Sir Roger Bannister crosses the line in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, 6th May 1954.
(Pic credit: Oxford Mail)

Over the weekend, an enthusiastic endurance athlete who was the first to break through the four minute mile, sadly passed away at the young age of 88. Sir Roger Bannister had become an icon for a mile he ran back in 1954. The Olympian and record breaker ran that mile in Oxford to the unbridled joy of those who watched and listened as the announcer spoke through the tannoy at the end of the race… “Three minutes…” –and then there was delirium.

It was the definition of an extraordinary high performance at the time.

On June 21st, (of the same year) the performance limitations – once thought impossible – were broken again by the Australian John Landy — who famously would become the second person to break the four minute mile. Since then, the record has been reduced by a spectacular 17 seconds. The Moroccan, Hicham El Guerrouj holds the current record at 3:43.13. (the women’s record sits at 4:12.56 by Svetlana Masterkova). All elite runners in this category now regularly smash the “four”.

On that sunny day in May, (6th May 1954) Bannister ran a 3 minutes, 59.4 second mile and it shows us that winning is indeed down to fine margins. However, this once “impossible” feat taught the world a valuable lesson. Something more deep and transferable that should still resonate with not just runners but everyone in any walk of life. The power of breaking through what we think is true, or to smash our limiting beliefs.

Limiting Beliefs

Our limiting beliefs are those beliefs we hold to be true and unchangeable. They restrict our growth and achievement and of course our performance in whatever field we perform. They are our own invisible tether to keeping us where we are and not achieving what we want to achieve. Our limiting beliefs start to grow through our ‘world view’ – the rules we are told or start to believe about how we should work with the world and how the world should work with us.

It all starts with belief. Our limiting beliefs keep us “comfortable” – that’s where the much used ‘comfort zone’ metaphor comes from.

“Belief always precedes action”

“As a man thinketh” – written by James Allen in 1903- delivers us this quote: “Belief always precedes action” So if we don’t believe it we can never take action towards it. Whatever that “it” is for you- growing your business, writing that book, getting that promotion/new career direction, going back to college- whatever it is. It all starts with how you believe what is possible. So how do we challenge our limiting beliefs so that we can maximise our performance or achievement and step into that version of ourselves that might not seem possible.

1. Start with the buts…

Almost always, a limiting belief will expose itself by the middle of the sentence when the ‘but’ appears. For example:

  • “I’d love to write a book but…”
  • “I believe we can grow the business but…”
  • “I want to achieve this but…”
  • “I’d like to start a business but…”

If you start here and try and write down what “buts” you may have. This will help you uncover your limiting beliefs or what is holding you back.

2. Start with positive self-talk rather than negative self-talk

If we stopped and counted how many times a day our negative self-talk gets the better of us we would be surprised. I tried this last week and was amazed at how many times the negative self-talk crept in. If we are consciously aware of this negative self-talk it will help us be more conscious to be positive. If we are positive our limiting beliefs don’t seem so daunting. If we can silence that inner critic we now have more time to reach for our goals with thirsty abandon.

3. Stop Procrastinating

Ah, the old procrastination disease. Some of us like to hide behind the belief that we are “procrastinators” but in reality and subconsciously it is probably rooted in fear. There is a reason we are putting off starting that book, growing our businesses, making that career move.

We are afraid of being judged, that people may laugh at us, that we will fail and that the new version of ourselves will scare the living daylights out of us. Or for some us we strive for perfection when sometimes we have to realise good is good enough. So, how do we stop procrastinating? Well, as Stephen Covey said: “Start with the end in mind”. What is your desired destination, for Bannister it was crossing the line in sub four minutes. What is it for you?

From there, start by chunking up your time into 15 minute tasks, and stop believing you have to punish yourself for procrastinating. Start where you are. Forget the guilt inducing regret words: coulda, woulda, oughta and shouldas. They don’t help. (I shoulda gone to the gym…etc!)

4. Challenging and testing those beliefs

When you have discovered what excuses you have (your buts), started to cancel that negativity we all have (the inner voice that says you can’t), identify why you are procrastinating (what are you afraid of) then it is time to challenge and test those beliefs by asking “Is this feeling, fact or fiction?” – then it’s about action. One belief we have is that successful people in a given career started at the top of the hill – they didn’t. Everyone starts at the bottom of the hill. It takes guts to take the first step.


So go be that version of yourself that you thought wasn’t possible, or that you believed wasn’t possible because of a list of things you believed to be true. The only thing in your way is yourself. I’ll leave the last word to Sir Roger Bannister.

However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then…even thought impossible.” – Roger Bannister.

May he rest in peace.



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