Four Minute Mile
This is a common story that is told in many forms. It’s commonly uses as a self-help metaphor. An “if you believe it, then you can achieve it,” metaphor. These types of metaphors are used to combat the normal human, “I won’t believe it until I see it” response.
Up until the 1954, nobody thought a sub four minute mile was possible. But then Bannister did this two years after coming in fourth in the 1952 Olympics in the 1500 meter. He set a national record, but came in fourth place. This provided his determination to do whatever he did over the next two years. Of course, we all know the rest of the story.
Plenty Of False Prediction
History is rife with false predictions. Scientific geniuses tend to say things that seem very obvious at the time, but then later are proven to be false. Einstein reportedly said in 1932 that humans would never harness nuclear energy. Later he was the one that wrote a letter urging a U.S. president to develop a nuke before the Nazis did.
Many record labels passed on groups that later would go on to become super groups. Western Union said the telephone had too many problems to be successful. In the 1830’s, scientists thought traveling on a high speed railways would be impossible since people wouldn’t be able to breathe. IBM chairman Thomas Watson famously said in 1943 that five computers would be enough. For the world.
The Lagging Human Brain
One of the most peculiar things in human history is we always seem to think that we are on the pinnacle of scientific discovery. This is both truth and a paradox. It’s easy to look back and see how far we have advanced. But at each point in history, scientists and other experts have looked back and thought they were pretty much done with all discovery.
On one hand, this kind of makes sense, but only if viewed through the incapability of humans to imagine what we can’t imagine. We can’t think about what we can’t think about. We are limited to what we can imagine, but what we can imagine is limited to what we see around us.
Structure Of Invention
Nearly all inventions are not wholly new things from scratch. Most inventions since the beginning of human history are slight changes from what already exists. A caveman sees another caveman throwing a rock at a zebra, and he decides to copy him.
A few thousand years go by, and one caveman sees a rock fall off a cliff, bounce off a branch and go sailing further. He gets the idea of using some kind of sling. Maybe they sucked at it for a thousand years, and then one guy accidentally got it right, and everybody else copied him.
Bows and arrows have been around for tens of thousands of years. The earliest known longbow dates to only 3,300 BC. The longbow was a key to the English victory at Agincourt. Up to 80% of the army was made up of archers. What’s a longbow? Just like a regular bow, only bigger. A regular bow can make an arrow sail a certain length. A longbow can make an arrow sail a lot longer. It would seem that one would be a natural step from the other.
Slow March Of Inventions
From tens of thousands of years ago to the longbow being a significant reason for a victory in 1415 is a long time. You’d think somebody might have come up with the idea of training all the archers to use longbows much earlier than that.
People fought on horseback for a long time before somebody invented the stirrup. This simple invention is sometimes credited with the spread of civilization much more than the wheel or the printing press. But the question is, why did it take so long for somebody to think of such a simple thing?
Most people are very poor at thinking creatively. We go to school and spend years putting stuff into our brain that other people have already figured out. At best, we might tweak it slightly but not enough to qualify for a patent or a copyright.
The industrial revolution was a huge boom in human productivity. There are many reasons behind it. A great objective treatment of all of these is a book, “A Farewell To Alms,” by economist Gregory Clark. The discovery of fossil fuel played a great part. But one thing that doesn’t usually get much credit is how blatantly people copied each other.
Humans are very good at copying other humans. Monkey see monkey do. But when we create new things, we almost always are making slight adjustments to things we are copying. Not brand new things from scratch.
Einstein And Relativity
Only once in a few generations does a guy like Einstein come around. Einstein’s general and special theories of relatively make common things like GPS possible. Without relativity, GPS (and all the modern things that rely on it) would be impossible.
Einstein’s discovery of relativity was based on his ability to imagine things differently than most people. In the movies, scientific discoveries are usually shown by scientist staring at a huge chalkboard filled with equations working eagerly through the night, only to follow the equation to the discovery.
But Einstein only used his brain. The math needed for special relativity is the Pythagorean theorem. Stuff they teach in junior high school. The math needed for general relativity was above Einstein’s head, and he had to outsource it to a buddy of his. Arguably one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern science was done inside somebody’s brain. Not in lab or on a chalkboard.
Paradox of Creativity
The great masses cannot think beyond what they can think. How many people do you know that have created a patent? And what is a patent but a copy of something that already exists that is only different enough to be patentable.
