Breaking Through Mental Barriers

The power of faith in action is greater than the shadow of self-doubt.

Readership: Men
Theme: Overcoming Obstacles
Length: 1,000 words
Reading Time: 3.5 minutes

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

The Jack’s last post, Forming the Vision of Achieving a Goal (2022-4-6), revealed the power of vision, imagination, and faith. In this post, I’ll review one man’s accomplishment, and further down, we’ll see how his belief quickly spread to others who then accomplished the same feat.

One of the things that holds men back from achieving great accomplishments (or even simple tasks, really) is self-doubt or a lack of belief. Roger Bannister’s story came to my mind as one of the more apt examples of how negative self-talk, as my sales trainers of old would call it, limits what is possible for people.  The following exerpt is from a Harvard Business Review article which I’ve pasted below because they limit the number of views before you have to pay for the subscription.  Here is the link.

Harvard Business Review (Bill Taylor): What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional Thinking (2018-03-09)

Most people know the basic story of Roger Bannister, who, on May 6, 1954, busted through the four-minute barrier with a time of three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second. But it was not until I decided to write about him for my book Practically Radical, and read a remarkable account of his exploits by the British journalist and runner John Bryant, that I understood the story behind the story — and the lessons it holds for leaders who want to bust through barriers in their fields. Bryant reminds us that runners had been chasing the goal seriously since at least 1886, and that the challenge involved the most brilliant coaches and gifted athletes in North America, Europe, and Australia. “For years, milers had been striving against the clock, but the elusive four minutes had always beaten them,” he notes. “It had become as much a psychological barrier as a physical one. And like an unconquerable mountain, the closer it was approached, the more daunting it seemed.”

On May 6, 1954, Britain’s Roger Bannister hits the tape to become the first person to break the 4-minute mile in Oxford, England.

This was truly the Holy Grail of athletic achievement. It’s fascinating to read about the pressure, the crowds, the media swirl as runners tried in vain to break the mark. Bryant also reminds us that Bannister was an outlier and iconoclast — a full-time student who had little use for coaches and devised his own system for preparing to race. The British press “constantly ran stories criticizing his ‘lone wolf’ approach,” Bryant notes, and urged him to adopt a more conventional regimen of training and coaching.

So the four-minute barrier stood for decades — and when it fell, the circumstances defied the confident predictions of the best minds in the sport. The experts believed they knew the precise conditions under which the mark would fall. It would have to be in perfect weather — 68 degrees and no wind. On a particular kind of track — hard, dry clay — and in front of a huge, boisterous crowd urging the runner on to his best-ever performance. But Bannister did it on a cold day, on a wet track, at a small meet in Oxford, England, before a crowd of just a few thousand people.

When Bannister broke the mark, even his most ardent rivals breathed a sigh of relief. At last, somebody did it! And once they saw it could be done, they did it too. Just 46 days Bannister’s feat, John Landy, an Australian runner, not only broke the barrier again, but with a shorter time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. Then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last half century, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach.

Well, what goes for runners goes for leaders running organizations. In business, progress does not move in straight lines. Whether it’s an executive, an entrepreneur, or a technologist, some innovator changes the game, and that which was thought to be unreachable becomes a benchmark, something for others to shoot for. That’s Roger Bannister’s true legacy and lesson for all of us who see the role of leadership as doing things that haven’t been done before.

In fact, two Wharton School professors have analyzed the lessons for business of the four-minute mile. In their book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook devote an entire chapter to an assessment of Bannister’s feat, and emphasize the mindset behind it rather than the physical achievement. How is it, they wonder, that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? “Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? Was there a genetic engineering experiment that created a new race of super runners? No. What changed was the mental model. The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible.”

Because I ran competitively, I’ve known this story for decades. What I still find amazing is how many men started breaking the 4-minute mile mark once they KNEW it was possible.  This is the power of mental attitude in limiting possibility.  This obviously does not mean that you can overcome anything, but it does cause one to ponder just how much we let that little voice in our heads limit us.

Note: Sir Roger Bannister died peacefully in Oxford on 3 March 2018, at age 88. RIP!

This entry was posted in Attitude, Building Wealth, Desire, Desire, Passion, Determination, Discipline, Fundamental Frame, Holding Frame, Models of Success, Perseverance, Psychology, Purpose, Self-Concept, The Power of God. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Breaking Through Mental Barriers

  1. Maniac says:

    One of the biggest mental and spiritual barriers in my life has been unforgiveness. I feel as though God is trying to deliver me from it, and that a blessing awaits on the other side of the chasm.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Scott says:

      You have to work on that man.

      You don’t have to forgive every unrepentant a-hole all the time for everything.

      But grudges will kill you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jack says:


      “One of the biggest mental and spiritual barriers in my life has been unforgiveness.”

