How Michael Phelps succeeded against all odds?

Children in general often get into the imaginary roles of those they adored and worshiped in real life or through characters appeared on the Walt Disney movies.  These figures can become children’s psychological mentors to motivate children or to become their source of strength.


Anyone who has a ‘dream’ and can dream of such ‘a dream’ in life will develop a greater sense of hope and a sense of direction to overcome barriers in life.


Michael has great mentors in his life. His two sisters who could swim competitively and were better than Michael when he was still a young child. Tom Malchow and Tom Dolan who were representing US at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta became Michael’s greatest inspiration to motivate him to dream about swimming professionally (Michael was only eleven years old at the time).


In providing treatments to ADHD children and adults, the combination of medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy proved to be more effective than only either one of these interventions is applied alone.

Michael started a combination of these treatments soon after he was diagnosed with ADHD.


Many clinical studies including the one I completed in 2014 suggested that the earlier the ADHD children are receiving treatments, the greater is the chance for them to develop strategies that enable them to manage the impairments caused by the disorder and function more productively as those children without ADHD.


Clinical findings also provided a clear picture of types of task ADHD children and adults will do better. They cannot seat still, they cannot handle tasks that are of low stimulation, but they can handle single task much more productively due to the impairment of their working memory, and they will do well in fast-pace types of work.


Working Memory can be understood as a short-term memory that involves a few seconds of your time to hold on to the information and be able to recall it. For example, remembering the order you have just placed at the Tim Horton’s line-up while waiting on the pick-up counter.


Swimming is a perfect fit for Michael. He is constantly moving in a fast pace, and it is a highly stimulated single task he can handle very competently. The routine practice provides him a structure that requires very minimal changes. All these elements reduced his stress level and enable him to be more focused and productive.


There are many clinical studies focused on the effects of vigorous exercise on mental health. Exercise helps balance our body’s level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline which plays a critical role in responding to stresses. Exercise also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These are neuro-transmitters involve in communicating information throughout our brain and body.


These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating our mood, learning and memory. They also help our brains to stay focus on our bodies and on our body’s movement during a sports event or competition.


More recent studies on effects of vigorous exercise on brain functions revealed that the level of glutamate and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) increase along with the intensity of exercising. These two neurotransmitters are responsible for chemical messaging within the brain. In other words, an increasing level of neurotransmitters production will enable better communication among brain cells and different parts of the brain. Practically speaking, more brain cells working together will enhance cognitive functions and emotional health.


Swimming is Michael Phelps’ passion and is a sport that he receives training  vigorously to prepare him for competitions. Practicing swimming is his daily routines, Michael has unknowingly been benefiting from the effects of it on having more production of neurotransmitters in his brain. Of cause, also with his hard work, it not only improves his ability to focus, but also his memory of every movement his body requires to perform at an optimal level.


Most importantly, swimming help burnt off all of Michael’s excessive energy to alleviate his other symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.


Exercising with other people create a sense of social connection that can raise our energy level as well as our mood.


Swimming arena is perhaps a place where Michael will feel safe, secure and socially connected. It is because in other settings, Michael was a victim of bullying as a child; and his self-esteem might have been greatly impacted by being in these other places.  


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied  human optimal experience “revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow’. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.


Flow” as a state in which people “are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this ‘optimal experience’ they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, not self-conscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”


Psychologists, Young and Pain conducting sports psychology studies discovered that “ flow is a state in which an athlete performs to the best of his or her ability. It is a magical and special place where performance is exceptional and consistent, automatic and flowing. An athlete is able to ignore all the pressures and let his or her body deliver the performance that has been learned so well. Competition is fun and exciting”.


Michael’s greatest passion is swimming. His passion for swimming appeared to be further enhanced by his encounter and experiences with the Higher Power during his stay at the Rehab facility.


He expressed his appreciation toward his friend in an interview with a Magazine and for the book “The Purpose Driven Life’ the latter gave him that “turned him into believing there is a power greater than himself, and there is a purpose for him on this planet”.


His testimony of having found a purpose in life seems echoing with a statement he made in his autobiography,

“..all it takes is imagination. You dream. You plan. You reach. There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, with belief, with confidence and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits”.


It appeared that his encounter with the Higher Power has strengthened his trust in himself to perform at his optimal level that earned him to a total of 25 medals in Olympics history. The Higher Power also seemed to have boosted Michael’s self -confidence of which is being expressed with humility and a sense of purpose in life.


What is the magic of the Higher Power? Apparently, the Higher Power is always loving and forgiving unconditionally that enabled Michael to feel belonged and loved.  


ADHD children and adults are easily being misunderstood. Michael is not an exception to such  a general myths.


Michael’s seemingly behaves like a loner is perhaps misunderstood by his coach, Bob Bowman. Michael is described as if he is ‘a solitary man’ can also be understood as his mode of behaving is an essential part of his daily routines to be alone, so that he can manage his thoughts and feelings to find a balance of stimulation that enable him to function with optimal arousal. That is, not being under-aroused to feel bore and unfocused, and over-aroused to act impulsively.