Most of us have trouble thinking outside the box. We come up to a problem, think about to solve it, and when a ready made answer doesn’t pop into our heads, we give up, pretending that we gave it our best efforts.
Paradox Of Prediction
How is it that we can simultaneously look back throughout history, seeing how far we’ve come, only to decide that right here, right now is the furthest we will ever come. This is essentially what plenty of people have been doing.
Here’s an uncomfortable mental experiment. Medical science was horrific only a hundred years ago. One of the greatest breakthroughs in the past couple hundred years was the idea of washing your hands after cutting up a cadaver and then helping a woman give birth. This simple thing significantly reduced mortality rates during childbirth. The idea of a doctor washing his hands after being elbows deep inside of a dead dude.
Now imagine you have a horrible condition. One that might kill you. So you see your doctor, and she says, “Don’t worry, we are doing everything in our power to keep you alive.” Suppose you have the best insurance available. So good that they’ve flown in all the experts from around the world to keep you from dying.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got the best medical minds together, all for the purpose of keeping you alive.” This would make you feel pretty good right?
Now imagine that medical science still has a ways to go. Imagine it’s two hundred years in the future, and doctors of the future are looking back and seeing today’s modern medicine as being a horror show of death.
(Fun fact: Medical mistakes are the third cause of death in the U.S.!)
This makes sense. Scientific discoveries will continue. Medical science will keep getting better. It is almost a guarantee that doctors in a couple hundred years will look at our medical technology today as absolutely pathetic and barbaric.
Now how do you feel about the best medical minds in the world gathered to keep you from dying? Once upon a time (less than 200 years ago), the best medical minds in the world were elbows deep in dead guys one minute, and then helping a poor woman the next minute give birth without having washed their hands. It would have been absolutely correct for that doc (who still has dead guy guts on his hands and in his fingers) to say:
“Don’t worry ma’am, this procedure is the absolute pinnacle or medical science! You are in good hands!” Only his hands, that he was using to reach into the poor lady to help pull her baby out were covered in dead guy guts!
2020 In Hindsight
As individuals, we need to remember that everybody has 20-20 vision in hindsight. Those truisms, however, are only truisms because we always forget them. We need to remind ourselves of this all the time. We still forget most of the time anyway.
I Knew That Was Going To Happen
This is something that we commonly tell ourselves all the time. We’re sitting around waiting for something to happen. But then something unexpected happens. This is when we say, “I knew that was going to happen.” But if we actually knew this was going to happen, why didn’t we do anything to anticipate? Maybe this is just an expression, but how many times have we beaten ourselves up for stuff we could not have anticipated?
Common Post Trauma Experience
Part of experiencing some horrible event is really believing that we could have done something to prevent it. If only I took another route to work. If only I’d left two minutes sooner. If only I hadn’t looked at my phone at that instant.
Why do we believe we can anticipate events when we have no logical reason to believe so? It is so easy to tell others there was nothing they could have done, but when it happens to us, we really believe we could have done something!
One of the common reasons for believing in the unbelievable is to protect our ego. If we really did believe that we actually could have done something different to prevent a previous tragedy, that presupposes that we humans can somehow control fate. That we really aren’t at the mercy of chance.
It would really suck to get up one day and think to yourself, “Well, all the potential good things and bad things that might happen are TOTALLY out of my control! I hope I don’t die today!”
Paradox of Prediction
This may be the reason why every generation of scientists believe they really are living at that one magical point in human history when everything has been discovered. Perhaps it’s impossible to hold two conflicting ideas in mind. On one hand, we can do so much better than we have been doing in the past. On the other hand, if we will do that much better in the next couple hundred years, that must mean we suck today. But how can we suck today if we are way better than we are in the past?
Endless Wrong Predictions
The history of scientific prediction is horrible. The only thing that we can predict about the future is whatever we think is going to happen isn’t going to happen. Look up old business newspapers before every crash (2008, 2001, 1987, etc.) and you’ll find people talking about having finally reached “permanent plateaus” of the market and economic conditions.
Whenever everybody agrees that everything’s groovy and we’ve finally dialed in the good times, that’s just about the time the clown train goes off the rails and kills everybody. The only people who were correct about the future are usually so vague, or their predictions so numerous, their “correct” predictions are either cherry picked or goal-seeked.
Short Term Is Easy
Maybe our brains can only think slightly more than what we can see. This would make senses. All inventions are essentially copies of existing things with slight modifications. The first computers were so big nobody thought they’d be of any use. But eventually it became believable. Even the first few people who bought home computers used them as word processors.
