe go pick up some medicine. But almost half a million people volunteered to go help people in the community. That would not have happened three weeks ago, right?

Greg Wells:
If NHS put out a call for people to go help elderly people in the community, they would not have gotten the response that they got now. We should, as much as possible, take care of ourselves, be safe, be healthy, pay attention to all of the things you need to do in order to minimize the effect of this globally, like social distancing and physical isolation, so that we flatten the curve and we minimize the duration of this crisis. But at the same time, also pay attention to the fact that we can be grateful for what we have. Pay attention to what we have. Given that so much of it suddenly had been taken away. And really take this time like this is the time to get healthier, this is the time to eat better, this is the time to take up meditation, this is the time to practice your ability to stay focused, this is the time to have those conversations with your family members who are with you.

Greg Wells:
Pick up the phone, make that phone call to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while because I’m sure that they’re looking for something to do. And getting a call from you at that moment might be something that’s really cool for them to experience. So yeah, I think that you’re right, we’re going to look back upon this and it’s going to be obviously a time of tremendous pain but also a time of tremendous opportunity.

Brenton Ford:
I completely agree. One of the things I was reading about in the book was about focusing your attention. I mean I’m a great procrastinator, I can do that really, really well. I don’t know if it was a video or a podcast I was listening to, but just one day I was having trouble just sitting down and doing the thing that I really wanted to do out. I can’t remember exactly what it was, I put it off for days. I remember hearing someone say, “Whatever task you’ve got in front of you, do it.” And that means shut your phone off, get rid of all distractions, just sit down and do the task.

Brenton Ford:
Typically, when you do that, a task that could take four or five hours, I can get it done in 30 to 40 minutes if I’m focused purely on that task. An example was this morning I got up at six o’clock, an hour before the kids woke up, and I’m running a live training, like a webinar for our members. I was able to sit down, schedule it, put together about 80% of the slides, and it didn’t take that long, but I’d sat down and I couldn’t really get much done. I got about 5% done over the course of four or five days, but I decided, no, I’ll just wake up early and do it before the kids are up, when there’s no distractions.

Brenton Ford:
I left my phone, didn’t check my phone when I woke up. I just got up, had a coffee, and just got to work. And now I feel great about it because I’ve finally got it done. So what are some strategies that that you like to use to be able to focus your attention and do the thing that’s in front of you?

Greg Wells:
Yeah. I have been speaking about the book and saying, okay, so you’re talking about like rest, refocus, recharge. That means slowing down. And yes, that’s all true. But I also believe that we need to go absolutely flat out at certain times, like perform at 100%, perform at 110%. Get the work done, do the presentation, hammer the practice in the pool. Do the training, execute like crazy, because we need to do that in our lives. Like whether you’re a musician, if you’re an actor, if you’re a business person, if you’re an athlete, whatever, there’s moments to perform, there’s moments to get the job done. And I think there’s a way of doing that that is hyper effective. And I think that there’s a way of doing that that’s exhausting. And the way to do it that’s hyper effective is once you start into it, getting rid of every single distraction, having a laser clear focus on what it is that you want to do, and getting that in front of you, eliminating all distractions.

Greg Wells:
When you’re working on a project, turn off email, turn off messaging, turn off social, get rid of your phone so you can’t see it. Turn off all of the audio notifications on all of your devices forever so that they’re not going off, not pinging you, and you’re not a slave to someone else’s attention demands. You are controlling your own attention so that you can drive it into whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish at that time. I’m hyper busy. I’ve got a lab at a hospital, I’ve got a business that I’m running, I write books, I’ve got a podcast and social media flying around. But when it’s time to get stuff done, I’m pretty good at turning off absolutely everything and deeply focusing on what it is that I’m trying to accomplish.

