Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If you think you can, you can!

Have you heard of Roger Bannister? He was the first athlete to run the mile in less than four minutes. And in doing so, he not only broke the four-minute barrier, but also taught all of us a valuable lesson.

Back in the 1950’s, it was considered impossible for anyone to run the mile in less than four minutes. The world record – 4 minutes 1.4 seconds - was held by Sweden’s Ginder Haegg. He did that in 1945, and the record stood for several years. Athletes, experts and the world at large were convinced that it was impossible to run a mile in less than four minutes. In fact, some even argued that the human body was biologically incapable of running the mile in less than four minutes!

And then, on 6th May, 1954, Roger Bannister did the impossible. He finished the race in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. The four minute barrier was broken!

His rival – Charles Landy – had thrice run the mile in less than 4 minutes 2 seconds without breaching the 4 minute mark. After one such run, Landy had said the four minute barrier was “like a wall”. But guess what? Just 56 days after Roger Bannister’s feat, Landy broke his own mental wall, and ran the mile in 3 minutes 57.9 seconds. And that’s not all. By 1957, sixteen athletes around the world ran the mile in under four minutes. The four minute barrier was well and truly shattered!

So what really happened? Did coaches get smarter and teach the athletes new techniques? Did running shoes get more sophisticated? Did bodies suddenly get stronger? No. The four minute barrier it turned out was not a physiological one, but just a mental thing. As Roger Bannister explained later, to him it seemed illogical that you could run a mile in 4 minutes and a bit, but not break 4 minutes. His mind refused to accept that barrier. And that made all the difference. Once that belief – that mental barrier – got broken by Bannister, everyone else too believed it could be done! And once the belief changed, the rest was easy.

We are all like that. We all have our beliefs about what we can achieve - and what we can't. It’s important to understand that our achievements in life are limited not by what we can do, but by what we think we can do. More than ability, it’s our attitude that makes the difference. As Henry Ford said “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you are right.”

You will probably find your mind constantly grappling with two competing thoughts: “I can’t!” and “I can!” How do you ensure the “I can’s” win? How can we break our mental barrier of “I can’t”? Simple, as the following story shows.

There was a man in Alaska who had a black dog and a white dog, and his dog-fights attracted large crowds. Every week people would bet on which dog would win. Sometimes the black dog would win, and sometimes the white one. One lady noticed that no matter which dog won each week, the owner always bet on the right dog, and won each week. Several years later, when the man retired the two dogs, the lady went up to him and asked him the secret.

“Simple,” said the man. “I always bet on the dog I had been feeding all week.”

So whether “I can’t” wins in your mind or “I can”, depends on which thought you are feeding!

Feed the “I Can” dog in your mind. What you feed, grows! Focus on your strengths, and they will grow. Or keep thinking of your weaknesses and your fears. And they’ll grow too.

Unfortunately, you won’t always find a Roger Bannister to break your mental barrier. You need to do it yourself. Once you do that, and start feeding the “I can” thought, you will achieve more than you ever thought was possible!

(This was first published in Careers 360. For more, check out www.careers360.com)