Here’s a generational gem that I first heard from one of my high school coaches. It’s been updated over the years, but that’s only made it even more powerful. I’m very fortunate to have been able to work with high school and college students for decades now, and I must admit that I’m a bit dismayed that this particular gem has not been shared more than it has. I think it’s a message that needs to be revealed, especially today, to both students and adults alike. There are far too many reasons for people to say it can’t be done, the odds are against us, no one’s ever done it, etc. More than ever before, this country needs many more possibility thinkers than we see at the moment. Maybe reviving this particular generational gem may help us move in that direction!
Prior to 1954, the thought of a human running a mile in less than four minutes was considered impossible to the majority of those in the medical and sports fields. It had never been done before this time and experts stood firm in their belief that this was a plateau that the human body simply wasn’t capable of attaining. Now or ever.
For Roger Bannister, a young English athlete from Oxford, this proclamation became a battle cry, an ultimate goal he was determined to reach. Roger was a goal setter … a possibility thinker. He always had been. Regardless of what experts may have thought, Roger set his sights to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. What historians seldom share is the number of times Roger failed in his attempt to reach this lofty goal. No one wants to hear that because that was exactly what everyone expected would happen.
Then, on May 6th, 1954, during a meet between British AAA and Oxford University at Iffley Road Track in Oxford, Roger Bannister achieved his goal. This historic event was witnessed by about 3,000 spectators. Just prior to the event, winds were recorded at close to 25 miles per hour, and Roger considered waiting for better conditions to attempt this ambitious feat. However, the winds died down and Roger ran the mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds! He went on to become a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, before retiring in 2001. While this is a great story illustrating the importance of possibility thinking, goal setting and determination, there’s an even greater lesson to be learned here.
Once Roger proved to all “impossibility thinkers” that this inconceivable goal could be achieved, it changed the nature of the thinking about the four-minute mile from negative — it can’t be done — to positive — I can do it.
Within seven weeks, Australian John Landy became the second man to achieve a sub- 4 minute mile, recording a world record time of 3.57.9. In 1964, Jim Ryun became the first high school runner to break four minutes, running 3:55.3 as a junior in Kansas. In the next 15 years, Bannister’s record was broken 260 times by men in 177 races!
Over the years, I’ve had occasion to work with many “impossibility thinkers.” It’s difficult. They take the path of least resistance. They take great pride in the fact that they can provide you with a thousand reasons why something won’t work. They thrive in negativity. They dwell in the majority. They’ll drag you down if you let them. Possibility thinkers set goals, focus, train, continue to learn, practice, take action and never give up. At this point in time, the world needs more possibility thinkers. Is that you?