Now we all have several devices that are all wired together. Nobody could have predicted this. But each year is a slight modification and advancement of the previous year. At the same time, it’s impossible to predict the next ten or twenty years, but the next one or two is easy. Those one or two easy years to predict will always add up to some profound changes that nobody can predict.
Paradox Of Imagination
Perhaps our imaginations can only stretch so far beyond what we can see. Maybe this is why Star Trek and other sci-fi TV shows and books were much better at predicting the future than any actual scientists.
Science fiction is just like any other creative endeavor, in that everybody copies from everybody but only changes things slightly. When Star Trek was first pitched, they thought it would be like “Wagon Train in Space.” A western style tale of exploration, only instead of settlers going out west, and dealing with bandits and Indians, they were dealing with Romulans and Klingons.
But what science fiction has over science is they are only limited by what they can pretend to do. Scientists are actually limited by what they can do. This allowed for much more creativity, much more quickly.
Roger Bannister – The Moral Of The Story
The tale of the sub-four minute mile is a favorite of self-help enthusiasts. If you believe it, you can do it. Nobody believed that the sub-four minute mile was possible. Then Bannister did it. And then everybody did it. But this story might not be as inspirational as everybody makes it out to be.
The Rest Of The Story
In the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, Bannister set a British record for the 1500, but finished fourth. That combination of setting a record but not getting a medal was enough to inspire him to set the record of records. To be the first guy to run a mile in under four minutes. He finally did so in 1954, two years later.
What Happened During Those Two Years?
If this was a purely biological feat, meaning that it took him an extra two years to train his body to be able to run a mile in less than four minutes, how would we know? Well, it’s not likely. Because two months later, another guy did it. How likely is it that those years were purely spent training his body, only to have another guy do the same thing two months later?
Also consider that the other who did it followed Bannister. Figuratively and literally followed. John Landy, (the second sub-four miler) did run a sub four mile after Bannister. Then they raced, and he came in second. Behind Bannister. The next guy wouldn’t do it for another three years.
Belief Causes Behavior
This is the reason that this is used as a “If you believe it, you can do it!” idea. But it might come with a corollary that isn’t so great:
If you believe it, you can achieve it. But for most people, somebody else has to achieve it for you to believe it.
While it may be possible to first change our beliefs, and then our behavior, it took Bannister two full years to change his beliefs about the mile. And that was after setting a national record in the Olympics and not getting a medal, which is a very motivating event. So maybe we have to add to our belief statement:
If you believe it, you can achieve it. But to believe it, you either have to have a really strong reason, and the time and patience to build that belief, or you have to see somebody else achieve it first before you can achieve it.
Of course, not a lot of guys ran a sub four after Bannister. Even today, running a sub four minute mile is an astounding accomplishment. Only about 50 people do it for the first time each year. From the laws of supply and demand, the more people that can do something, the less valuable it is.
Not So Positive
Gee, this doesn’t sound very much like the stuff that fills most law of attraction books. The kind that say if you only think the right thoughts, and want something, you will get it. In a way that’s true, but for most of us, that requires a FUCKTON of motivation, and a lot of time.
Consider also the actual shift in behavior that this massive motivation and time created. The change in behavior was of an already Olympic class runner to shave a few seconds of his mile. Most folks reading law of attraction books and jumping up and down in Tony Robbins seminars are expecting to go from overweight, out of shape nobody’s with tons of credit card debt, to being rich, famous celebrities!
Consider that personal growth is much like human invention. Slow and gradual changes piled on top of slow gradual changes. Consider your journey of personal growth to be the same. Slow, gradual improvements. Not groundbreaking miracles that come only from screaming the right affirmations over and over again.
Success Marches Forward
Maybe we’ll never figure out why we always think we’re at the top of our game as a species. Leave that for the philosophers. But for us mortals, consider that thinking that we have arrived, or we can arrive is very, very dangerous. Accept that no matter how good you are, no matter what you have achieved, you can always get better.
More importantly, accept that success doesn’t come floating out of the sky. Success is always a result of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Let that be the message from Bannister. Suck it up and do the work, and you’ll eventually get there. He had a goal, he had a reason and he had motivation. You got those three things, and so long you are moving forward, you’ll get there.
Mind Persuasion has tons of books and courses all designed to help you find success in your life, however you define it.