Extremes of Human Potential

“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then…it was even thought impossible.”― Sir Roger Bannister

Before 1954 running a mile under 4 minutes was considered a godly job. Did you know that men tried to break this 4 minute barrier for over a thousand years? There are legends about men who had put furious bulls chasing behind them during the race to increase the possibility of doing the impossible. Experts said it couldn’t be done. For hundreds of years it was an established opinion that the human body was not capable of a 4-minute mile and it wasn’t just considered dangerous, it was thought impossible.

“For years milers had been striving against the clock, but the elusive four minutes had always beaten them… It had become as much a psychological barrier as a physical one. And like an unconquerable mountain, the closer it was approached, the more daunting it seemed.” — John Bryant

But us humans never stopped trying! In 1923, Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, recorded a time of 04:10. In the 1940’s, the mile record was pushed to 4:01, where it stood for nine years, as runners struggled with the idea that, just maybe, the so called experts had it right. They had begun to think that “Perhaps the human body had reached its limit”. But a few years later a British athlete call Roger Bannister decided to make a determined effort to beat the magical four-minute barrier for the mile. On that day, Roger Bannister became the first human to run the 4-minute mile. He succeeded with a clock time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds at Oxford on May 6, 1954 breaking the previous world record of 4 minutes & 1.3 seconds.

The actual day was cold, wet and windy and the record attempt was nearly called off. However, at the last moment, the wind died down, and Bannister decided to take his chance. He was led out by two pacemakers Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher who led him for the first three laps. Then Bannister made his last effort for the line. Clearly, on the verge of exhaustion, Bannister almost fainted over the line, before the time keeper (Norris McWhirter,) read out his time.

Surprisingly, just 46 days after Bannister’s achievement, an Australian named John Landy became the second person to beat the four-minute mile setting a new world record of 3 minutes 57 seconds. Within next 4 years 21 other athletes had crossed and added their name to the history of sports. Over the last half century, more than a thousand runners have conquered this barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach.

“what are the extremes of human potential?”

Why did that happen? How could someone accomplish something which was regarded impossible? These questions lead us to the question, “what are the extremes of human potential?”.

In the book The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook explains and emphasize the reason as the mindset behind it rather than the physical achievement.

How is it, they wonder, that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? “Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? Was there a genetic engineering experiment that created a new race of super runners? No. What changed was the mental model. 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.” That’s what makes icons like Roger Bannister so unforgettable — and so important.

Of course the human capacity varies from person to person. If we look at the previous questions from that angle, the answer is that “it depends on the person”. That is the truth. But that exact answer has been problem for most of us and it has caused us to achieve significantly less than we are capable of. Think back about the moments that you thought someone else is ahead of you just because he’s more naturally talented than you? Think about the million times you thought, “ That’s it. I can’t work anymore. I need a break.” If you think a little bit more you might realize that these thoughts are the actual barrier that puts limits to yourself. That’s what drags you behind from achieving something that you badly want but afraid to try. This doubt that we have about the limits of our potential as individuals have made us vulnerable in many occasions knowingly or unknowingly. In the case of Sir Roger Bannister, it took a sense of extreme certainty to do what was considered un-doable. He succeeded because he alone was able to create that certainty in himself without seeing any proof that it could be done. Once he crashed through that barrier, the rest of the world saw that it was possible. This clearly shows that we might be good enough for the things that we forget thinking that we aren’t! The Navy SEAL 40% rule is closely connected with this idea.

This whole idea is about the extremes of our potential. If you’ve experienced something really painful or unbearable and still survived you know that your body is capable of much more than you think. Physiologists used to believe that we feel exhaustion when we physically cannot go any farther. This makes sense in theory, but it has been never proven that is what make anyone actually give up. It is our mental state which forces us to stop moving forward. But this might not be the best approach in physical activities if you are not prepared well! Otherwise believing in the 40% rule blindly, can harm you severely and it might even end up from death! But, there’s certainly something to be extracted from that idea, which says that we must not lose hope or give in just because it seems like all hope is lost at one point of the process of achieving greatness.

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

Another different part of this story are the disabilities that have been gifted to some of us have from birth. The reason I used the word “gifted” is because I genuinely believe the differently-abled are gifted than the rest. I consider being different or called different as a privilege. What do you know about Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean)? Did you know that he suffered from a severe speaking disorder? His improper flow of words resulted in him being rejected from almost all the television networks and acting jobs that he applied to. But he didn’t give up. He learned something valuable from his long term dedication to the course. That is the power of believing that he can do great things no matter how many times he failed or how many times he was rejected by auditions. He knew that not being handsome like other actors is not a disadvantage but an advantage. Because he could recreate himself as well as a CHARACTER that suited him and looked promising. He built a new character for himself, showcasing his talent while adapting to his capabilities. That was the character of Mr. Bean!

Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Jim Carrey, Albert Einstein, Keira Knightley, Pablo Picasso, Steven Spielberg, George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy…

What do these people had in common? They all had dyslexia from early age. But did it stop them from achieving greatness? Nope! So whatever problem that you have right now you should not stop you from achieving greatness for sure!

Einstein was slow to talk. He couldn’t speak until age four. Later Stanford economist Dr. Thomas Sowell even coined the controversial term “Einstein Syndrome“ to describe exceptionally bright people whose speech is delayed. He was not very good at other subjects except mathematics & Physics. But he turned out to be someone totally different because he simply didn’t think of him as a small, differently-abled person. What if you could do something extraordinary at one point of your life?

Just like that even if you’re limited or contracted by something it doesn’t men that its the end of the world. Always remember that you are the person who puts boundaries to our capabilities. We define ourselves and everything around us. There’s a beautiful saying “We become what we mostly think about”. That is 100% true. All your emotions and thoughts play a major part of who you are what you are doing to become! If you always think like a loser, that everyone around is better than you, you’re just going to prove them right. don’t let that happen. If you’re such a person rediscover yourself. Add a new meaning to your life. Climb out of that shell of yours which limits you, which stops you from achieving something that you terribly want. Our brains and our thinking pattern act critical role in determining human endurance. This positive thinking pattern is what separates elite group of humans and high performers from the rest of the “living dead”. People limit themselves and put boundaries to their capabilities not knowing what we are capable of. Humans are nearly always capable of pushing just a little bit harder with just a little bit more effort even when you think your tank is empty. Change is always possible no matter who you are or how bad you are at something. Its never too late. Begin the change with your inner thoughts, think like a champion. Theodore Roosevelt once said , “Believe you can and you’re halfway there!”

People set benchmarks by breaking someone else’s and records are meant to broken. Some of them are broken in the face of fear and defeat. Doesn’t matter where your energy comes from if you keep persisting. People should be forced to be in extreme situations sometimes to accomplish Something phenomenal. When you’re surrounded by the right people, right times, right set of rituals…your growth is unstoppable. That’s why they say to surround yourself with positive and healthy people because good companionship can give you the strength to complete tasks which you thought you can’t do at first. You have to believe something different can happen. You have to believe in yourself before no one else does. If you’re not confident about you, don’t expect others to treat you the same way. The successful don’t accept the limitations, and minor setbacks. They don’t just out-perform their rivals. They transform the sense of what’s possible in their fields.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” -Sir Edmund Hillary

The first man who climbed the mount Everest, -Sir Edmund Hillary once said that, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. Don’t you feel like that’s all you need to know to achieve greatness in life? :)

Ponder & Wander... That'll make you an interesting person || Engineering Undergraduate ||

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