Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lessons Learned from Roger Bannister

In 1952, Roger Bannister set the goal to be the first man to run a mile under four minutes and intensified his training. The record for the mile run remained at 4:01.4 seconds for 9 years. “For years, the four-minute mile was considered not merely unreachable but, according to physiologists of the time, dangerous to the health of any athlete who attempted to reach it.” (Bruce Lowitt, “Bannister Stuns World with 4-Minute Mile” St. Petersburg Times, December 17, 1999) On May 6th 1954, Roger Bannister ran the mile in 3:59.4, setting a new world record and breaking the thought to be impossible barrier. In an interview, Roger Bannister said, “There was a mystique, a belief that it couldn’t be done, but I think it was more of a psychological barrier than a physical barrier.” (David M. Ewalt and Lacey Rose, “The Greatest Individual Athletic Achievements,” Forbes, January 29, 2008)

Once Roger Bannister removed this psychological barrier the door was opened for others to achieve this feat. On June 21, 1954, just 46 days after Bannister had set this record, John Landy broke Bannister’s record in Turku, Finland. Today there are hundreds of people who have run a mile in under four minutes.

Many people have been conditioned with thoughts of what can’t be done. Studies have shown that within the first eighteen years of our lives, the average person is told “no” more than 148,000 times. (Shad Helmstetter, What to Say When You Talk to Your Self (New York: Pocket Books, 1986), 20) We are constantly being told by parents, friends, teachers, television, and co-workers what we cannot do. This conditioning causes many of us to achieve a small fraction of our potential and result in a pessimistic approach to life. A pessimist approaches life with statements of what can’t be done instead of asking how it can be done.

To dispel the pessimist in each of us, we must transform our approach to life by finding solutions instead of excuses. I often hear people give the excuse, “I can’t do it.” Instead of giving an excuse, they should find a solution that begins by asking the question, “How can I do it?” Instead of saying “I can’t afford it,” or “It’s impossible,” begin asking the questions, “How can I afford it?” and “How is it possible?” This small change in our approach to life will produce great outcomes. Elbert Hubbard wrote, “The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”

Lesson One: Instead of saying “That’s Impossible” ask the question “How is it Possible?”

The only two men in the world to have broken the four-minute barrier were set to compete against each other on August 7, 1954; just 6 weeks after John Landy had broken Roger Bannister four-minute mile world record. The event took place at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, B.C. The race was billed as “The Miracle Mile” and 35,000 filled Empire Stadium and hundreds of thousands listened on the radio and watched on television.

Landy took and early lead and led for most of the race. He had built a 10-yard lead by the third lap but was overtaken on the last bend by Bannister who won the race with a time of 3 minutes 58.8 seconds. Landy also finished in less than 4 minutes just 0.8 seconds behind Bannister. The crucial moment of the race occurred when Landy looked back over his left shoulder to see where Bannister was and Bannister burst past him on the right to take the lead and the victory. This moment in the race was captured by photographer Charlie Warner and was later turned into a life-size bronze sculpted by Jack Harman in 1967. This sculpture stood for many years at the entrance to Empire Stadium and was eventually moved to the Pacific National Exhibition fairgrounds. When asked about the statue, Landy said, “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”

When we spend time comparing our lives to others it can detract us from doing our personal best. Life is not a competition with others. Life is a competition with yourself—to do your personal best each day.

Lesson 2: We should not ask the question, “How am I doing compared to so and so?” We should ask, “Am I doing my personal best?”

It is by pushing ourselves to our current maximum that we open the door of growth to a new maximum. For example, much of the growth from weightlifting comes from the final reps before you can lift no more. If you could bench press 200 pounds a maximum of 10 reps, 80 percent of muscle growth and increased strength will result from the final two reps and 20 percent of the growth results from the first eight reps. The last two reps are the hardest, but if neglected will cost you 80 percent of your growth. It does not require twice the effort to achieve twice the improvement, because the final efforts of maximum exertion result in exponential returns. Roger Bannister wrote, “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.”

It is by facing challenges and difficulties that we grow in all areas of our lives. The Bible declares, “Is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.” (James 1:2-4, LB)

Lesson 3: It is by pushing ourselves to our current maximum that we open the door of growth to a new maximum.

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