The 4-Minute Mile and the Myths of Positive Thinking

By Eric Normand on February 6th, 2010 1

The story of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier in 1954 is often cited as proof of the power of positive thinking. The fact is, however, that Bannister’s realism, not exuberant faith, can easily explain how Bannister achieved the feat.

The typical telling of the story is a conflict between negative and positive beliefs. The good guy is Roger Bannister, who uniquely believes that he can beat the four-minute time. The bad guy is everybody else, including the other runners of the world. Bannister’s faith in himself propels him across the finish line, breaking the barrier, proving that the positive is stronger than negative. He wins over converts to his faithful cause, who then proceed to smash the barrier themselves.

A deconstruction of the myth lays bare the underlying message while admitting a more thorough admission of fact into the story. The mythological structure supports three crucial elements of the “positive thinking” message:

  • the world is divided into positive believers and negative non-believers
  • negative belief is the primary obstacle to achievement
  • blind faith in positive belief is necessary for success

The myth makes use of omission and exaggeration of fact in order to communicate its message.

The first element is supported by citing doctors and other authorities who claim that the four-minute mile was impossible if not lethal. The reference to “impossibility”, danger, or death underline the “negative” aspects of the belief.

The second element–that belief, as opposed to physical ability–is the primary obstacle to achievement, is supported by the fact that many runners broke the barrier so quickly after he did. They must have been physically able, for how could they train so quickly to such a high level of performance? The story implies that belief alone explains why runners followed suit so quickly.

The third element is that blind positive faith is able to and required to transcend physical limits. Including the fact that he was the first implies that the barrier at four minutes was real. He had no evidence that it was possible, and people warned him of the dangers. His belief rested in faith alone. There is usually an underlying theme, evident in the title or otherwise, which suggests that the fact that the belief is positive is what give it its power.

To recap the story in terms of the three elements: everyone believed that the four-minute mile was impossible. Everyone, except Bannister. His pure, positive faith allowed him to do what others failed to do. Once he proved it possible to the non-believers, others began to see the light and they could do the impossible as well.

The assertion that most (if not all) believed that the four-minute mile was dangerous if not impossible is easily falsified. The story omits that the other runners of the world were in pursuit of the four-minute mile. They must have believed it was possible or they wouldn’t have competed for it. The tendency for journalists to drum up conflict and drama easily explains why the “barrier” was created. It also explains why so many doctors were quoted saying it was dangerous. Danger sells papers. Bannister himself was a medical student at the time he broke the barrier, trained in the same medical system as the rest of the doctors. It is highly unlikely that he was unique in his beliefs.

The issue that so many runners broke the barrier so quickly is used to show how important belief was. But the fact is that the record was ready to be broken. The graph of world records (shown below) clearly shows that the sport was ready for a breakthrough. The major tension at the time was who would succeed and when, not whether it was possible. The fact that people only succeeded after him is due to the convenient choice of Bannister as the hero. He was the first, so of course there was no one before him.

The final element–that Bannister was bolstered by blind faith–is similarly false. The implication downplays his medical training and his talent as a runner. As a medical student, he was well aware of the physiology and anatomy of the human body. He was also a good runner, so probably had a good intuition for his own limits. The myth omits the fact that Bannister used a peculiar training regimen and pacing strategy for the deciding race. His actions show his belief in planning and strategy, not a reliance on blind faith. Anyone at the time, especially an educated person, could clearly see that the four-minute mile was due to be broken, so need not rely on faith.

As to the fact that he was first, the timing of his and his competition’s races (along with the weather) decided who would break the barrier first. John Landy ran a four-minute mile forty-six days later. What would have happened if the dates of the two races had been reversed?

The myth of the four-minute mile implies that blind faith can overcome physical obstacles. But on closer inspection, the facts of the event support a much different message: that critical thinking, physical endowment, planning, luck, and hard work are “the secrets” to success. Roger Bannister was 6-foot-1 and obviously one of the fastest runners of his day. His race was luckily timed just before Landy’s race, and the weather met the world record requirements. He ran every day to train for the race. Of course he believed he could do it, but it was not blind faith.

