Four-minute mile


“Human beings can’t run a mile in under four minutes. It simply isn’t possible.”

Sound crazy? It does now. But for decades it was a common point of view. It was a mental model:  an assumption about how the world worked. As Professor Jerry Wind of the Wharton School tells the story:

The four-minute mile seemed like a physical barrier that humans could not cross… until May 6, 1954.  That was the day that Roger Bannister, in a meet at Oxford, ran a mile in 3:59.4. He broke the barrier. Suddenly, in the next three years, 16 other runners cracked the four-minute mile as well.


roger bannister four minute mile

Once this barrier is broken, everyone else followed suit:

  • Just 46 days later Jim Landry of Australia broke the record again.
  • Less than two months after that both Landry and Bannister both broke four minutes in the same race
  • Since then thousands of people have run the mile in under four minutes
  • In the next 30 years the record was broken 16 more times
  • The record now stands at 3 minutes and 43 seconds
  • Even high school students have broken the four minute mile
  • In 1997 Daniel Komen of Kenya double the feet running TWO miles in LESS THAN EIGHT minutes.

The “four minute barrier” has since been broken by many other athletes, and is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners.

For years people believed it was impossible.  It was impossible that a man could run a mile in under four minutes.  Doctors and Scientists said that the human body could not possibly achieve such a feat; some suggested that the body would break apart before such a speed could be reached.  Everyone agreed: the four minute mile was not possible.  Well, not quite everyone, not Roger Bannister.

The world record for the mile, by the way, is now down to 3:43.13.3

In another word, in the last 50 years the mile record has been lowered by almost 17 seconds.

Was there some breakthrough in human evolutions? No.  What has changed was the mental model, the belief that it is possible to achieve something, the belief in yourself.

Roger Bannister had done it.  He had broken the four minute mile; a barrier thought impossible.   Now he had proven that it could be done.   Other people now had the evidence that the four minute mile could be broken.  Other people had the belief.  Now you believe that it can be done.

Watch the iconic sporting achievement here:

Roger Bannister-1954-First Four Minute Mile


How about YOU?  What is your “Four Minute Mile”?

Is there something in your life that everyone thinks is impossible?

What is the thing that you keep hearing can’t be done?

Maybe you even believe it.

Perhaps it is a goal you have given up on, or a sales target you think can’t be achieved.  What is your success, and how does it look like?  Is there a barrier between you and your success?

Your four minute mile might even be something that others have accomplished.  It just might seem impossible to you.  You need to treat this goal as a four minute mile, and know you can do it, that you can break your four minute mile.


“Every time I ran the mile I was aware of my own weakness, there was some opponent who could give me a hell of a fight, so I never went into a race with a sense of invincibility. I always had that feeling of fragility and nerves which made me run faster.” – Roger Bannister


Scientists believe that the barrier to reaching the four minute mile was a physical barrier.  It was not.  It was a mental barrier. 

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.  Certainly it wasn’t easy, but it was possible.  The same is often true for our goals.  What we think we can’t achieve is really only a mental barrier, not a physical barrier.  If you believe in your abilities you can achieve far more than you imagine.


dont limit your challenges, challenge your limits


Don’t Limit Your Challenges, Challenge Your Limits


What is your four minute mile?  What is stopping you from getting what you want?  It is likely something that you think you can’t do.  A goal you think you can’t reach.  It is mental. 

To break through and beat your four minute mile you need to start by believing, and you have to be prepared to go through the pain.


“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.”

– Roger Bannister


Psychologists say that by the age of two, 50 percent of what we ever believe about ourselves has been formed; by age six, 60 percent, and at eight years, 80 percent.  Wouldn’t you love to have the energy and optimism of a little kid?  i.e. There is nothing you couldn’t do or learn or be?

But you’re a big kid now, and you realise you have some limits.  Don’t let the biggest limit be yourself. Take your cue from Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest:


“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

– Sir Edmund Hillary

Believing in yourself comes from knowing what you are really capable of doing.  When it’s your turn to step up to the plate, realise that you won’t hit a homerun every time.

Baseball superstar Mickey Mantle struck out more than 1,700 times, but it didn’t stop him from excelling at baseball. He believed in himself, and he knew his fans believed in him.

Surround yourself with positive people – they know the importance of confidence and will help you keep focused on what you can do instead of what you can’t.  Who you surround yourself with is who you become.

If Roger Bannister had accepted the barrier of the four-minute mile as a real, physical limitation, he might never have tried to surpass it.   If YOU had accepted that something cannot be done, you will not strive hard to achieve it and your dreams will remain as dreams.

I would like to finish this with a great quote:

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves!”

  Thomas A Edison  


Believe in yourself, even when no one else does.

Believe that it is possible, and you can break your four minute mile at finishing line.


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