      I’ve struggled with this myself. I’ve found it to be extremely difficult when the wrong done against me destroyed that particular part of me that is capable of forgiveness. I’ve wanted to forgive, tried to forgive, but I couldn’t. It just wasn’t within me and I couldn’t find it. In this situation, it takes a long time to pull through.

      BTW, Σ Frame has a few posts about Forgiveness. Click here for more.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s helpful to remember that:

      A. Biblically, forgiveness takes 1 and reconciliation takes 2.

      B. Forgiveness is for you because unforgiveness only harms yourself. Jesus even preaches forgiving others for wronging you otherwise He won’t forgiven us. Vengeance is the Lord’s and not ours.

      C. Reconciliation takes 2 in that it requires both people to acknowledge where they may have acted in the wrong and admit fault and come together again. This does not always happen. For instance, God offers the gift of salvation to everyone but not everyone accepts. Only those who accept and choose to follow God are reconciled to Him, and believers have this ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5) to spread the gospel and make disciples.

      As others have said, it’s up to you to work on forgiveness. It has nothing to do with the other person, but letting go of the wrongs you have suffered and victim mindset. You don’t have to reconcile with the person to forgive them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • anonymous_ng says:

        @DS, thanks for the reminder.


      • Lastmod says:

        AA / NA teaches that the addict is to ASK for forgiveness from everyone he hurt along the journey. I understand that concept. The addict once the healing starts must come face to face with allhe used, defrauded. Hurt. Stole from. Took advantage of. Lied. Violence. Everything. The list goes on. The only exceptions are if the person is dead / or if it would cause such emotional harm to the person the addict is seeking amends with. This is very difficult and the reason why AA and NA does have a decent enough rate of success is because the addict needs to see the damage done. Several people I tried to make amends with , really got hostile and did not forgive me, or want to make amends. It hurt then. Still does. The addict needs to see what he / she did. Its a reinforcer to show “not to do this again. ever” and sees that sometimes……..YOU pushed someone too far. All you can hope for is that one day they will just “let it go” on their own and forget about you.


      • Scott says:

        I disagree with most Christians on this issue

        The text is not consistent in this issue and there are at least two that imply repentance is a prerequisite for forgiveness.

        Otherwise it’s just “letting it go” (for now).

        It’s not rational to forgive both the repentant and the unrepentant.

        It’s why religious communities look so weird when they put up banners announcing, “We forgive you”, whenever some psychopath shoots up a school yard.


      • Scott says:

        “You don’t have to reconcile with the person to forgive them…”

        This is literally true, but you also don’t have to forgive them if they don’t repent.

        You can let it go (not let the anger eat you up) while you wait for something like accountability later.


      • Oscar says:

        Scott’s right.

        Colossians 3:13 (NKJV)
        bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

        Christ does not forgive the unrepentant, and neither should we.

        Luke 17:3 (NKJV)
        Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

        That doesn’t mean you dwell on the sin, or wallow in bitterness. Depending on the situation, it may mean you get the person out of your life.

        Matthew 18:15 (NKJV)
        15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

        Also, we can’t forgive someone who’s sinned against another person, but hasn’t sinned against us. People really do sound narcissistic when they do that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Scott says:


        That is precisely my understanding of it.

        Most people think there are two states of mind you can have regarding a sin your brother has committed against you (forgive or hold a grudge).

        But there are actually THREE:
        Forgive <– done in the right circumstance
        Let it go <— done to avoid the sin of holding a grudge
        Hold a grudge. <— a sin of the mind, of the internal life of a Christian.

        “Let it go” is a placeholder, which allows you to not hold a grudge while you wait. I think the Bible and church tradition both hold this to be the correct path.

        God does not ask us to do something HE Himself is not willing to do (forgive everyone, no matter what). This is not what is meant by “in the same manner”.

        What “in the same manner” appears to mean is “using the same yardstick”.

        The formula, or yardstick, is repentance precedes forgiveness.

        It is also important to really understand what forgiveness is. It is acting as if the thing never happened. It is a promise by the forgiver to never bring it up again, never use it again (except maybe for teaching and edification). It is accounted for, accounted for and erased from memory and you are no longer guilty of it. That is a tall order.


      • Scott says:

        Also to be clear, when I write that the scripture is inconsistent on this issue, what I mean is there are texts that leave out the repentance requirement (but Oscar shares with us Luke 17:3-4 where it is pretty clearly present).

        Hermeneutics demands prudence in cases like that, and use the additive principle to solve the problem of the apparent contradiction. Every other verse NECESSARILY implies, “if he repent”, or else the scripture is fallible.

        Nonbelievers will call this circular reasoning, which is true without faith. But they don’t believe the text anyway, so who cares what they think?

        Liked by 1 person

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