The call to faith erodes the more important idea that we are very often wrong so we must critically question our beliefs. We must rely on our intelligence and available evidence to determine what to believe because we have nothing better. It is frightening that we know we are wrong but we don’t know in what way and still we must act in the world. It is much more comforting to believe that “positive” beliefs are truer than “negative” ones and not have to face the real difficulties of the world. Beliefs should not be classified into positive and negative, but into true, untrue, and undecidable. The troubles of the world are too real to rely on wishful thinking.

Raised as an atheist, Eric Normand observes that the more support exists for a belief, the more likely it is to be false. Only mass delusion can produce such agreement. Besides getting him into trouble, this perspective leads him to question popular thought and explore contrarian views with as critical an eye as he can muster. Eric Normand confronts certainty, wishful thinking, and the difficulty of everyday life at The Journal of a Renegade Yogi.



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31 responses to “The 4-Minute Mile and the Myths of Positive Thinking”

  1. Hi, Eric.

    This is an excellent article and mostly right on. But you go a too far in dismissing belief, kind of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    As a lifelong entrepreneur, musician and athlete myself, I know from personal experience that believing beyond surface appearances is a critical ingredient to most breakthroughs. The break-through can only be accomplished through hard work and critical thinking, but without the fire of belief, one often quits trying too early.

    You do say that in one short deemphasized, almost invisible sentence, "Of course he believed he could do it, but it was not blind faith." In my opinion, belief absolutely needs to be included in your list of "secrets to success", along with " critical thinking, physical endowment, planning, luck, and hard work."

    "Belief" not "blind faith" I agree. But don't leave it off the list entirely.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. […] got a guest post over at Beyond Growth that analyzes the story of the first four-minute mile as it is used in positive thinking circles. “Positive thinking” as an ideology has a […]

  3. I wrote a blog about positive thinking you might enjoy. I think it's pretty consistent with your point of view. Tell me what you think:

    "Is Al Franken a Yogi?

    Bob Weisenberg

  4. Evan says:

    I'm not one who goes for the 'if you believe enough you can do it' school.

    On the other hand I have a few problems with what you say. You would need a graph that extended beyond Bannisters record to address the rate at which others broke the time.

    You seem to confuse journalists and doctors offering their opinion that they four minute mile was impossible – were the doctors parroting journalists?

    You equate blind faith and belief. Only a few of the looniest positive thinkers would believe that Bannister didn't have to train to break the record.

    If Bannister trained as a doctor also then why did they disagree? It seems the same system can produce different beliefs.

    I do think that re-framing beliefs can make a difference to people. Eg. the belief that I can find a solution will lead to different behaviour than the belief that I can't.

    I'm not clear that the distinction between true and untrue and positive and negative is so easy to make. It was indeed true that the four minute mile had not been broken. Whether it could be was undecided. But belief that it could be (positive I guess) probably assisted runners to do so.

  5. Hi, Eric.

    It would be very helpful for debate if you would tell whose comments your are answering. Most of what you say here is unresponsive to my comment, except I guess you saying you still don't think belief belongs on the list with the other key factors for success.

    If so, I still think you're underestimating the impact of belief. The reason one puts in the time and effort into critical thinking and training originally is because of initial belief beyond evidence. And it takes belief to plow through the inevitable setbacks and disappointments

    You seem to be countering this idea by bringing up your original ideas, which most of aren't contesting and don't address our points. Nearest I can tell is that you think belief is a little bit important, but not very important.

    I stand by my original comment above. In my opinion you're still throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion.

    Bob Weisenberg

    • Eric Normand says:

      Ok, thanks, Bob. I'll reply directly to you. I may restate things that I said previously so that it is clear who I'm addressing.

      Let me restate your argument to make sure I understand it:

      Belief is important enough to go on my list of important things for success because there needs to be an "initial belief beyond experience" to begin the critical thinking effort and because it takes belief to overcome setbacks.

      Is that correct?

      • Take out "needs to be" and replace with "often needs to be". Not always, by any means.

