Change Your Mindset
Break Your Mental Barriers

Break Your Mental Barriers: The Roger Bannister Story

If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you are right!

To understand the truth in that dictum, let’s journey back to the 1950s.

In the world of athletics then, it was widely believed that no human could run the mile in less than four minutes. The best time was credited to Sweden’s Gunder Haegg, who ran the mile in 4 minutes and 1.4 seconds. And he did that in 1945. The record stood for several years, and doctors and athletes and sports experts were unanimous in the view that the four-minute barrier could not be broken. Not possible, they said. Can’t be done. In fact, it was believed that no man could attempt it without causing significant physical harm to his body.

Then, on 6 May 1954, Roger Bannister did the impossible. At a track and field event in London, Roger ran the mile and touched the finishing line in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, thereby shattering the four-minute barrier. He did what they had said was impossible. His body did what they said no body could.

John Landy—an accomplished runner and Roger’s rival—had a personal best time of 4 minutes and 1.5 seconds till then. In fact, after running the mile in under 4 minutes and 2 seconds three times, John said that the four-minute barrier was ‘like a wall’—it couldn’t be broken. However, just fifty-six days after Roger smashed the four-minute-mile mental barrier, John too broke his own mental wall and ran the mile in 3 minutes and 57.9 seconds.

That’s not all. By the end of 1957, sixteen other runners had run the mile in less than four minutes. The mental barrier had been well and truly smashed!

So what actually happened? Did the athletes’ bodies suddenly get stronger? Was there new technology to improve the runners’ shoes? Did training methods get enhanced? Did athletes simply try harder? None of the above, really. It’s just that the mental barrier—the self-limiting belief that a mile can’t be run in under four minutes—was shattered. And that opened up the floodgates.

Roger was a doctor by training. And as he explained later, to him it seemed illogical that you could run a mile in four minutes and a bit, but could not break four minutes. His mind refused to accept that barrier. In reality, what Roger did was prove that the barrier was not a physiological one—it was merely a mental barrier. What Roger did on that windy day was not merely set a new world record; he, in fact, demonstrated that breaking mental barriers can help us deliver breakthrough performances.

We are all like that. We all have our beliefs about what we can achieve, and what we can’t. And our success is limited by those barriers. Even our effort is often restricted by those barriers. We don’t try, because we see those barriers. What Robin Sharma calls ‘those little invisible fences’.

As the Roger Bannister story shows, once he broke the four-minute-mile barrier, the mental barrier in the minds of all runners was shattered. And soon thereafter, sixteen people ran the mile in under four minutes.

Life is all about breaking mental barriers. Leaping across and clean over those little invisible fences. Dreaming the impossible dream.

What’s your four-minute barrier? What’s holding you and your team back? Go on, shatter that barrier. Today.

If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you are right!

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