At the core of human achievement lies an innate desire to surpass boundaries, both physical and psychological. Throughout history, there have been defining moments that showcased the extraordinary capabilities of the human mind and body. From Sir Roger Bannister's sub-four-minute mile to Carl Lewis's 100-meter sprint in under 10 seconds, these feats exemplify the power of mindset in transcending limitations… namely self-limitations.
Let’s explore the profound impact of mindset on breaking past mental and psychological barriers, drawing inspiration from iconic achievements and contemporary examples in various domains.
As we dive in, keep in mind that we’re not expecting any of our readers to break track and field or weightlifting records. That would be to miss the point entirely. If that’s your thing, then by all means, we’re here to support your endeavor, but we want you to apply the philosophy of psychological breakthrough to your own lives; your own pursuits. Maybe you just want to be the best spouse or parent possible. Maybe you want to win your age group at the local 5k. It doesn’t matter. We can apply discipline across all pursuits and achieve the unattainable, simply by shifting our mindsets and being intentional with our time, our thoughts, and our actions.
The pursuit of controlling one’s mind to affect outcomes is nothing new. A couple thousand years ago, the Stoic philosophers, who were doers rather than just thinkers, put this wisdom into practice. At The Fittest, we’re big fans of embracing the wisdom of our ancestors and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Rather we need to simply commit to applying the wisdom to our own goals and lives.
Sir Roger Bannister's historic achievement in breaking the four-minute mile barrier in 1954 serves as a testament to the transformative power of mindset. Prior to Bannister's feat, the four-minute mile was perceived as an insurmountable obstacle, a psychological barrier that seemed beyond human reach. However, Bannister's unwavering belief in his ability to overcome this challenge propelled him to success. His achievement not only redefined the limits of human performance but also inspired countless others to push past their own mental barriers. What happened in the aftermath is that, years later, high-school runners across the country routinely run sub-4s. High school kids. Once it was deemed an achievable goal rather than a fairy tale, it became commonplace. All it took was the drive and determination of one man.
Bannister's accomplishment underscores the importance of mindset in achieving extraordinary feats. It was not merely his physical prowess that distinguished him, but rather his mindset of relentless determination and unwavering self-belief. As coaches, we have witnessed firsthand how individuals often underestimate their own capabilities, setting artificial limits based on perceived constraints. However, once they embrace the mindset of possibility and refuse to be confined by preconceived notions, they unlock their true potential. For example, when we coach runners, they can’t fathom that the discomfort they’re experiencing is a discomfort that they can endure and sustain for quite a long period of time, but once they know this to be the case, personal bests are around every corner.
The Stoic philosophy offers valuable insights into cultivating a mindset of resilience and determination. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, emphasized the importance of the "inner citadel," a metaphor for the fortress of the mind. He wrote, "You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength." This philosophy teaches us to focus on what is within our control, namely our thoughts and actions, rather than external circumstances. Those thoughts and actions will define our successes and failures. We either think and act like a champion or we don’t. The outcome will reflect that.
By embracing the Stoic principle of the inner citadel, individuals can cultivate a mindset of unwavering determination and resilience. Instead of allowing external factors, genetic predetermination, and ESPECIALLY self-limiting beliefs to dictate their success or failure, they focus on harnessing their inner strength and fortitude to overcome obstacles. This mindset empowers individuals to push past mental barriers and achieve extraordinary feats, regardless of external challenges.
Carl Lewis's record-breaking 100-meter sprint in under 10 seconds further illustrates the power of mindset in achieving exceptional results. Like Bannister, Lewis possessed a vision of success that transcended conventional boundaries. Through meticulous visualization and unwavering self-belief, he shattered the mental barrier that had previously limited the performance of sprinters around the world.
Lewis's achievement serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of mental rehearsal and visualization in overcoming psychological barriers. By vividly imagining success and refusing to accept limitations, individuals can harness the power of their minds to achieve remarkable outcomes. As coaches, we emphasize the importance of mental conditioning and visualization techniques to help athletes break through mental barriers and unleash their full potential.
Cut to a few years later… Entire fields are running under 10 seconds in a single race. Again… One man changed the course of what was possible. Lewis wasn’t special in his physical abilities. Sure, he was gifted, but not more so than a lot of other would be 9 point something runners. It was just that he decided to DO IT.
Seneca, another prominent Stoic philosopher, emphasized the power of perception in shaping our reality. He wrote, "We suffer more often in imagination than in reality." This insight highlights the importance of our mindset and interpretation of events in determining our experience of life. By cultivating a mindset of resilience and perspective, individuals can transform challenges into opportunities for growth and self-improvement.
Seneca's wisdom reminds us that our perception of challenges ultimately determines their impact on our lives. By adopting a positive and resilient mindset, individuals can overcome even the most daunting obstacles and achieve extraordinary feats. This philosophy provides a powerful framework for cultivating mental resilience and breaking past psychological barriers.
In 2006, Andrew Bolton made headlines by lifting a staggering 1,000 pounds in the deadlift, setting a new world record. Bolton's achievement was not merely a test of physical strength but also a triumph of mindset. By embracing the challenge with unwavering determination and visualizing success, Bolton shattered the mental barrier that had previously constrained what was deemed achievable in strength sports.
