Swedish runner Gundar Haegg’s 4:01.4 minute time record set in Malmö in 1945 stood for nine years until British middle-distance athlete and neurologist Roger Bannister became the first human to run a sub-four-minute mile. He broke the record on 6 May 1954 at Iffley Road track in Oxford.
In 1954, Bannister set himself the target of breaking the four-minute mile barrier. At the time Bannister was a 25-year-old full-time medical student at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. He could only train for 45 minutes a day for the event. The opportunity to break the record came on 6 May 1954, when Bannister was competing in an event for the Amateur Athletic Association against Oxford University. Bannister set a British record in the 1,500 meters at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland where he finished in fourth place.
Roger Bannister broke the record at 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, and the record lasted for just 46 days. On 21st June 1954, the record was broken by Bannister’s Australian rival John Landy, with a time of 3 minutes 57.9 seconds. The sub-four-minute mile has since been broken by over 1,550 athletes worldwide, and it is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners in several countries. In the 65 years since the record was broken, the sub-4 minute mile record has been lowered by almost 17 seconds, and it currently stands at 3:43:13, ran by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, at age 24, in 1999.
In his memoir, The Four Minute Mile, Roger Bannister writes:
The barrier of four minutes had been believed to be insurmountable. John Landy, my great Australian rival, who had run three 4 minutes 2-second miles, said, ‘Two little seconds are not much, but when you’re on the track those fifteen yards seem solid and impenetrable, like a cement wall.’ But, as a medical student and physiologist, I knew this could not be true.
He writes further:
However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then even thought impossible. When the broad sweep of life is viewed, sport, though instinctive, physical and ephemeral, illustrates a universal truth that most of us find effort and struggle deeply satisfying, harnessing almost primeval instincts to fight, to survive. It gives us all a challenge, a sense of purpose and freedom of choice. It is increasingly difficult to find this in our restricted twenty-first-century lives. The particular target we seek may not be important. But what is important is the profoundly satisfying effort in thought, feeling and hard work necessary to achieve this success.
However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then even thought impossible.
We all set limits for ourselves, allow friends, parents and our family members to set limits on our potential and capacity. We set limits on the amount of weight we can carry in the gym, how far we can go in our entrepreneurial journey, how far before we give up on our dreams and we set these limits knowingly and unknowingly. It could be a high school teacher that told you can not become a writer, a respected elder in your neighbourhood that told you can and will not amount to anything or your well meaning parents and family members that told you to grow up, get a great job, get married and live happily after.
As Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung once noted, “Until you make the unconscious conscious. it will direct your life, and you will call it fate”. When you were growing up, you dreamt of becoming an astronaut, an engineer, an architect, a sports athlete, but somewhere along the way, society, our family, and friends told us to become practical because you need to grow up and pay the bills. We listened because the force of society is powerful on us; we do not want to deviate, be labelled a rebel, become a black sheep or be ostracized by the herd; hence we settled for less than we can become.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious. it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. – Carl Jung
The indoctrination and domestication of our minds started a long time ago in childhood. Just like the baby elephant get tamed/domesticated in childhood and gets stuck with the rope in the circus even though the rope has been removed. We humans also get domesticated with rules, moral codes, religious dictums and societal standards. These regulations puts the necessary checks and balance in place for us to conform to the dictates of the society hence determining our views on work, religion, marriage, worldview and opinions. We learned a lot of our self-limiting beliefs such as fear, anger, procrastination, indiscipline, low self-esteem among other self-destructive behaviours.
“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.” – J.K.Rowling
In the Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz shares the following insights on the Domestication of the Human Mind. He writes:
As children, we didn’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs, but we agreed with the information that was passed to us from the dream of the planet via other humans. The only way to store information is by agreement. The outside dream may hook our attention, but if we don’t agree, we don’t store that information. As soon as we agree, we believe it, and this is called faith. To have faith is to believe unconditionally.
That’s how we learn as children. Children believe everything adults say. We agree with them, and our faith is so strong that the belief system controls our whole dream of life. We didn’t choose these beliefs, and we may have rebelled against them, but we were not strong enough to win the rebellion. The result is surrender to the beliefs with our agreement.
The Domestication of the Human
Through this domestication we learn how to live and how to dream. In human domestication, the information from the outside dream is conveyed to the inside dream, creating our whole belief system. First the child is taught the names of things: Mom, Dad, milk, bottle. Day by day, at home, at school, at church, and from television, we are told how to live, what kind of behavior is acceptable. The outside dream teaches us how to be a human. We have a whole concept of what a “woman” is and what a “man” is. And we also learn to judge: We judge ourselves, judge other people, judge the neighbors.
Children are domesticated the same way that we domesticate a dog, a cat, or any other animal. In order to teach a dog we punish the dog and we give it rewards. We train our children whom we love so much the same way that we train any domesticated animal: with a system of punishment and reward. We are told, “You’re a good boy,” or “You’re a good girl,” when we do what Mom and Dad want us to do. When we don’t, we are “a bad girl” or “a bad boy.”
