Bannister and Landy

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In 1954, Roger Bannister was the first man to run the mile in under four minutes, an achievement that still ranks with the greatest athletic achievements of all time.  Forbes magazine ranked this as the greatest athletic accomplishment of the past 150 years. 

What can we learn from such an achievement?

Have audacious goals.  Breaking the four-minute mile was considered an outrageous goal at the time, but after a disappointing Olympic Games in 1952, Bannister set about breaking this milestone with vigour and intent. 

Are there audacious goals that you should be setting for yourself or your team?  Is there a seemingly impossible goal that you should be writing down and aiming towards?  Is there something just out of reach that if you were to achieve it would make you a pioneer in your field of endeavour?

One of the great things about audacious goals is that if you just miss out, you’ve still done something amazing that you probably wouldn’t have achieved without such ambition.

Don’t listen to pessimists.  Many physicians of the day actually thought that the human body wasn’t capable of running the mile in under four minutes and to do so would place your heart under immense pressure, risking death.  How wrong were they?

You may have an audacious goal and there may be people around you saying, “don’t bother,” “what if you fail?” “it’s not worth the risk” or “what are you thinking, no-one can do it especially not you.” 

Imagine if Christopher Columbus, Edmund Hillary, Barack Obama or Neil Armstrong listened to the doomsayers around them who would tell them to give up on their dreams. 

If you have a noble aim in life, then don’t listen to pessimists, but surround yourself with realistic optimists who will encourage you and build you up.

Pain is temporary, glory is forever.  Bannister himself once said,

“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.”

There is no doubt that achieving this phenomenal goal came through hard work and breaking through the pain barrier.  Sometimes we look at athletes on TV and can easily forget the hours of arduous training that goes into becoming the very best.  To dig deep on the big occasions to push your body harder than your competitors takes tremendous mental strength.

Sometimes, we are tempted to give up because it all gets too hard.  Keep trying, persist with your goal and you can bask in the glory of your achievement once it’s been completed.

Break through barriers for others to follow.  Upon achieving his goal Bannister pronounced:

It was a sense of relief.  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.

That certainly seems to be the case as it only took 6 weeks for his great rival, the Australian John Landy to break Bannister’s record and in the next few months, 16 other runners also eclipsed the previously impossible four-minute barrier.

Many barriers are imposed by our minds and aren’t necessarily based on what is or isn’t possible.  Is there something in your industry or organisation that people say isn’t possible?  Can you be the one to achieve it?

Break the mold, disprove the myths and be the leader who charts a path for others to follow.

A final word from the great man:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle–when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

What are you running for?

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