Bolton's accomplishment underscores the power of mindset in pushing past perceived limitations. Too often, individuals are held back by self-imposed mental barriers, doubting their ability to achieve extraordinary feats. However, by adopting a mindset of resilience and refusing to be deterred by obstacles, individuals can defy expectations and surpass even the most daunting challenges.
This is yet another example of something once thought impossible becoming an everyday occurrence by big strong dudes like Eddie Hall or that big dude from Game of Thrones.
Speaking of Eddie Hall. This guy is an shining example of adopting a mindset that nothing is impossible. Once a decorated swimmer, he became the world’s strongest man, then a boxer (who fought the Game of Thrones guy), a television host, and a hybrid athlete of epic proportions. Now that’s a resume.
Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher known for his teachings on the dichotomy of control, emphasized the importance of focusing on what is within our control and letting go of what is not. He wrote, "Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing." This principle reminds us that while we cannot always control external circumstances, we have the power to control our responses and mindset.
By embracing Epictetus' teachings on the dichotomy of control, individuals can cultivate a mindset of resilience and determination. Instead of being consumed by external factors beyond their control, they focus on harnessing their inner strength and fortitude to overcome obstacles. This philosophy empowers individuals to break past mental barriers and achieve extraordinary feats, regardless of external challenges.
This is applied, in practice, to what we called the “Do it anyway” attitude. Motivation is fleeting. It waxes and wanes. Reliance on motivation results in making excuses. “It’s raining, so I’ll skip today’s run” turns into an excuse tomorrow, mediocrity next week, and in 5 years you’re laying in bed eating Cheetos and watching Law and Order reruns, waiting to succumb to a life unlived. What we need instead of motivation is DISCIPLINE. Discipline stands in the gap between extraordinary accomplishments and Law and Order reruns. We know… not as eloquent as a long-read philosopher, but the mental image it provokes is relevant nonetheless.
In recent years, we have witnessed a paradigm shift in athletic achievements, with hybrid athletes redefining the boundaries of human potential. From men over 50 running marathons in under 2 hours and 30 minutes to CrossFit athletes excelling in diverse disciplines, these examples showcase the limitless possibilities when it comes to human performance.
Ryan Hall (not related to Eddie, but just as impressive) was one of the greatest marathoners of all time. He’s certainly the American GOAT. Now he’s a shredded 190 pounds and is shooting to deadlift 500 pounds and run a mile… all in under 5 minutes. Sounds insane by previous standards, but he’ll do it and then, incidentally, I think it’s something I’m going to achieve in the next couple of years (and I’m 44).
These hybrid athletes exemplify the power of mindset in transcending traditional limitations and embracing a holistic approach to athleticism. By refusing to be confined by narrow definitions of athletic ability, they challenge the status quo and inspire others to push past their own mental barriers. As Eliud Kipchoge famously said, "No human is limited," reminding us that our potential is boundless if we dare to believe in ourselves.
While these examples highlight the extraordinary achievements made possible by a powerful mindset, they also underscore the prevalence of mediocrity in our society. Too often, individuals settle for average results, succumbing to self-doubt and complacency. The real barrier to achieving greatness lies not in physical or intellectual limitations, but in the lack of resolve, determination, and action.
To break past mental barriers and unleash our full potential, we must cultivate a mindset of relentless determination and unwavering self-belief. By refusing to accept mediocrity and embracing the challenges that lie ahead, we can push past perceived limitations and achieve extraordinary feats. As coaches and mentors, it is our responsibility to instill this mindset in others, empowering them to unlock their true potential and pursue their dreams with unwavering determination.
The power of mindset cannot be overstated when it comes to breaking past mental and psychological barriers. From Sir Roger Bannister's sub-four-minute mile to Andrew Bolton's 1,000-pound deadlift, these iconic achievements exemplify the transformative impact of mindset on human performance. By visualizing success, embracing challenges, and refusing to accept limitations, individuals can push past mental barriers and achieve extraordinary feats.
As coaches, mentors, and individuals, it is our responsibility to cultivate a mindset of unwavering determination and relentless self-belief. By empowering ourselves and others to embrace the challenges that lie ahead, we can unlock our true potential and achieve greatness in every aspect of life. In the words of Eliud Kipchoge, "No human is limited." It is only by breaking past mental barriers and embracing the power of mindset that we can truly unleash our full potential and redefine what is possible.
Now we’ve just told you WHAT is possible with the right mindset. It’s a bit of a hoo-rah, cheerleader, you-can-do-it article. This is typically not our style. We gave you a whole lot of examples of what other people have said and done. We’ve given you the WHAT but left out the HOW.
Rest assured, though, that’s by design. We’re not done.
The short attention span of the average human (me included) dictates that we deliver things in small, manageable, easy to digest chunks. Over the coming weeks, I promise the HOW is coming. This isn’t a race. Lifestyle changes and mindset shifts take time.
So be inspired by what we’ve shared and get ready to start applying it next week.