Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Breaking a Barrier - the First Four-Minute Mile

Today is the 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister running the mile in just under four minutes. You can watch a video of that event on YouTube. Another 5-1/2 minute  newsreel video on Man and the Mile discusses other attempts. 

Anthony Robbins discussed the four-minute mile on page 84 of his 1991 book Awaken the Giant Within:

“Do you know the story of the four-minute mile? For thousands of years, people held the belief that it was impossible for a human being to run the mile in less than four minutes. But in 1954, Roger Bannister broke this imposing belief barrier. He got himself to achieve the 'impossible' not merely by physical practice but by constantly rehearsing the event in his mind, breaking through the four-minute barrier so many times with so much emotional intensity that he created vivid references that became an unquestioned command to his nervous system to produce the result. Many people don’t realize though, that the greatest aspect of his breakthrough was what it did for others. In the whole history of the human race, no one had ever been able to break a four-minute mile, yet within one year of Roger’s breaking the barrier, 37 other runners also broke it. His experience provided them with references strong enough to create a sense of certainty that they, too, could ‘do the impossible.’ And the year after that, 300 other runners did the same thing!”

John C. Maxwell repeated that story of 37 and 300 other runners on page 106 of his 1993 book, Developing the Leader Within You. It also showed up on page 12 of the 2003 book Heroes: A Guide to Realising Your Dreams by Jim Stynes, Jon Carnegie, and Paul Currie.  Michael Cioppa repeated it in 2003 on page 27 of his book Success is Not A Miracle: The Science of Achievement. Eyal Yurconi also repeated it on page 116 of his 2006 book Being Great: Winning the Battles Within. So did William J. Nippard, on page 12 of his 2011 book, The Teamwork Ladder.

But, Anthony Robbins got both those numbers wrong. I heard them discussed by Tim Harford on the BBC World Service program More or Less in a segment titled Did Sir Roger Bannister make the ‘impossible’ possible?. Actually only one other man, John Landy, ran a less than four-minute mile in the next year, and just four people did in the 2nd year. Tim also noted that Mr. Robbins later used other numbers, saying it was either 24 in a year or 24 in a few years. So, don’t believe something just because you find it in a book. Make sure what you use in a speech is a true story rather than just a fairy tale. 

The latest and most confused version of the story misspells Roger’s last name, and gets the year wrong. Page 199 of Gary R. Plaford’s 2013 book, Fight Or Flight: The Ultimate Book for Understanding and Managing Stress says:

“A fourth factor critical in looking at success is what we believe. Prior to 1957 it was believed that the human being could not run a mile in under four minutes. That belief was stated by sports writers, by columnists, it was repeated on the radio and on television. It could not be done. The human body was incapable of running that fast for that long. Then, in 1957, Roger Banister did it. He broke the four minute mile. Once he did it, suddenly people believed it was possible.Within that very year thirty seven other runners broke the four minute mile. Within the next year another hundred did it. If we believe something cannot be done, then surely we cannot do it. If, on the other hand we believe something is possible, we will often find a way to achieve it.”  

The plaque image by Jonathan Bowen came from Wikimedia Commons.


Anonymous said...

Just curious if you know the person you referenced in your fourth paragraph, Michael Cioppa, is a convicted scam artist who has done prison time for ripping off people? Do a quick Google search of Michael G. Cioppa Albany NY. Might be helpful if your readers were able to consider the source before putting too much credence in Cioppa as a credible reference.

Richard I. Garber said...

I didn't know that Cioppa was a scam artist, but I did NOT consider him to be a credible reference - just another copycat who got information wrong.