Recommended to Better Understand This Topic:
Bob Cooley explaining the idea of mastery through his story of learning how to swim.
Head Down Swimming and Swimmer’s Shoulder, Head Up Swimming and Biomechanical Freedom, Allowing Ideas to Freely Drive Your Attention to Learn Anything, Experiencing Mastery and Learning at the Rate of a Child, Not Censoring Your Thoughts From Yourself, The Dangers of Controlling Your Attention
(Revised and Edited For Easier Readability and Additional Clarity)
Mastery: a story. Many years ago after my automobile accident, I had to rehabilitate my body and one of the ways I tried to do that was that I started swimming. I need you to know that actually I never really swam as a child. I didn't have that opportunity. So for me to do that was really a rather unusual thing for me to do. And here I was learning how to swim and I asked a competitive swimmer to show me how to swim. So we went to Walden Pond, a fabulous place in Massachusetts (a national treasure), and we get in the water and I don't want to go deeper than I can stand because I don't know how to swim. And he starts telling me how to put my head down and do rotary breathing and swim. And I try it and it's really uncomfortable in my shoulders. So I said to him, "That really hurts my shoulders." And he says, "Oh, no. If you just keep doing it you'll get better at it." I said, "No, that's unnatural. That feeling is not a natural feeling. That's not the way people should be swimming." "I'm the competitive swimmer," he said. I go, "Absolutely correct. But, I'm just telling you, that doesn't feel natural." He got really upset. I was like, "Thanks very much. I really appreciate your helping me." And then he left and I was like, "Okay, I have to figure out how to swim because that head down rotary breathing thing is torture to my shoulders."
So, I got back in the water and then I went a little deeper than I could stand. I pushed off the bottom and I just put in the idea: swim. And when I did, my body rose to the surface, my head came out of the water, I got to look at where I was going and my shoulders felt fabulous when I was swimming. I was like, "I'll have to try that again." I went out even deeper in water and I thought, "Oh, this feels great to do this. My legs are kicking three times for every arm stroke. My arm's pushing out to the side on each side and my body is rotating on its long axis. My head is focused and I get to see where I'm going." It was fabulous. I could breathe anytime I wanted to. I was like, "Ah, this is really great."
So then I went to see my friend, who was dating a competitive swimmer at the time, and I said, "Hey, I figured out how people should swim." And she said, "Oh, I would love to see that." And I said, "Oh, let me show you." So I show her while she's with this competitive swimmer and he's looking at me like I'm a lunatic and an idiot. And I agree, but it felt better for my shoulders. She goes, "That is beautiful." And I said, "Oh thanks."
So I went home and I was with a couple friends in my front yard. They were creating a garden in the front yard of the house and there was this Irish woman there and she was really kind of very spunky and really had a lot of spirit. And I said, "Hey, I figured out how people should swim." And she said, "Oh, the people at the Olympics should know that." I said, "Oh, how would I tell them?" And she goes, "Just call them on the phone." And I thought, "Okay." So, I picked up the phone (and it's a dial phone, kids, I mean, understand it was a while back) and the operator goes, "Hello." I said, "Could you give me the number for the United States Olympic Swim Committee?" And the operator says, "Oh, I just connected somebody to that the other day. I know that number," and she connected me. And a guy answered the phone. I said "Hey, this is Bob Cooley. I own a non-profit kinesiological research institute and we figured out how to take America all the way in the Russian Games with head up freestyle swimming. We've altered the head position a little." He goes, "Oh well, the head of the Olympic Swimming Committee will be back here in about a month. I'll tell him." I said, "Oh great."
So then I was walking home from the job I had at the time and I heard the phone ringing inside. I ran in the house, I picked up and the guy goes, "Hi, I'm the Director of the Olympic Swim Committee for the United States." I'm thinking, "Oh my God." I'm like, "Hello, good afternoon." He goes, "Is this Bob Cooley?" And I said, "It is." He goes, "Did you figure out something in your kinesiological institute about swimming?" I said, "I did. If we alter the head position we get a dramatic increase in not only speed, but acceleration. I would like America to go all the way in the Moscow Games." He goes, "Well, we have the advanced coaches seminar to the United States Olympic Committee happening in a month. We would like you to come out and speak." And I said, "Oh, I would love to." And I said, "Well, with the pool there I can show the coaches." He goes, "Oh, the coaches don't swim, Bob." He goes, "Just take a video of it and we'll show the video to the coaches." I was like, "Fabulous!"
