Breaking Psychological Barriers

Before 1954, running a sub four-minute mile was considered to be impossible according to physiologists at that time. It was thought that a four-minute mile was the physical limit of the human body.

When Englands’ Roger Bannister ran a 3:59.4 to break the world record, he not only broke a physical barrier but he also broke a psychological barrier as well.

Australian John Landy, who was considered to be the premier miler of that era, was at a restaurant in Helsinki when news came to him of Bannister’s achievement.

“I had got into this frame (of mind) where I had easily the best performances. Bannister had only run 4:02 once. I’d done it six times. I was staggered. I thought: ‘Wow, what an amazing performance’, but I was pretty positive. I thought if he can run that, maybe I can run it. It certainly raised my sights.”

Six weeks later, Landy, broke Bannisters’ record by running a 3:58.0.

Later that year, in the “Mile of the Century”, in a race to decide who was the fastest miler in the world, Bannister ran a 3:58.8 to Landys’ 3:59.6. It was the first time two men had run sub-four-minutes miles in the same race.

By the end of 1957, sixteen runners had accomplished the feat. Now what was thought impossible has become common, at least among elite runners. John Walker of New Zealand ran at least a hundred sub-four-minute miles in his career but American Steve Scott has the most with 136. The current record in the mile is 3:43.13, held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco.

Another long-standing psychological barrier in the world of sports was Bob Beamons’ incredible long jump of 29′ 4 1/2″ (8.90 m) in the 1968 Olympics. Beamon didn’t just set the world record. He demolished it. In a sport where records are broken by inches and seconds, Beamon shattered the record by nearly two feet. He not only became the first man to jump over 29 feet but he was also the first man to jump over 28 feet.

Oddly enough, Beamons’ coach at the ’68 Olympics was Ralph Boston. In 1960, Boston had broken Jesse Owens long jump record set in 1935. It had held for 25 years. From 1960 to 1967, the record had only advanced by 8 1/2″ inches.

Beamons’ incredible leap was thought to be a freak accident that would never be duplicated. It was an accomplishment that was totally beyond Beamons’ or anyone else’s ability at that time. Beamon never came close to that mark again. It was considered to be the athletic feat of all time.

In the late eighties, Carl Lewis had begun to creep closer to Beamons’ mark. With his world record speed in the 100 meters, Lewis had advanced the long jump record to 28′ 7″.

In the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, five days after just setting the world record in the 100 meters by running it in 9.86 seconds, Lewis’ 10-year unbeaten streak in the long jump came to an end, even though he put together the greatest series of jumps in history. Lewis had never before reached 29 feet, and this day he did it three times, including 29′ 2″ (wind-aided) and 29′ 1″ (against the wind). But Mike Powell, who had lost 15 consecutive times to Lewis, unleashed the longest jump in history — 29′ 4″ (8.90 m). Powell had stunned Lewis and the world by finally beating the 23 year-old-record.

I’ve used these two stories from the sports world to illustrate that the things that often hold us back, are more psychological than physical. Limiting barriers are more in our minds than actual reality.

Henry Ford

“If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

You are not limited by anything except your own limiting thoughts. Many times, psychological barriers are just arbitrary standards. They could be marks such as earning $100,000 a year, getting straight A’s in school, or setting new sales records. Why is it we establish these marks? We as human beings are goal-seeking organisms. We need something to work towards. A worthy goal gives us something to shoot for.

I’m sure Mike Powell, on his way to breaking Bob Beamons’ record had preliminary goals he had to achieve. He first had to break the 25 foot mark, then the 26 foot mark, and so forth, until, after years of long training, spurred on by stiff competition from Carl Lewis, he put it all together to break one of the greatest records in sports history.

Many times we don’t achieve our goals or objectives because we believe they are beyond our reach. When we see someone obtain some great achievement, we think it looks so easy. We just don’t see the long years of hard work that got them there. Great achievements take time, no matter what field you are in. Working toward your goal requires a lot of faith because you just don’t know whether it will all pay off. Goals are not reached without struggle. Long-range goals require great endurance of faith and persistence.

Breaking down our psychological barriers often comes down to trying one more time, trying a different approach or adjusting your methods just the right way. It’s for sure; you will never get past your roadblocks without trying.

Success comes to those who overcome obstacles, conquers adversity and never gives up.