Greg Wells:
And I think that that’s something that we can practice. So basically it’s like the opposite of multitasking, right? We think that we can accomplish a lot by multitasking, do many things at once, that just leads to exhaustion. It’s hyper inefficient for the brain and the way that it works. And when we eliminate those distractions and do one thing, and basically single task, we’re able to do a lot more in less time. The other really interesting thing to think about is when are you at your best during the day? For me, I know that mentally I’m at my best sort of 6:30 in the morning until 10, 10:30, maybe 11. So I do all of my work at that time. And I’ve actually in this time right now, where I’ve got more freedom, I’ve moved my workouts to the afternoon and I’m feeling so much better when I wake up, sort of get myself organized, take a shower, meditate for a couple of minutes, and then dive into work and just crush it when I’m totally clear. And then once I get a little bit burned out on work, grab a bite to eat, rest for a little while, clear my head, do a workout, and then I’m good again for a little bit more later on.

Greg Wells:
But eliminating the distractions, thinking about when you are at your best. I’m a morning person, but there’s night owls that would work better in the evenings. So pick and choose which one of those you think you go into and do your best work, do your most important work at those times. And I think that if you eliminate distractions and align your work with your circadian rhythms, that you’ll be noticing that you have a lot more energy, you’re getting a lot more done with a lot less fatigue. You’re going to become a lot more effective in whatever it is that you’re trying to do. And that can make a massive difference for you.

Brenton Ford:
One of the weirder experiences I had recently was, I was in Sydney a few weeks back and I was staying in the city. I had a conference there. I got up early, at five o’clock, and got an Uber down to the Bondai Icebergs Pool, which is that ocean pool.

Greg Wells:
Favorite pool in the world. I love that place.

Brenton Ford:
It’s unreal. And I went down there and I trained with the squad, and went for a swim, got out of the water, and I couldn’t find my phone. And looking for it, looking for it, couldn’t find it anywhere. And so I asked at the desk, they didn’t have it. I thought it’s either been taken from my bag, which was unlikely, especially at that time of morning, or I’ve left it in the Uber. And that’s what I eventually found out had happened.

Brenton Ford:
I’m in Bondai, I needed to figure out a way to get back to the city with no communication, no maps or anything. So look, there’s a lot more remote places you could be stuck, but it was a really freeing experience. My mind eventually after I sort of got over the whole, “Oh crap, I’ve lost my phone. I really sort of need it for the next couple of days.” After I got over that, being in Bondai and then just having to figure out, okay, how do I get home? All right. I went to a bus stop. Got that as far as I could. And then I found at that station that that stopped at, then I had to get a train to the closest train station. I actually had to talk to people, ask them, “Does this bus go to this location?”

Brenton Ford:
And then when I’m sitting on that bus, I’m looking at people, 90% of people are on their phone and there was maybe one or two that that weren’t, now just sort of wandering off into space. It was actually a really freeing experience. Like my mind was able to just take this big deep breath and then exhale, and for the rest of the morning while I didn’t have my phone, it was actually really nice. It was peaceful. I thought, okay, I need to do that a little bit more often because I’m just a lot more aware of what’s happening and you’re actually looking at other people and you’re noticing a lot of things that are happening around you. Whereas with my phone in hand, I’m typically just… I’m focused in on, I’ve got this routine where I open my phone, check emails, check social media, and just going through that routine day after day.

Brenton Ford:
So what I’ve tried to do since then is just turn my phone off and just leave it in my bedroom or leave it somewhere where I’m not looking at it for at least an hour at a time. And surfing I think is a great thing for doing that, where if I’m in the water for two or three hours, I’m not looking at it, not checking it, and the mind just really opens up. And then get a lot more ideas about what you can do, what I can do with my swimming and training, and then with effortless swimming. It’s a great way I’ve found to just be able to be a lot more creative.

Greg Wells:
Brenton, that’s so important. I love the fact that it took you losing your phone to make that happen. I also was out paddleboarding this year and dropped my phone in the lake. Why I had it with me, I don’t know. Anyway did. And it was dead obviously. So I had a few days without it. And it was great. It was great. And I realized, oh my gosh, I actually don’t think I really need it that much.