        Example. If you decide to look for a needle in a haystack you're a lot more likely to find it if you believe there's one there than if you don't. The way I'm defining belief it's very close to "gut-feel". People who achieve breakthroughs are often following their gut, not their knowledge, especially at first. But I completely agree with you that their gut-feel is useless without all the other key ingredients.

        Bob Weisenberg

        • Eric Normand says:

          Bob, I really want to thank you for this discussion. This is bringing up some stuff that I think needs to be talked about, even though it's only tangentially related to the thesis of the original post.

          If he had reason to believe that there was a needle, I say that falls under critical thinking.

          If he has no reason to believe there is a needle, is he just looking under blind faith? What made him choose this haystack out of all of the others?

          Now we are getting into the semantic encoding of concepts in our respective minds. I wouldn't bundle gut feeling with belief. You would. I think it shows that we can't have a fruitful discussion without defining our terms much better.

          • Hi, Eric.

            Not sure why you would refer to this is "tangential". It seems to me that your insistence on leaving belief off your list of ingredients for success goes to the heart of your blog.

            All I can tell you is that everything I've ever read about human performance and everything I've experienced myself in accomplishing things (sports, music, business) would never allow me to leave belief off such a list.

            As one of your other commentators pointed out, much of the times the evidence is not at all clear or it's absent entirely, and that's where belief and even blind faith are often critical. (And then throw in all the recent research on the mind body connection–how the body reacts differently to a brain that believes than to one that does not believe.)

            I'm not sure why this diminishes your main point about the importance of all the other factors. Agree completely, blind faith will get you nowhere by itself. But you go too far to exclude belief in general, and sometimes even blind faith, as a factor.

            Enjoying the discussion.

            Bob Weisenberg

          • It seems to me that the question is how does one arrive at believing that they can achieve a particular goal?

            Eric is arguing that evidence-based critical thinking is the means to arriving at a belief. Most personal development books argue the opposite. To quote Think and Grow Rich:

            "Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve"

            Napolean Hill did not say "Whatever the mind of man can find evidence for the possibility of achieving, he can probably achieve." Hill and other personal development authors emphasize believing first, then finding evidence to support such a belief.

            I think that often we do believe first, but that this should held as a hypothesis, not as a given. When we believe in the impossible, often we are proven wrong and it is delusional to continue to believe. This delusion is exploited by ruthless manipulators who pose as personal development leaders to continue to sell book after book, expensive workshop after expensive workshop, internet marketing courses after internet marketing courses, etc.

          • If you take a closer look at these self-help books beyond the cover and marketing hype, 95% of the material is about Eric's other factors, not belief. They do, perhaps unfairly, emphasize the hype of "believe it and it's yours", but inside they offer pretty conventional Ben Franklin like "work hard and prosper advice" which is fueled by that overcoming one's doubts about one's abilities.

            Bob Weisenberg

          • Eric Normand says:

            Hey, Bob.

            I'm enjoying it, too. Maybe too much.

            My blog was pure destruction. I meant to yank the rug from under the central idea that we should believe things merely in order to succeed. What I discovered in my research was that in the case of Roger Bannister, he was not using blind faith. All of his belief in himself was based on experience or reason. It was not something reason told him was impossible which he had to will himself to believe, which is implied by the story.

            In this way, belief is central to the thesis. But that list is merely conclusions that we can draw from his specific story. There is no evidence that Bannister required anything other than critical thinking and hard work to arrive at his beliefs.

            Belief is important. It just doesn't belong on that list.

            This story might help to illustrate my point:

            Two kung fu masters met for tea every day. The pretense was that after the tea, they would battle to determine who was stronger. But they would never get to the battle, because during the tea, one of them would realize that his spirit was broken and so had no chance of winning. He would then leave to try again the next day.

            It's easy to interpret this as saying that the master who believed in himself the most wins. But there is something deeper in it. The practice of any physical discipline, at a certain point, no longer becomes purely physical. You get to know your body, your skills, and your mind very well. And all three develop alongside each other. In this way, the master who left realized that he was not good enough. Mental strength and skillfulness are correlated. His mental strength faltered.

