Dr. Roger Bannister - The Importance of "Mind-set"


(b. 3/23/1929 Middlesex, England. – d. 3/3/2018 Oxford, England)

Roger Bannister was a physician; a neurologist and is the embodiment of resolve and mental toughness. He was a middle-distance runner during medical school and he had a relative failure in the Helsinki 1952 Olympics where he finished fourth in the 1500 meters final. He then set a new goal: To run the mile in less than 4 minutes. People had been trying to do this for decades and said it was undoable. Experts and doctors said for years that the human body was simply not capable of a 4-minute mile.

It wasn’t just dangerous; it was impossible they said, someone could die in the attempt.

Bannister believed he could do it. As part of his training, he relentlessly visualized the achievement in order to create a sense of certainty in his mind and body. On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, running the distance in 3:59.4. What is more amazing is that once he broke the 4-minute mark, after years experts and scientists said it was simply not feasible, 46 days later after Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, John Landy an Australian runner, did it in 3 minutes 58 seconds and within a year 3 other runners also accomplish the feat.  

Over the last half-century, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach. In their book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook devote an entire chapter to an assessment of Bannister’s feat and emphasize the mindset behind it rather than the physical achievement.

How is it, they wonder, that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? “Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? Was there a genetic engineering experiment that created a new race of super runners? No. What changed was the mental model.

The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible. The lesson of Roger Bannister is that didn’t accept the limitations, trade offs, and middle-of-the-road sensibilities that define conventional wisdom. He demonstrated to us: “It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ” 


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