Greg Wells:
I’ve been trying to take time to not use my phone, to turn it off. Little things like when you’re having dinner with your family, make sure all the phones are away. That’s an easy place to get started. One hour a day, put away your phone and just don’t… Like turn it off, put it away, get away from your device. Whether that’s you go for a walk without it, which is a radical idea these days. And it’s also one of the great things about swimming, you cannot take it into the pool with you. You are free from it at that moment in time.

Greg Wells:
And another really cool thing people can experiment with is a weekend a month. So one weekend a month, turn off your device, see if you can get through an entire weekend without a screen. And that’s a huge challenge. But believe me, it will open up lots of space for journaling, for running, swimming, biking, all the things that we love to do if you’re listening to this podcast. Spending time with friends, going for coffee, like whatever it happens to be, you will have a lot more time when you’re not mindlessly scrolling through social.

Greg Wells:
I’ve summarized it as sort of the one to three tactics, like one hour a day. Just disconnect. Two days a month, disconnect. And then if you can get to three weeks a year when you go on vacation, like you said, to Maldives, and turn it off while you’re on vacation, just put the autoresponder on, let everybody know you’re going to be on vacation, and see how good your team is at handling business while you’re away. That can also be quite liberating and freeing once you realize that you can actually go away and the world will continue without you for a few days while you’re away and not necessarily checking your email. So a few strategies for you, but the one to three practice is something that people might be able to use to put that idea that you brought up into practice.

Brenton Ford:
And what do you think it is about the water that… Aside from obviously no phones and a lot less electronics in there. What do you think it is about the water that helps people sort of, I guess, meditate in a way and mentally just come out so refreshed? Like I was talking to the mum of a kid that I’ve been doing some coaching with, and he hadn’t been able to swim for… It was only a week that he couldn’t get in the pool, and then he finally found a friend where they have an outdoor 25 meter pool in their backyard. So he’s been able to swim there by himself while all the pools are closed.

Brenton Ford:
And she said to me that he was just a different kid as soon as he got out of the pool after that week off. I mean I know what that feels like if I’m out of the pool for two or three days and then I finally get in, I’m able to just feel much different. And I think it’s, yes, it’s certainly something to do with exercise, but there’s something about being in the water, whether it’s at the beach or in the pool, that can really have that effect. And what do you think it is?

Greg Wells:
I don’t know specifically what it is. We know that it exists. So just think about real estate prices. If you’re right on the beach, you’ve got a certain price. If you’re across the road, it’s much, much lower. Even in a hotel, ocean facing views are priced higher than garden facing views. It’s like we know that when we look at the water, it makes us feel better. And I know as a swimmer that when I’m in the water, I am healthier and happier. Like everyone can identify that feeling of after a good swim, you get up out of the water and you just stand there and your body just feels so great.

Greg Wells:
I think the person who has dug into this the most is Dr. Wallace Nichols. He wrote a book called Blue Mind, which gets into the psychology of being near water. And that’s a fascinating read for everyone in the audience today because if you’re into swimming and triathlon, that’s a window into your mind when it’s near water. So check that one out.

Greg Wells:
But specifically what’s the neurophysiology of it? I’m not sure. I just know that I’ve gravitated to water my entire life. I know that when I’m in and around water, I am infinitely happier. I live on a beach here in Toronto, Canada. It’s right near downtown. We wanted to be on the water because I know that’s where I’m happiest when I’m paddleboarding. I don’t surf anymore because I broke my neck. When I’m in open water swimming, I’m so happy. There’s a 50 meter outdoor pool near here that we swim in all summer long. It’s just spectacular. Obviously not in the winter in Canada. But yeah, when we’re near it, it just makes us feel better. We’re like, we’re so lucky to have this sport of swimming and open water swimming and triathlon because there’s unique benefits to being in the water. Probably worth digging into that a little more. Maybe that’s the next book. I’m not sure. But yeah, it’s an incredible sport, and the water is definitely something to understand.