            What would have happened if he did not realize that? What would have happened if he continued to believe and had fought the master? That's the essence of what we are discussing. Should he continue to believe so that he fights better? Or should he believe he is going to lose and go back home to train?

          • At this point, we should probably just agree to disagree. I'm on the verge of telling you 5-10 stories from my own life that prove support belief being as important as your "critical thinking, physical endowment, planning, luck, and hard work". But I'm sure no one is particularly interested in that!

            Outstanding achievements usually start with dreams. Dreams are often irrational. Sometimes they are just blind faith at first. The dreams need to be tested against reality, as Duff so rightly pointed out above. But not so too early in the process, because reality itself changes during the course of the effort, and reality itself is deeply affected by belief.

            Bob Weisenberg

          • Eric Normand says:

            The irrational is probably where we're headed. So we should agree to disagree.

            I would like to hear of your experiences, though. Just because this myth is based on non-factual statements does not invalidate the importance of belief. The question that still needs to be explored is how that belief comes about and under what circumstances should believe it.

            There's an old agage "Know your limits." Should you believe "You choose your limits." instead? I would say no.

            My experience points to exploring and researching the possibility of your dream, not believing in it wholeheartedly. Sometimes you dream something very specific, but what you want is something more general. Example: you dream of racing in NASCAR but you really want to experience driving really fast. You can do that by renting a sports car for a day or two, which is within reach of most Americans. That just takes knowing yourself really well.

            Thanks for the great discussion. I feel it has really helped me explore the details of my thought.

  6. Eric Normand says:

    Sorry! I forgot to address the issue of the graph.

    The graph was meant to show the evidence that anyone had available to them. The red points are previous world records recorded by IAAF. The green line is their best-fit curve. The blue point does not influence the green trend line. It was meant to show that someone of reasonable education could have forecasted around where the next record would be.

    As to the people who broke the barrier after him, you would not notice them much on the graph. The only record that came after Bannister's was Landy's 46 days later. There wasn't another record broken until 1957. Since the graph only shows records, all of those other guys don't even show up. If you want to see a graph with a longer timeline, look at

    In this sport, as in many competitive sports, there usually isn't a person who is miles ahead of the others. If that were the case, you'd see someone break record after record. But you don't because the people at the top of the rankings are pretty closely matched. Also, there are numerous factors involved in having a record that is actually recorded. The weather and how good a day you are having are very important.

  7. Eric Normand says:

    Hey everyone. Thanks for the comments.

    I don't disagree that belief plays a significant role. And obviously the authors of these myths know that he trained hard. I did not mean to suggest that they imply that belief alone is what let him succeed.

    What I meant to get across was that he used critical thinking to determine what to believe. He didn't just say "I want to break the barrier, therefore I will believe I can". He studied the evidence and determined that it was not impossible. If it is not impossible, there is a possibility. He then proceeded to exploit that possibility.

    The difference is crucial. It is the difference between believing something because you want it to be true and believing something because of the evidence. I think Bannister believed it because of the evidence. And that's why I put critical thinking on the list and not belief.

    As to whether a significant number of other doctors believed that the 4-minute mile was dangerous, I think I address that pretty well in the essay, but I'll elaborate. Journalists need only print the doctor's opinions that support their objectives. They could call 100 doctors up until one says that it's dangerous. Of course the medical system can create people of differing opinions. That's kind of the point: Bannister could not have been alone in thinking it was possible. Newspapers simply exaggerated the popularity of the danger belief and omitted the popularity of the other.

    I haven't read Bannister's autobiography, so trust this next statement as far as you trust Wikipedia. Bannister says himself that the four-minute barrier was made up by journalists:


    "The claim that a 4-minute mile was once thought to be impossible by informed observers was and is a widely propagated myth cooked up by sportswriters and debunked by Bannister himself in his memoir, The Four Minute Mile, 1955. The reason the myth took hold was that 4 minutes was a nice round number which was slightly better (1.4 seconds) than the world record for nine years—longer than it probably otherwise would have been because of the effect of World War II in interrupting athletic progress in the combatant countries. Note that the Swedish runners Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson, in a series of head-to-head races in the period 1942–45, had already lowered the world mile record by 5 seconds to the pre-Bannister record. (See Mile run world record progression.) What is still impressive to knowledgeable track fans is that Bannister ran a 4-minute mile on very low-mileage training by modern standards."

