Ever find yourself in the middle of a project, a workout, or maybe even a master’s degree, concentrating on getting through the experience so you can finally get to the finish line, thinking you can relax and enjoy after you’re done?

You put your head down, minimize distractions (sometimes to the detriment of other areas of your life), and force yourself to do whatever it takes to reach success. In the middle of the project, you imagine the way you’ll feel when you’re finally done, which prompts you to double your efforts.

Then, you get there. You reach your goal, pop the cork and allow yourself to enjoy your accomplishment for about an hour—a week, if you’re really lucky.

Before you know it, you’re shutting out the world again as you double your efforts to reach for your next joyful moment. Without realizing it, you’ve essentially shut out any opportunity for enjoyment in relentless pursuit of success.

This reality hit me between the eyeballs as I completed my warm up in the pool at Meadowbrook in Baltimore, Maryland. Gliding across the water, I felt joy ripple through me as I realized how fortunate I was to have a 50-meter lane to myself.

With no one to worry about, I could enjoy each moment as I breathed freely and focused on each stroke. There was no one splashing water in my face in the exact moment I went to take a breath.

It was blissful.

That is, until I heard myself think this thought—“You can enjoy a couple of laps once you finish the workout. Focus and get through this, and then you can enjoy.”

Wait, what?

Why would I wait to the end of the workout to allow myself to experience joy when the process of completing the workout could be joyful? Where did I get this crazy idea, and is it the same one that prompts my incessant need for achievement?

In that moment, I made the decision to allow myself to experience joy in the process of doing the workout. Though it took me a couple of years of learning how to swim (starting at 35) to get to the point where I loved swimming, I had arrived.

And so, I glided across the water, feeling joyful.

Now, in truth, I watched as the joy came and went. There were moments of frustration mixed in with the joy. Each time I felt those waves of irritation, I asked myself, “Where did my joy go?” Nearly every time I asked the question, I noticed my body was tense, making it hard to glide and therefore difficult to breathe.

Witnessing the reality of the tension running through my body, I whispered, “relax” and “glide” to myself, allowing the breathing to get easier and my joy to return.

The intensity of the pace certainly impacted the time it took to relax, but the great news was that even the intense sprints became much more enjoyable when I could breath. I discovered that I could do both—relax and challenge myself—though I needed to remember to breathe in the process.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

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