Greg Wells:
I guess the final thing to leave with, just the new evidence that’s coming out around this, that’s sort of emerging. There’s a research project going on right now in Los Angeles with soldiers who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq who have had horrific post-traumatic stress disorder. And what they’ve done is created something called the Veteran Surf Project, where they’re taking veterans with PTSD out into the waves and evaluating surfing as a tool to help people to mitigate their anxiety and depression and panic, and all the other conditions that are associated with PTSD. And they’re finding that the surfing has tremendous benefits, not just while they are in the ocean, but for hours afterwards. So that’s an interesting project for people to look up around the psychological benefits of being in and around the water. Especially for people who have undergone some sort of trauma.

Brenton Ford:
There’s certainly something to it. And I got to go for an open water swim last week with some friend after being out of the water for a week. It was an awesome day, it was sunny, water was really clear, finally got to catch up with three friends. It was only a small swim that we did. But just afterwards, we messaged each other at night, this is probably five, six hours after the swim, and we were just like, “How good was that swim?” We really appreciated being able to do it when it’s not something that we’re able to do for a while. So yeah, there’s certainly something to it.

Brenton Ford:
And I’ve even seen a lot of friends that don’t… They’re triathletes, but they don’t necessarily love the swim part of it. They’ve been saying, “I’ve really missed the pool. I want to get back in the pool.” That will certainly be a positive that’ll come from it where I think people are starting to actually appreciate when they’re not able to do it.

Greg Wells:
I know those triathletes. I know you guys. I know who you are. You’re going to love it. Next time you’re back in the pool, I want you remember how it feels to get back in and just swim. Like don’t worry about the black line, don’t worry about just going up and down the pool. Bring your attention right back into the present moment, and how does it feel to be in the water? Your body is supported, your weight less. How does it feel for the water to go over your skin? How does it feel as you’re moving down the pool and you can feel the water go from your head, through your chest, through your back, down over your quads, off of your toes? And how does it feel with the water on your hand when you get your hand in the right position so you can actually put pressure on the water and move yourself forwards? And how does it feel when your muscles contract when you’re swimming? And when you take that deep breath and you blow it out underneath the water and do that over and over and over again. Like it is an incredible feeling.

Greg Wells:
And sometimes we get so caught up in the lactic acid or the sets or the training that we’re doing, all of this external stuff that we forget about it, you know what, it just feels really good to be in the water and to swim. After I quit swimming after university, I don’t think I touched the water for like six years. And then one day I jumped into the pool and I was like, “Oh my God, I totally forgot that I love to swim. I haven’t felt like this since I was like 14 years old. This is incredible.” And ever since then, I am all over swimming in lakes, swimming in oceans, swimming with every Marine creature that I can possibly find, and also swimming in outdoor pools as often as possible. I don’t love indoor swimming quite as much. The smell of chlorine still gets me after all those years of 5:00 AM wake ups and all those sets that I did.

Greg Wells:
But yeah, I think that there’s definitely something for all of us to take advantage of and to really lean into being “swimmers” or triathletes or people that are into endurance sports. It is an incredible thing for us, especially when we bring our attention right back into the instantaneous present moment. And sometimes that’s what it takes to re-inspire us now that we’re all out of the pool because they’re all closed all over the world. The next time that we get in, I’m sure it’s going to be a pretty special moment for all of us.

Brenton Ford:
I’m putting together a six week training program for when people are able to get back into the pool. And what you said about just remember how good it feels like, that’s sort of prompted me to think like with this six week program, do not worry about what your times are during for the next six weeks because there’s a good chance, a really high chance, at least for the next three or four weeks that you’re not going to be swimming anywhere close to what you were before. Even if you’ve been doing all of the dry land stuff and keeping fit, it’ll take you a while to get back into it and to be able to maintain some good times over some distance. So if you can just think about how it feels and… It helps you so much with your technique as well when you haven’t got the distraction of your watch or you’re looking too much at the time to just think about how it feels.

Brenton Ford:
You might be thinking about your stroke, that is going to get you so much further, especially in the first six weeks of when you do get back into the pool, than worrying about how much you have slowed down in that time. Because I think in six weeks time, and this was sort of my benchmark for when I went to university, I’d be doing a bit of rowing and a little bit of gym work, but we weren’t swimming much. But then I came back during the… I think it was mid semester break, and I trained really hard for six weeks with my old squad. And I was able to get back to pretty much where I was when I finished school, when I finished I mean competitively. And so with six weeks of some decent training, you can really get some good fitness back. But the first three weeks or so was horrendous. I felt like crap, I was slow. But after that, it does come back pretty quickly after those initial couple of weeks.

