Five tips for writing better essays I learned from competitive swimming

I spend a lot of time poolside. And no, not like Rihanna in a bikini in the Bahamas. (I wish!)

My eldest son was talent spotted age 6 as he swam at our local leisure centre. I knew he was a good swimmer, but I'd thought that was in a 'every Mum thinks their kid is brilliant' sort of way. So, I'd dismissed my mama's pride and simply took pleasure in watching him have fun.

Well, all that changed. The talent scout was just the beginning and over the last nine years I've watched this little kid grow into an awesome swimmer who swam for our county aged 11 and now represents the region we live in.

I spend a lot of time sat by the pool in training sessions and competitions. And when I say a lot of time I mean DAYS. Most of my PhD was written in my notebook and typed on my laptop sat poolside.

I've been sat by the pool today since 8.00am and I won't leave until 5.00pm. And I've been thinking - what does it take to be successful? To be the best you can be? To be absolutely freaking KILLING IT in one particular area of your life?

Pin-BP competitive swimming.jpg

Whether it's sport or essays, here's five factors I believe lead to success:

1. Start early

You can't go into a competition without training first and you can't write an essay without having enough time to write a few drafts. The earlier you start the more chance there is of you fine tuning your performance, ironing out any kinks in your technique and getting match fit so you are on the top of your game when the time arrives to dive in and hit submit on your essay.

2. It doesn't get easier, you just get better

Oh boy, this is the TRUTH! If you are saying to yourself 'It's too hard' then you're only part right. Because writing essays IS hard, but it's only TOO hard if you use that as your excuse to quit. Reading high quality sources and creating new knowledge is always going to demand effort. Stay in the race and you'll improve and look back on your early work and think 'that was easy'.

3. You're competing against yourself

If it bugs you that other people are getting better results than you, then it shows you want whatever it is for yourself. You have to really WANT sometime badly to envy someone else having it. But leave your jealousy right there because ultimately this is your race and the only person to beat is yourself. Keep your focus on your performance and keep pushing to be your personal best.

4. Mastery takes practice

Nobody jumps in at the deep end and immediately masters a skill. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world class. If you've not put time, thought and effort into at least a few drafts and rewrites of your essay then you can't expect to get great results. Commit to frequent practice and you'll see an improvement faster than you think. Commit to daily practice and you'll soar.

5. Be teachable. 

Nobody knows everything. You don't; I don't. But if you've got the humility to accept you don't know everything and push through vulnerability to ask for help, then you'll progress faster than people who won't. Swim coaches have knowledge and experience beyond that of the swimmer. It's the same with any coach or mentor. Once you put your hand up and ask for help, you're free to tap into resources far beyond what you possess yourself.

Not knowing these qualities underpin success led to my disastrous first year at university in 1991/2. I left it too late, felt it was too hard, envied others, thought I should be perfect first time and worst of all, couldn't admit I needed help. But the breakthrough which led to me becoming a top student followed quickly once I grasped these fundamental truths and better still, took action to MAKE THEM HAPPEN.

Once I'd done that everything became easier. I was able to enjoy university and feel confident I'd get the degree result I needed to go into a career I loved.

You can do this too. I mean it! Once you grasp these five fundamentals you can be, do and have everything you want. The grades, the confidence, the peace of mind and the career which you dream about right now. Once you commit, things will change FAST!

Remember, there's an amazing plan and purpose for your life. Study well, stand out and start right now!


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