I'm a swimmer. I spend a solid hour most mornings staring at a black line at the bottom of the pool. Some days I feel like I'm swimming through molasses as I schlep my way across the pool one heavy stroke at a time. Other mornings I am disciplined, determined and focused—and I feel like an Iron Man racer.

Within every life experience lies a hidden instruction Whatever mood I find myself in, there is one aspect of this ritual that remains consistent: There is always a glaring life lesson reflected back to me from those crisp, cool waters. When I am receptive enough to allow that lesson to penetrate, then those are the mornings when a good swim changes my whole life.

Our sages teach that within every life experience lies a hidden instruction in the service of G‑d. The great sage, Reb Zusha of Anapoli, set the bar pretty high when he derived seven lessons in Divine service from the behavior of a thief. Calling on my inner "Zusha," what follows are seven life lessons I've gathered from, in, and around the swimming pool.

1. Always keep someone faster than you in your lane.

I'm a pretty good swimmer. In fact, some mornings I pretend that I am an Olympic finalist. With every turn of my head, I hear the sounds of children playing and older women doing water aerobics, and I imagine that it's a crowd cheering for me. With that mind-set, I start to believe that not only am I a good swimmer, but I am a great swimmer.

When I'm feeling "on top of my game," I don't typically work very hard — after all, I'm practically the best; why bother pushing myself to be better?

Then, when G‑d wants to show me who I really am… Enter: "The Blue Bullet." As soon as this woman hits the water, it's as if she's cutting through it with a razor. I am in awe of her, and she consistently leaves me "eating her wake." She's not the only one. There are several other "regulars" who are faster, stronger and more efficient than I am. When I share a lane with any of these superstar swimmers, I stretch myself by trying to keep up with them. Simply put, I try to be better.

Being the fastest in a pack has its perks. It offers the ability to lead by example, to set the tone and rhythm of the lane. It allows you to be a leader — but it doesn't allow for a tremendous amount of growth.

When I keep someone stronger than I am within my sight, I am able to see what aspects of myself need strengthening. Having someone around who is better than I am in any area of life keeps me humble and honest about where I am, and keeps me focused on where I want to be.

2. Complaining about how cold the water is doesn't make it any warmer.

On cold winter days, the very thought of getting in the water gives me the chills. But I have noticed that no matter how much I "kvetch" about the temperature, it doesn't help one bit. In fact, the more I "kvetch" the colder the water feels.

Expressing our pessimism often reinforces the concept Negative thinking keeps us stuck, frozen, in one place, and thus should be avoided at all costs. Motion is what generates heat, in our physical and our spiritual lives. Some people mistakenly think that by voicing their particular burden, it will somehow make it easier to bear — the "better out than in" concept. Generally, the opposite is true. Expressing our pessimism often reinforces the concept, ingraining it deeper in our psyche. Instead of "getting it out," we should aim to not let it "in" to begin with.

When negative thinking patterns start taking hold, the B'al HaTanya (Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi) instructs us to "push away [negative thoughts] with two hands." In other words, if you want to get warmed up, you've got to dive in headfirst.

3. Don't expect your iPod to do your workout for you.

It was actually my iPod that first got me back in the pool. After a long break from swimming, I mentioned to a girlfriend that I had received an iPod as a birthday gift. She told me how her iPod had revolutionized her workout routine and that she had bought a waterproof case and headphones for the pool. I was sold and went out to buy them immediately.

I quickly programmed inspirational music and classes that would provide the ultimate soundtrack to my workout. I was convinced that this device was going to set my stride and make my workout virtually effortless. I would not swim without it. But what I quickly discovered was that I was spending way more time futzing with my headphones and skipping over songs than I was swimming! For the kind of fast-paced, focused swimming that I like to do, my waterproof iPod is a total distraction.

Similarly, I have noticed a tendency to get drawn in by props, even in Jewish life. There are shiny "new" mitzvahs to do, new Judaica to purchase, cutting-edge books to read and classes to attend. These are all wonderful and maybe even essential elements towards a full and rich Jewish life. However, we have to always keep ourselves focused on the main point.

The point of living as a Jew is not about a silver menorah or how many holy books we have on our bookshelf. The main point is about what we've done to make this world more comfortable for G‑d to dwell in.

We have to be focused on the goal A chassid once said to his Rebbe, "Rebbe, I've learned the whole Torah." The Rebbe replied, "And what has the Torah learned you?" The whole point of learning Torah is to make it the soundtrack of our lives, the rhythm to which our every move is made. Simply put, our task goes way beyond learning Torah; we need to live Torah.

