| By TMA World

“Racing has always been more of a mental than a physical problem to me.”  Roger Bannister

I wasn’t quite six years old when Roger Bannister ran the first mile under four minutes on May 6, 1954, but I can still remember the excited ‘buzz’ around me.  “What! How could that be possible?”  There was also a lot of flag-waving and pride in being British.  Roger Bannister died on March 3, 2018. 

The greatest runners – and their coaches – from N. America, Europe, and Australia had been trying to make a serious attempt at breaking the four-minute barrier since at least 1886, but to no avail.  

Bannister was a full-time medical student and lone wolf who had little time for coaches.  The experts believed they knew the conditions needed for breaking the barrier – perfect weather (68 degrees and no wind), a hard, dry clay track, and a large, very excited crowd cheering the runner on to the finish line.  Bannister defied the odds by achieving his time of three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second on a cold, wet, and windy day at a small athletic meet in Oxford.  

Once the barrier was broken, other runners followed.  Just 46 days after Bannister, John Landy – an Australian – achieved a time of 3 minutes 58 seconds.  A year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race.  In the following half century, more than a thousand runners came in under four minutes.  The current world record for the mile – 3:43.13 – is held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morroco.

Clearly the barrier was as much psychological as it was physical.

In their book The Power of the Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook – two Wharton Business School professors – shed a light on the psychological achievement.  What changed was the mental model, the conventional thinking that most of us take to be the world-as-it-is.  

If we are to find new personal and business opportunities, we must become more conscious of our mental models. 

  • Do you have a 4-minute mile mental constraint that is holding you back in any area of your life or business?
  • What opportunities might be revealed if that mental barrier was no longer there?
  • Do you have a conviction that the barrier can be broken?
  • What can you do to break the barrier? Roger Bannister took a scientific approach to his training, and each race became an experiment in testing limits.
  • Are there others already challenging the perceived limits that you can learn from?

Given his ‘mental’ approach, it’s not surprising the Roger Bannister went on to become a Doctor of Neurology.  To end with another quote from Bannister – “It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ.”


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