    Bannister is still a hero to me. He was mentally and physically strong. He trained hard and smart. And you can't fault that.

    • One reason I find the thesis of this article important is that the most popular personal development/self-help gurus sell their books, audio programs, and especially their very expensive multi-day workshops based primarily on mania and this notion that "whatever you believe, you can achieve"–which is patently false!

      Once we introduce critical thinking as more important than blind faith in personal development, the entire game changes. It becomes more about dialogue in community with others than blindly following some guru and parroting his or her catch phrases. And yes, there is room for selling things, but not $9695 5-day workshops that threaten your life–more like $400 weekend workshops that promise only to teach you some helpful techniques that require practice on your own to be of lasting benefit.

      • Well, that's a whole other topic. And I don't like these expensive courses because the same material, if you want it, is readily available in $20 book and for free online.

        Putting aside the marketing hype and cost, which I agree can be disagreeable, don't discount the value of this kind of material in general. Here's a highly relevant excerpt from a comment I wrote on another blog:

        "But now it's time for True Confessions. When I was in my late 20's I came upon two books that utterly changed my life. One was "Succeed in Spite of Yourself" by Evert Sutters and the other was "Unlimited Power" by Tony Robbins.

        I won't spend a lot of time defending these books, except to say they were exactly what I needed at the time. The theme of both is that you are only using 10% of your capabilities at any time. The way to tap into the other 90% is to deeply study the methods of the people you most admire.

        The focus was certainly on business success, but equally about finding out what gives you the deepest satisfaction in life. If that's entrepreneurship, then great. If it's music or art or becoming a priest, then you need to go off and do that. There's a lot of emphasis on getting beyond your ego and seeing the world more objectively if you want to succeed at anything.

        So that's why I can't discount the power of any book for a given person. Even in the frothier of Brian's titles, there is a lot of great stuff for a particular individual at a particular time in his or her life. Sometime it's just one big idea hitting you at just the right time. In my case it was the startling idea that I was vastly under-utilizing my talent (everyone is) and nuts-and-bolts advice on how to develop myself."

        In short, these books, even though they contained some stuff that I rejected even back then, taught me to BELIEVE in myself.

        Bob Weisenberg

        • This is actually a great example, and perhaps a counterexample to the thesis of this article. In particular, the notion that we are only using 10% of our brain's potential (where the generalization comes from) has been thoroughly debunked. Yet many people including you found this misinformation very inspiring and exactly what you needed to hear to take action.

          Certainly there are crucial times where some enthusiasm and positive thinking can be of great usefulness…but can we also be enthusiastic and positive with critical, evidence-based rationality? I think we can, and that in doing so we achieve even better results with fewer of the negative side-effects of self delusion.

          • If you knew me you'd know that I'm an extreme analytic. My over-rationality was restricting my progress in several areas of life. So what I happened to need was the mind and spirit expansion of more intuitive and emotional thinking styles.

            Someone who is overly emotional or approval-seeking or pushy in their approach might need to have a good dose of analytical thinking. That worked for me because I was way too analytical and needed some more emotion, drive, and empathy to be any good at business.

            So I agree completely with your last paragraph. The hard part is self-knowledge to know what one needs. The best self-development methods start with this.

            This comment itself is an example of how I use my biggest natural strength, very strong analytical ability, to help me understand and develop the other skills I need that aren't so natural to me, like dreaming and intuiting.

            (This is irrelevant to many professions and pursuits, but it certainly common to high-achieving business people, athletes, and musicians. And high achievement is what this article is about,)

            Bob Weisenberg

          • Eric Normand says:

            I was discussing with my girlfriend, who disagreed with me that belief plays a minor role.

            I asked her more about it. She meant that sometimes you need to believe in yourself. So I asked her what she meant. She meant that sometimes all of your friends tell you you are wrong or even crazy for believing what you believe, despite the evidence you have to believe it.

