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Roger Bannister and the Power of Self-Belief

Roger Bannister and the Power of Self-Belief

You have the power within you to succeed. (Tweet this!)

It’s true. In fact, everybody has it!  It’s just that some people know how to access this core self-belief, whilst others put a blockage in the way.

The power of self-belief is one of the most formidable forces in the universe when it works in full flow. And there have been great people who have proved this in the past.

Here’s a very famous example – Sir Roger Bannister.

Roger Bannister – the four-minute mile.

I suspect most people have heard of Roger Bannister, but if you haven’t, he was the first man to run a mile in less than four-minutes. He set this momentous record in 1954, when running at a meet in Oxford.

Now, apparently, it is a bit of myth that observers had said that the four-minute mile was impossible. In actual fact, it had been thought that eventually some-one would break the record at some point; it’s just that it hadn’t been done yet (mainly because WW2 had put a stop to athletes progressing in this field.) In fact, the myth that the four-minute mile could not be run seems to be something created by sports commentators.

However, on 6th May 1954 Roger Bannister managed to set the new record by running under four minutes. In fact, the time was (according to Wiki) 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.

What’s even more remarkable was that after his rival, Australian John Landy, beat his record by running one mile in 3 minutes 58 seconds a month later, Bannister went on to beat Landy at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver when running the so-called ‘miracle mile’ (even though he didn’t take the record back.) In this race, Bannister famously overtook Landy on the right whilst the latter was looking back over his left side to see where Bannister was. The time was 3 minutes, 58.8 seconds, with Landy finishing at 3 minutes 59.6 seconds.

After this, Bannister then went on to run the so-called ‘metric mile’ (1500 metres) in 3 minutes 43.8 seconds at the European Championships.

How did he do it?

Most people would give an answer like this: hard training and dedication. However, you may be surprised to learn that Bannister’s training regime was actually very light as he was working as a junior doctor at the time.

However, he still managed to achieve the goal for which he was most famous for. So, just how did he do it?

The interesting thing is that it appears that he was motivated to break the four-minute mile barrier after sustaining a catastrophic defeat at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where he came fourth in the 1500 metres and didn’t win any medals.

At this point, he almost decided to give up running altogether and concentrate on his career. However, instead he decided to stick with it. Crucially, he set himself the goal of running a mile in less than four minutes.

He continued training, although, in terms of intensity, the level of training was still not as high as it would be if he was competing in modern competitions. What really seems to have motivated him towards achieving the goal was self-belief: pure and simple. Bannister believed that he would break the world record in a single race.

Heartened by subsequent competitions which brought him closer to his goal, he finally managed to break the record at the meeting in Oxfordshire in 1954. As a result, he has entered the annals of legend with his great achievement on that day.

Yet it appears, more than anything, that Bannister believed that he would break the record. And it was this subconscious, single-minded belief that allowed him to do so. He had an unassailable conviction in his ability to succeed in achieving his goal. And that he did, in spectacular style.

Action Steps:

Take a leaf out of Sir Roger’s book and reinforce the self-belief in your ability to succeed in the goal you have set yourself. Remember, he achieved his goal by taking the negative experience of losing at the Olympics and turning it around into a positive mind-set that then led to him breaking a world-record.

You can do this too by identifying a time in your past when you ‘failed’ at something (even better if that was something related to your current or most important goal or goals.) Think back to that time and ask yourself honestly as to why it was you’d didn’t succeed on that particular occasion. If it helps, try using the following to points to think through what happened:

  • What? – What actually happened? Go over the events in your mind as accurately as you possibly can.
  • So What? – Now analyse what happened and why? What was it about the event that things didn’t go to plan? What could you have done better?
  • Now What? – After having identified what didn’t go to plan, think what you could do better or differently in future in order to be better equipped to achieve your goal.

After having analysed the event using ‘What? So What? Now What?’ you should now view it more positively. It is no longer ‘failure’ but ‘feedback’ (as Peter Jones puts it.)

Now you’ve ‘reframed’ the event (as the NLP-ers say), your confidence in facing up to a similar challenge should be massively boosted, because you now have a plan of action for dealing with the situation.

The trick now is to believe in your ability to succeed. You know from your ‘feedback’ that you can. Just believe that you can do it. If you find at any time that you are diverging from the path, just remember Sir Roger. If he could achieve his success after a so-called ‘failure’, so can you!

(After all, he isn’t remembered for being the man who lost the Helsinki Olympics, but as the man who broke the four-minute mile!)

Click here to find out more about ‘What? So What? Now What?’ AKA the ELC.

What do you think about this? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to share your feedback and ideas in the comments section below.


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#1DrugrehaborgDecember 3, 2013, 4:17 pm

Very interesting article. Self belief is certainly critical in achieving goals. Having external support never hurts either.

    #2nickdDecember 3, 2013, 6:19 pm

    Thank you for your kind comment!

    It is true what you say about having external support, this is why its also good to find a mentor who can assist. This should be some-one who you respect and trust in equal measures, as well as being a person who provides an excellent role model in the way they conduct themselves.


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