When we went against the rules we were punished; when we went along with the rules we got a reward. We were punished many times a day, and we were also rewarded many times a day. Soon we became afraid of being punished and also afraid of not receiving the reward. The reward is the attention that we got from our parents or from other people like siblings, teachers, and friends. We soon develop a need to hook other people’s attention in order to get the reward
All our normal tendencies are lost in the process of domestication. And when we are old enough for our mind to understand, we learn the word no. The adults say, “Don’t do this and don’t do that.” We rebel and say, “No!” We rebel because we are defending our freedom. We want to be ourselves, but we are very little, and the adults are big and strong. After a certain time we are afraid because we know that every time we do something wrong we are going to be punished
When we went against the rules we were punished; when we went along with the rules we got a reward. We were punished many times a day, and we were also rewarded many times a day. Soon we became afraid of being punished and also afraid of not receiving the reward. The reward is the attention that we got from our parents or from other people like siblings, teachers, and friends. We soon develop a need to hook other people’s attention in order to get the reward.
As adults, many of us still hold onto belief systems that are longer serving us or taking us to the next level. We have been programmed from childhood not to rock the boat, hence we live a life of quiet desperation, tiptoeing towards our grave, we do not make a mark while we are here, we get a good paying job, pay our mortgage for 25 years, retire and then DIE. We suffer from possibility blindness, we donnot strive for more than the ordinary but like the Roger Bannister story shows, we can all achieve extra ordinary things, we just need to push our selves to the next level.
In Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, Former Bodybuilding Champion and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger writes about the Psychological limit we set for ourselves:
Reg Park also taught me a key lesson about psychological limits. I’d worked my way up to three hundred pounds of weight in calf raises, beyond any other bodybuilder I knew. I thought I must be near the limit of human achievement. “So I was amazed to see Reg doing calf raises with one thousand pounds.
“The limit is in your mind,” he said. “Think about it: three hundred pounds is less than walking. You weigh two hundred fifty, so you are lifting two hundred fifty pounds with each calf every time you take a step. To really train, you have to go beyond that.” And he was right. The limit I thought existed was purely psychological. Now that I’d seen someone doing a thousand pounds, I started making leaps in my training.”
It showed the power of mind over body. In weight lifting, for many years there was a 500-pound barrier in the clean and jerk—kind of like the four-minute barrier in the mile, which wasn’t broken until Roger Bannister did it in 1954. But as soon as the great Russian weight lifter Vasily Alekseyev set a new world record of 501 in 1970, three other guys lifted more than 500 pounds within a year.
I saw the same thing with my training partner Franco Columbu. One afternoon years later we were taking turns doing squats at Gold’s Gym in California. I did six reps with 500 pounds. Even though Franco was stronger than me in the squat, he did only four reps and put the bar back. “I’m so tired,” he said. Just then I saw a couple of girls from the beach come into the gym and went over to say hello. Then I came back and told Franco, “They don’t believe you can squat five hundred pounds.” I knew how much he loved showing off, especially when there were girls around. Sure enough, he said, “I’m gonna show them. Watch this.”
He picked up the 500 pounds and did ten reps. He made it look easy. This was the same body that had been too tired ten minutes before. His thighs were probably screaming “What the fuck?” So what had changed?
The mind. Sports are so physical that it’s easy to overlook the mind’s power, but I’ve seen it demonstrated again and again.
A lot of us listen to our parents and society, we accept the job and thought it was going to be for just a while but 5 years eventually turns into 30 years working with colleagues and managers you can not stand but you needed to pay the bills, pay up your mortgage and you say to your self, someday I’ll but the challenge is that someday never comes. We set psychological limits on our potential and capacity, we do not leave our comfort zone, we conform, we settle and we live with possibility blindness for the rest of our lives hence we do not use our imagination, we do not set goals because we might fail doing it, we do not aspire for more than we can become.
Possibility Blindness -Imagination is the Key
American Comedian Steve Harvey speaks about the power of our imagination:
Now Albert Einstein had a quote. He said “Imagination is everything. It’s the preview to life’s coming attractions.” This is important information. The biggest thing that always troubled me was my imagination. ‘Cause it was so big when I was a kid. You knew I grew up poor, but I was always imagining stuff. You know my momma once a month would buy the Travel magazine at the grocery store. My father used to be so pissed off. “Bill, why we spending this money?” We were poor. She said “Slick, we ain’t got no money to take this boy no where. But if he can look in these magazines maybe one day it will cause him to want to travel.”
I’ve been to so many countries around the world because of that magazine. I just wanted to go see stuff. My momma had enough sense to plant that seed in me. It’s like at Christmas time, we used to get in the car. My daddy used to take us to the suburbs so we could see the lights. We just drove around the lights and I was amazed at the suburbs ’cause I would see these big houses with horse shoe driveways where you drove in and came out the other side, so I told my daddy one time, we was riding. I said “Daddy, why don’t we get one of them houses?” He said “Boy, I ain’t got no money for that. That’s why I’m bringing you out here for.” He said, “One day you will be able to get one of those houses.”
“Imagination is everything. It’s the preview to life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein
It is tough pushing your mind to the height of your greatness and that is why a lot of us do not even try. We let our mental conditioning, naysayers, parents, false friends, default family and society talk us out of aiming for our highest aspirations in life. Although their concern might be well meaning, you are placed here be more than an employee, a mortgage and bill payer. You have been wonderfully made to break the shackles of poverty in your family, be the leader in your society, show people what the possibilities are. Our parents were operating from the level of their own internal conditioning and programming too, they tried their best, if they knew better, they would have done better. You can not give what you do not have.
It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult. – Seneca
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.