            And I think she's absolutely correct. Sometimes the social factors are so strong that you will contradict your own experience. In this sense, you should believe in yourself. I happen to think that this "belief in yourself" is part of critical thinking. Peer pressure and other tactics act on your need to belong; but your rationality should prevail. In support of trusting your own reasoning, I think this story is useful. I think the story goes further than that, into wishful thinking territory.

            The point is that this same idea can be used to get you to believe in someone's idea. It's easy to buy into someone's beliefs because they are dealing with something that has emotional resonance. The story of Bannister is emotional. It is triumphant. But we shouldn't neglect to apply our own intelligence to it, and attempt to understand how the story is constructed.

            At the same time, if we find it inspiring, we should seek out the facts of the story so that we can apply them to our own lives.

            To shed some personal light on the story:

            I have been told this same story repeatedly since elementary school. It has created this pressure on me to dream outlandish dreams and to feel inadequate for not achieving them. The story implies that the bigger and more impossible the dream, the bigger the payoff. These dreams have only led to disappointment for me. Deconstructing the mythology of our culture is important to becoming aware of how we make decisions.

          • Tup says:

            Not to oversimplify this whole conversation, but I think the story (as it relates to the importance of belief) boils down to this: You will have a much better chance at acheiving a task if your mindset is such that said task is acheivable/attainable/etc. If you say, "this math class is so hard…I'll probably fail", then your mindset is such that the task is impossible (at least for you), and as a result, your chances for success are quite low. On the other hand, if you say, "this math class is hard, but people have been passing these classes for years, so there is a way to get this done", then you are more willing to exhaust your resources in persuit of that goal (like Banister with his crazytraining routine…he didn;t just believe it was possible, he also felt he could be the first).

  8. carlonhaas says:

    This is an excellent article. Many self-help books pretty much cover the same old stories. The 4 minute mile is popular. I find that they way they frame the story is important.

    They argue that once the 4-minute mile was broken, it was quickly broken by others. Hence, the power of belief.

    But I scoff at this rationale. For example, Mike Powell broke Bob Beamon's long jump record that stood for 23 years until Mike Powell broke it. But how come there aren't a flood of long jump record breakers?

    Is it because no one believes the new record can be broken?

    I think the 4-minute mile is just another form of inspiroof (proof by inspirational story).

    I agree with Bob in the comments that belief does count for something. I mean if I don't think I can do something, I probably won't even attempt it.

    But to say that I can do something because I believe is can is another matter. someone might believe they can fly if they drop enough acid, but that doesn't mean it's gonna happen. And I think that was the point of this post. Self-help books frame these stories as inspiroof of positive thinking. But in reality, good training is the more likely reason for the accomplishment.

    But training hard doesn't really sounds so sexy as thinking positively, does it?


    • Well put, Carlon. I agree with you belief is only one of the critical factors, but it's got to be on the list.

      I want to repeat what I wrote earlier–that most self-help books are 90% about the other factors, not belief. You'd never know this by the come-on and the cover, but when you look inside most of them, they all say, "OK, once you believe, here's what you have to do to make your dream a reality–word hard, think critically, build relationships, and get the right training.

      So, in reality, even the very book that are being excoriated here largely agree with Eric if you look even a little bit beyond the surface!

      That's why these books often have such a great impact. They get stuck people off their duffs and then give them the highly practical logic rational path to go after their dream. If they don't get there, so what. They still got a lot farther than they would have if they had stayed on their overly self-doubting duffs. (Boy that has a nice ring to it–"overly self-doubting duffs".)

      Certainly worked for me over and over again.

      Bob Weisenberg

  9. Old Runner says:

    Also interesting is that the "race" in which Bannister first achieved a 4-minute mile wasn't a race at all – it was a time trial, set up to allow him to make a run at the record. On the track with Bannister, two "rabbits" whose job was to set a pace, but nobody actually trying to "win" the race except Roger Bannister.

    It was absolutely rational, and planned, and arranged to give him the best possibility of success. Still remarkable for anyone to run a 4-minute mile, but "faith" was probably a lot less significant than confidence in his own preparation as well as the external preparations for the attempt.