If we are to make any physical or spiritual workout meaningful, then we have to be focused on the goal and not get lost in all the glitter around it.

4. Hang your wet clothes to dry sooner rather than later.

The great Sage Hillel says: "If not now then when?"

So many of us procrastinate under the assumption that pressure against the clock gives us an "edge" or makes us more efficient. But the truth is, procrastination just makes the inevitable all the more burdensome and heavy.

Ever smelled a wet towel after it's been zipped up in a gym bag for a day or two? Ew.

In line with Hillel's thinking, Nike said it beautifully with their brilliant slogan: "Just Do It." It's a mistake to think that you're going to want to do it before you actually do it. If I waited until I felt like doing everything that I need to do, I wouldn't get anything done. So the next time you find yourself pushing off a project or a decision, remember the wet-towel theory, and just do it!

5. Pack your gym bag before you get to the pool.

Spontaneity definitely has its perks. But no matter how excited and well intentioned we may be, it ain't no fun to show up at the pool without a swim suit in your bag.

Have a game plan In order to lead a productive life, we need to have a game plan. At the very minimum, we need to have the basics in place that will allow us to get the task completed: our book bag packed for class, a current resume for an interview, food on your fork before you stick it in your mouth.

Planning doesn't mean that we have to map out every single step and lead a rigid life. On the contrary, when you know where you're going and have taken preparatory steps to get there, you allow yourself the freedom to be truly present when you arrive.

In other words, when you're well prepared, all that's left to do is dive in.

6. Know which lane you belong in.

Some pools have signs at the foot of each lane specifying the speed of that lane: fast lane, slow lane, intermediate. But more often than not, the swimmer has to figure out on her own where she belongs.

Slower swimmers tend to get really annoyed when some "Speedy Gonzales" comes zipping past them in the slow lane. And, likewise, there is hardly anything more annoying than a slow swimmer pushing off from the wall as a fast swimmer is approaching in her lane.

Problems arise when we are unwilling to acknowledge what kind of swimmer we are. Labeling yourself as a fast swimmer doesn't make you arrogant, the same way that calling yourself an intermediate swimmer doesn't make you self-pitying. It simply means you know and appreciate what you have accomplished until now, and what you are still working to achieve..

As an educator, I need to know what material I am capable of giving over and what I am not. If I try to teach a concept before I've fully grasped it, my students won't get anything out of it other than a sense of my bewilderment.. But when I am honest enough about who I am and what I am capable of, I allow myself the opportunity to be truly great.

Reb Zusha told his students: "When I come to Heaven and they ask me 'Why weren't you like Abraham?' I will answer: 'Because I wasn't Abraham.' If they ask: 'Why didn't you match the greatness of Moses?' I can say, 'I wasn't Moses.' But if they ask me why wasn't I, the best Zusha I could have been… to that I have no answer."

Knowing who you are and where you belong requires honesty, a mixture of confidence and vulnerability, and, ideally, a lighthearted spirit. When you know who you are, then you know which lane you belong in. And when you know which lane you belong in, then you can truly enjoy the benefits of the level you've worked to reach and continue striving for the next lane; i.e., you can get on with the business of being the best you that you can possibly be.

7. Always end with a sprint.

The physiological benefits of ending on a sprint may be debatable but, man, does it feel good! After a good, long workout, my legs usually feel like jelly and I start to believe that I cannot possibly swim another lap... and then I do.

It is that effort that is truly precious In the time of the Talmud, it was customary for a student to review a chapter in Torah one hundred times. But, the Talmud explains, the one who reviews his studies one hundred and one times is called "one who serves G‑d." What does one hundred and one have that one hundred doesn't?

The Ba'al HaTanya explains that it is the nature of a committed student to review his studies one hundred times; it's simply what he does. But when he goes beyond himself and pushes himself a step beyond his nature—that is a person who knows how to serve G‑d. Not because that is the lifestyle he was born into or because that's what everyone else in class does; rather, he pushes himself beyond what is comfortable and natural because he desires to be better and stronger. That's Divine service.

We learn that the one hundredth and first time is more precious to G‑d than the one hundred times that preceded it. Because that last "lap" took way more energy and courage. And it is that effort that is truly precious.

It's not easy to swim one hundred laps, but when you make that part of your routine, it becomes something you do, part of who you are. It even feels easy after a while. But when you are willing to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and extend yourself beyond your routine, then you know that with a little extra sweat you can transform your whole nature.