I then ran to the library and started borrowing books on swimming so I could learn the vocabulary that swimmers use. And then I called up the head of Boston University's Athletic Department and said, "I'm going to make a presentation to the Olympic Committee on a change in freestyle swimming and I need to film it under water and you have an underwater window." He goes, "Well, I'll let you use it and I'll supply the camera, crew and everything if you show me what you're going to do." And I said, "Of course I will." So, we did. And let's just say when he saw that I was swimming with my head out of the water he was a little upset. I mean, the whole world's swimming with their head down and thinking that's the fast way to swim.
Anyhow, I gave the presentation and the coaches were horrified, to say the least. Two of them tried to beat me up after my presentation. They had to drag them out of the room. I mean, that's ridiculous. So, I went outside, I sat down on the track at the Olympic Training Center and I started to cry thinking, "Here I am. I've figured out how to avoid swimmer's tendonitis in the shoulders that all swimmers have and a faster way to swim and they're giving me a hard time." And then I thought, "Go get support."
So, I went to the National Library of Medicine and I studied everything known about swimming and I found out that when people swam with their head up in the second World War, the Navy Seals tested it and found out that you use less oxygen when you swim with your head up than you do when your head's down. Who would've ever guessed? I researched animals. All land mammals swim with their head up and look where they're going. I then went into the whole history of swimming. Like, when did this idea to swim with you head down show up? Because Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) used to swim with his head up and he won at the Olympics! So, how did this get off track?
When I gave that presentation to the Olympic Committee, George Heinz (who was one of the most famous swim coaches), said, "Listen guys. Stop giving this man a hard time. He's telling you you've done the wrong thing. You need to back up and get back on track and this is really going to work for you." I was like, "Way to go, George." I really appreciated George.
So in the process of me swimming every day for three years, I learned to allow my attention to direct me on what to pay attention to. If I was swimming with a friend of mine, I'd be like, "You know, today I'm really feeling how my knees like to rotate. My lower leg likes to rotate in when I kick." And she'd be like, "Oh, you know what I really like is that my pelvis likes to extend when I do that and then my back gets longer and then I come up higher on top of the water." For three years, every day I collected information on how to swim. I didn't assume I knew how. I was figuring out how to do it.
And then one day I'm at Walden Pond, I'm with some friends and they go, "Let's swim across." I said, "Oh, I can't swim across. I'll go a certain distance and come back." So I went a quarter of the way across and I said, "Okay, I'm going to turn around." They're like, "Well, just go a little further." I'm like, "Okay." So I went a little further and I was halfway. They're like, "Well, you might as well swim all the way across." I was like, "Only if you guys stay with us," because I think you need to be with other people when you swim. You shouldn't swim by yourself. So, I got to the other side and they got out already. Of course, I was much slower. And then, as I started to get out I heard something, but there was nobody behind me. I turned around, looked and there was nobody there and I heard this sound in my head that said, "You've now mastered swimming." And I was like, "Oh my God. I've lost my fucking mind. If people know I'm hearing a voice in my head they're going to think I'm crazy." So, I pretended I didn't hear any of that. And then I started to walk out of the water, but I felt like as I was coming out of the water that I was going through the evolutionary stages of evolving from a water creature into an amphibious creature up into to a land animal. So in like 30 seconds I'd evolved into this land animal we are. I was like, "That's a really wild thought." It was a wild feeling I was having.
I then went back to school. I was teaching Math at a college and on my way there I kept hearing that same voice saying, "Come on. Get over to the pool." I'm like, "Oh, I've lost my mind. I've definitely lost my mind." I got over to the pool finally, opened the doors and it was the water. And the water was going, "I'm so glad you're here. I've been waiting since yesterday when you mastered swimming." I'm like, "How do you know what happened yesterday?" I put my feet in the water and then the water said, "Better put your hands in, too. Not just your feet before you get in." I'm like, "Okay." So then I did that and I was like, "Oh, that does feel better to do that." And then I slipped into the pool and I could feel the water in the pool rise as I displaced the water. I'd never felt that in three years. I mean, it was subtle. I was like, "That's wild, isn't it?" I'm like, "Okay, whatever." And then I pushed off the wall and swam across the pool and everything I learned in the last three years happened in one lap. That was an extraordinary event mentally to experience. I pushed off the wall and that same voice said to me, "You really need to understand how the edible complex is associated with swimming." I'm like, "You are crazy. I mean, what could that possibly have to do with swimming?" And then the voice goes, "This isn't up for negotiation. You really need to learn this." I was like, "Oh my God." In the next 30 minutes that I swam, I learned three times as much as I had learned in previous three years. I had returned to learning at the rate of a child. The amount of information I could consume and the speed of that and the depth of that was what I remembered being like when I was a little kid. That's what mastery is like.