Greg Wells:
It’s process not outcome, right? Like you’re not worried about what the time is, you’re not worried about your fitness. You’re just simply back in the pool and swimming. And so take off the watch, turn off the pace clock, just get through the miles, fix your technique, enjoy the process of getting fitter again. And ultimately, I mean we’re all going to be hopefully doing something like this for the rest of our lives. We’re going to be racing for the rest of our lives. We’re going to be testing ourselves for the rest of our lives. There is no end point here, it’s all about process.

Greg Wells:
I guess there is an end point but we’re not too worried about that. That’s like long, long, long, hopefully like when we’re 120 or whatever, and then we can just upload our consciousness into the cloud and carry on. But it’s the process of getting fitters, it’s the process of going to practice, it’s the process of doing the sets, of fixing the technique, of building the discipline, of getting mentally stronger, of eating the healthier foods, right? Like it’s just process, process, process. And the people who are enjoying the process are the ones who end up doing best. Like Michael Phelps is a great example of that actually. It just popped into my brain.

Greg Wells:
People forget that after the 2012 Olympics, even though he’d won a record number of medals. I had a chance to go to London, and while I watched a lot of swimming, I saw him swimming and he was very business likely. He could get the job done, but he was not a happy person. He wasn’t touching anyone on the podium, he was just getting the job done. He was at work. And you could tell that he was interested in getting medals and doing the sponsorship stuff and all that sort of thing.

Greg Wells:
And then two years later, in 2014, he was deeply unhappy. He really struggled with mental health. And he was depressed and even ended up being suicidal at one point. His coach got him checked into rehab because he had been abusing alcohol and drugs. And while he was in rehab, he went one day to the little tiny pool that was in the rehab facility, put on his shorts and went for a swim, and rediscovered the fact that he just loved to swim. He just loved to train. And he said he got so caught up in the money, the medals, the fortune, the fame, the sponsorships, all of that stuff that he completely forgot about the love of swimming. And if you look at him in 2016 in Rio, just look at the pictures of him on the blocks, he’s happy. Look at the picture of him in the water after he went to medals, he’s smiling ear to ear. Those pictures do not exist from 2012. He was not happy, he was not hugging people, he was not high fiving, he was not having a good time.

Greg Wells:
So even Michael Phelps has to rediscover this love of swimming and the practice of training. Like the practice of the mindset of process, not outcomes. If it can happen to Michael Phelps, it can happen to any of us. It’s something we all need to work on and play with and learn from and move our lives forwards.

Brenton Ford:
What a great place to end it. Greg, thanks so much for being on the podcast. Your book is called Rest, Refocus and Recharge. And we will put all the links in our show notes. Where’s the best place to people to get in contact with you? And I know you’re working on a couple of ways that people can learn the things that you’re teaching online. So you’re not speaking as much at the moment, but working on the online stuff. So where’s the best place to get in contact?

Greg Wells:
Yeah. If anyone wants to get in touch with me, the best place is through my website drgregwells.com. You can check me out on social @DrGregWells. We have a new app coming out soon called VIIVIO, V-I-I-V-I-O. It’s Latin for life, that will use Apple watch and iPhone to track your physiology and give you individualized recommendations. It’s a pretty cool app. We’re super psyched about that. It’s got sleep tracking and stress. So check that out as well. And if you want to pick up my book, I would be infinitely honored. And that’s on Amazon. So you can search Dr. Greg Wells on Amazon. You’ll find all the books there.

Brenton Ford:
Awesome. Thank you very much.

Greg Wells:
Thank you so much. Really appreciate it. I just had so much fun and great to talk to swimmers, so it’s all good.

Podcast Outro:
Thanks for listening to the Effortless Swimming podcast. If you’d like us to help you become a faster, more efficient swimmer, go to www.effortlessswimming.com.



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