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The Power of Belief & The 4 Minute Mile

64 years ago, on May 6th 1954, something incredible happened. Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old British medical student, became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. Some very clever people at the time said that to do so would cause a human being to have a heart attack. Within one year, 37 runners broke the belief barrier to run a sub-4-minute mile. The year after that, 300 other runners did the same thing.  In this article, Eagle Training talk about the power of belief, referring to the 4-minute mile as an example of how self-belief can be both empowering and limiting. 

the 4-Minute Mile and self-belief

The Power of Belief - 4 minute mile Eagle Training

Bannister’s time on the day was 3minutes 59.4 seconds, achieved at the Iffley Road track in Oxford and watched by about 3,000 spectators. His achievement was a game-changer.

You probably know the story. What you might not know is that he did it with minimal training while studying to be a doctor. His record lasted for 46 days and then two other athletes beat the record in quick time; how often does that happen? But Roger Bannister will always be remembered as the man who ran the ‘miracle’ mile.

The power of belief

For me, the human psychology behind this is fascinating. Once one person proved it was possible, others believed they could do it too, and did. I know I have written about the power of beliefs before. That’s because I believe (sorry about that!) they are crucially important to all of us in our lives, maybe more than we realise, yet so often outside of our conscious thoughts.

Belief definition

Let’s start by trying to define what a belief, in any of its guises, actually is. There are probably thousands of definitions. The one that I always use is that proffered by Tony Robbins. He says that a belief is really just “a meaning of certainty about something”, whether that something is religion, money, relationships, society etc. I like that definition. It’s simple, but it works for me.

The point is that the beliefs we hold shape our lives because they act as switches that can be turned on or turned off. Most peoples’ beliefs about the possibility of doing a sub-four-minute mile were turned off. Not Roger Bannister. Oh no; his switch was very definitely turned on.

Empowering and Limiting Self Belief

The interesting thing is that our beliefs can be installed by very well-meaning folks; parents, friends and teachers – who act with positive intent. However, their positive intent can have unanticipated negative consequences.

As a young boy, my Mum told me never to expect too much out of life. That way I would grow up without being disappointed. Looking back now I know my Mum’s positive intention was to protect me from disappointment; I’m certain of that. However, the negative impact was that I rarely stretched myself in some areas of my life so did not achieve all that I might have done; who knows?

My colleague and corporate trainer, Martin Eldon was told by his Mum not to expect to be musical because no-one in the family had been. It would have been easy for him to accept what his Mum told him. Martin went on to play the guitar (really well actually) and to run folk clubs. He did this by challenging the belief that had been planted.

On a perhaps more serious note, we once had a delegate who told me at the start of the first morning that I would have to be patient with him as he was a ‘slow learner’. When I asked him how he knew this he told me it was because a teacher had told him many years before; and we believe teachers when we are young, right?

The teacher’s comment that day created a belief that had stayed with the boy going through school and then into the working environment. Just think how holding on to that belief had impacted this delegate. Well, I wasn’t having that so we worked to challenge and rid him of it.

I have had the pleasure of working with Steve McDermott. Steve is an award-winning motivational speaker. He talks about a belief being like a tabletop that is supported by legs, or references. Just think for a minute. There are many people out there that think the world right now is a bad place.

Now, if you had that as a belief, could you find references to support it? Of course, you could. The current Coronavirus pandemic would be a start, wouldn’t it? Then you might include the number of stabbings on the city streets. Looking back, you could cite the events on 9/11. The headlines and stories in the tabloid press would certainly support your belief that the world is full of malevolent people. This is what is commonly referred to as confirmation bias. Please understand, we don’t believe what we see, we see what we believe.

But wait a moment. If you looked at the world differently might you not find examples of people doing great, positive things? At this current time, you might point to Captain (or Colonel) Tom Moore, people clapping for carers and people giving their time as volunteers to distribute food, and so on.

How beliefs impact behaviour

So, which of those two beliefs is true? So, here’s the interesting thing. While beliefs are a meaning of certainty that we have about something, they are not true. But, critically, we act AS IF they are true. The big question to ask yourself is not “Is my belief true?” but “How is this belief impacting my behaviour?”

I have a belief that I am hopeless at DIY. I hate doing DIY, to be honest. Now, I’m in my mid-60s and I have done a lot of DIY projects over the years. The vast majority have actually gone well (as my current wife will testify!).

So, you might ask, where does my belief come from? Well, I have it because I overlook the many that have gone well and focus on the few that have not; which together confirms and supports my belief.

Get the idea?

Therefore, our beliefs fall into one of two main categories; empowering beliefs that serve us and limiting beliefs that hold us back. The good news is that you can change your limiting beliefs.

So, let me ask you: what is your four-minute mile? What do you believe is impossible for you to accomplish but that you could actually make a reality if you just challenged your belief and just went for it?

I know that’s a difficult question to answer, isn’t it? Because we so firmly hold on to what we believe is true, it is difficult for us to question, and leave open the possibility, that the beliefs that are holding us back just might not be true.

Are your beliefs true? You decide!

By the way, if you want to watch a video around Roger Bannister, you can log on to one by motivational guru Les Brown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LweYBcVI5N8

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