So it took me years to identify what had actually happened when I mastered swimming. What happened was that first, my legs need to figure out how to swim. You have all the reflexes already designed in your body, but you have to then put those together so the legs can make the movements they need to make. And then once you make your way all the way down to your toes, there's no more legs and then your attention starts to come up your body. As you start to come up your body, your arms are like, "Oh, I'd better figure out how to make movements that work with my legs." That initially took me a year and a half of swimming. I mean, I was the weirdest swimmer you ever saw in your life when I was in the process of trying to coordinate my arms with my legs. I'm a leg dominate type of person, so the legs were not so strange initially. And then all of a sudden, one day I was like, "Oh my God, I can't breathe." So I was like, "Oh, my God. My breathing has got to work with my arms and my legs." I needed to find out how my body would naturally breathe and not force myself to breathe based on whatever speed or whatever I wanted to go at. And so I did that and it took me six months and all of a sudden my body would naturally breathe and my arms would coordinate with my legs and it was just the most effortless experience. Not that I wasn't using tension, but it was just an effortless feeling while I was swimming.
I then realized the idea of swimming was running everything I was doing with my attention. I realized that when I chose to do an idea like swimming, that idea, not me, tells me what to pay attention to. Most people think when you do anything, you tell yourself how to do it. That's not how it works. We have a representative mind. You decide you want to golf and the moment you decide that idea, that idea says, "Pay attention to your right foot and your big toe. I need you to rotate it. Can you pay attention to the green over there? Can you see that? That's at an angle over there. Could you consider that?" That idea tells you what to pay attention to inside or outside and if you do pay attention to those things you collect the 10,000 ideas that are required to master something. And when you do, every time you do that activity you're aware that idea is running everything that's happening. Your body's already learned how to do the activity and now everything else is changing you while you do that activity. The whole world is morphing you when you're doing that activity. So when you master swimming and you get in the water, the water's like, "I need you to turn the wrist this way to be more like a dolphin. I need you to flip your back hips up further in order to affect the lack of turbulence behind your body." The water starts telling you everything. And mastery is like that with life. Once you've figured out an idea and that the idea runs everything, it says, "When you do anything, let that idea tell you everything to pay attention to." And that's mastery, that's the idea.
The back story to this idea was that I had been taught to control my attention. Like most people in a meditative form, I was thinking that keeping my attention on one thing was going to bring me spiritual enlightenment in a certain way. But one day I was crossing the street while I was controlling my attention and instead of looking at the car that was coming towards us, I took my attention off the car and put my attention on something else that I thought it should be on. And when I did that, I didn't get to see the speed of the car and that car was going extremely fast. Whereas if I hadn't controlled my attention, I would've had a good estimation of the speed of that car. So at that moment of that car hitting me, I learned that you are not allowed to control your attention and have good results.
So because I had mastered swimming, when I wanted to learn how to stretch I put my body in a stretched position and just waited and my mind would go, "Flex your foot. Rotate your lower leg this way. Exhale more when you're doing that. Did you notice you're looking at red now instead of green? Did you notice that you keep looking at red every time you do this particular stretch?" And because of my experience with mastery of swimming, when I learned how to stretch and I starting going into different positions, my body showed me how to get into these different positions. They ended up being classical yoga poses. I didn't know that at the time. But when I got in them, my personality started to develop in a very specific ways and it turned into a system of 16 Genetic Personality Types, 16 types of stretches, and 16 organ groups by not controlling my attention.
So when I'm training anybody now and I'm training them how to stretch I'm always asking them, "What's happening now when you're stretching? We're stretching your lateral hamstring. What's up with you? Can you feel the tension in your lateral hamstring? You should feel it with your hand. I think you wanna know about that. What else is happening? Are you thinking about your brother? I mean, what's coming up to your mind?" Leave everything open and just collect information when you do something and then you can master it. And when you do that the whole world then teaches you everything you ever wanted to know. Have a great time mastering things.