    In his previous attempt, of the "rabbits" had even allowed Bannister to "lap" them – while they jogged and rested, so that he could have a rabbit to set the pace on later laps.

    I'm not sure what the rules are now, but when I ran competitively in the late 70s and early 80s, no one would have been able to set a world record (officially) in such a setting.

    Although there's been a tendency to nod and wink at the use of "rabbits" in record attempts in track and field, nobody would have been able to set one the way Roger Bannister did.

    I recall an attempt at the 800m record by Mike Boit back in the 70s where they had to have a certain number of runners on the track to make it a valid race, but we all knew who was going to be leading the "race" at every furlong and nobody got in Mike's way. 😉

  10. […] The 4-Minute Mile and the Myths of Positive Thinking a2a_config.linkname="You can have a positive mental attitude and still die from cancer"; a2a_config.linkurl=""; a2a.init("page"); […]

  11. Wrdpainter says:

    If you don't believe it, you will never try. Why would I waste my time doing the impossible. Belief has to be a part of it. Explain the Wright brothers and many others who believed in something enough to find a way to make it happen even though they were laughed at, called crazy etc. So you are saying that if they didn't believe in what others called impossible we would still have planes, electricity, phones etc? Who would have spent their time, money and lives on something they didn't believe in? So, its all about critical thinking? How do you critically think love? If you don't believe in love, you won't have it, feel it and so on. You have to believe.

  12. mike3 says:

    Note that 2 of the factors on Eric's list are out of one's hands to control. So if you're missing these, you're toast. And having good genetics for this kind of high-end athletics is *RARE*. That must be why these myths are so popular: because they try to put more in your control than really is.

  13. Dunede says:

    The author is an avowed atheist so what he tries to prove is that something we can't sense with the 5 senses doesn't exists.. what a limiting life goal. Anyway, the more intelligent and provable proponents of the idea that our thoughts can control an outcome aren't saying that positive thinking alone is such a miracle but that negative or limiting belief's can keep us from fulfilling our true potential… genetics or not. God or no god. Quantum physics has proved beyond doubt that just the mere observation of a phenomena can change the outcome of that phenomena so to claim emphatically that our thoughts can't effect the outcome of a situation is truly a scientific step backwards into the dark ages.. There once was a mass delusion that the world was flat (amongst some cultures) and once that trap was broken they came flooding across the Atlantic. This was the result of a limiting fear based belief being lifted. The author has a graph of the times being set by runners but very little else. Someone else pointed out the limited information of this "cherry picked" statistic. I'm to busy myself and have no desire to "prove" my point of view but I'm going to state clearly that if one looked deeper into the statistics one will see a surge in all the times across the field…even times above the 4 minute mile there will be a definite increase in the performance of the majority of runners. Thoughts do become things… choosing the good ones is a wonderful idea, but challenging the limiting ones is our responsibility for sure. One very limiting belief is that in the universe there is nothing greater than the simple mechanism of mans intellect coupled with ego and that our thoughts individually and collectively can not effect the outcome of a situation. Yes.. this may be right brained new age thinking and I'm proud of it.

    • Hi Dunede, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      If thoughts could control outcomes with any sort of reliability, certainly James Arthur Ray—star of the moviemercial The Secret—would not have been convicted of 3 counts of negligent homicide yesterday.

      Thinking certainly influences one's behavior and one's communication which then have some influence on one's goals, etc. But the question is to what extent?

      I think Eric is very much correct—the 4 minute mile was going to be broken soon enough because of the downward trend in 1 mile times. It wasn't a matter of great personal belief necessarily, and we only highlight the 4 minute mile because it's a nice round number. Before that the 4 minute, 10 second mile had to be broken, but no personal development guru recalls any great stories of personal triumph for this milestone in human achievement.

      Saying the author is an atheist is an ad hominem (i.e. personal attack) and a red herring (i.e. irrelevant) to the argument presented by the author. The argument that quantum physics has proved that observing a phenomena can change the outcome is false and misleading, and certainly does not apply on the non-quantum scale. The flat earth hypothesis was also not widely believed at the time of Columbus, even though we are taught that this is the case.

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