Breaking the Four-Minute Mile


I possess a childlike exuberance and take special pleasure when individuals achieve the unprecedented. Sixty years ago this month Roger Bannister accomplished such a feat.
On May 6th, 1954, Bannister became the first human to run a sub 4-minute mile. Prior to this moment many in the medical and running communities considered the 4-minute mile “unconquerable”. So great was the perceived barrier that Bannister stated, somewhat facetiously, “Doctors and scientists said that breaking the 4-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”

Runners flirted with the 4-minute mile for decades, unable to eclipse the mark. But a funny thing happened soon after Bannister’s accomplishment: runner after runner broke the 4-minute mile. It is now commonplace for elite runners, and even the occasional high school star, to eclipse the mark.

This brings us to the seminal questions: Why was Bannister able to do what no one before him could? And, why could so many do the impossible soon after?

The power of Bannister’s belief enabled him to accomplish more than previously thought possible. Bannister, who became a renowned neurologist, believed neither he, nor humans, were limited in their abilities. Thus it was not Bannister’s physical abilities, but rather his mental ones, that allowed him to be the first 4-minute miler and in doing so he fundamentally changed what it means to be human, how we view ourselves and our capabilities.

As for why so many others quickly joined the 4-minute club, many answers, such as improvements in training, nutrition and equipment can be proffered. However these are inapposite and easily dismissed by the rapidity in which others broke 4-minutes – in fact the second member joined the club a mere 46 days later. No, the real reason other runners would soon follow was the power of belief. They now knew what was humanly possible. In the “new normal” runners could run the mile faster than 4-minutes. Instead, the infectious nature of belief took hold and they continued to push limits and improve, so much so that the current record is 3:43.

In our lives and careers most limits are self-imposed in the mind. We believe we can do what we have done before. Barriers, until they are broken, appear indomitable.

Brokers often create barriers that they don’t truly believe can be overcome. Self-limiting beliefs shackle us and stop us from what we are capable of attaining.

Bannister succeeded by focusing on what they could control; his thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. His mind, more than his training, body or technique, differentiated him. And it is precisely that mantra that can help you achieve a higher productivity level.

When recruiting investment sales brokers, I tell candidates to be prepared not to earn a dime in the next 12 months, imploring them to commit and prepare both mentally and financially. However, when hired the power of belief takes over. They look at the unbelievable achievements of their new peers and begin to believe they can achieve much faster. So many of Eastern’s AdvanceTrac Brokers have done deals within 2, 3 or 4 months of starting that all the new Brokers believe they can do them that quickly. And you know what? – they are. Belief is contagious.

As sales manager the greatest gift I can share is that of belief. I believe in them, feed into their positive beliefs and push them forward. I realize that the strong market significantly enhances performance but I have never seen new Brokers succeed so quickly. The primary reason for the new Brokers’ performance is that they believe they can achieve.

I leave you with a thought from Gandhi: “Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.”