Why is 3:59.4 Such a Significant Number?

Have you ever wondered what you are capable of? What the upper limit of your potential actually is? How talented you might actually be?

Here’s how to find out.

Be honest with yourself, and think about your career 5-10 years from now. Realistically speaking, what do you see? Not the ideal career that exists in rare moments of wishful thinking, but the career you realistically expect to have.

Take a moment to write down a couple of the images your mind generated of future you. Got it? These pictures you have just created of your future self are (at least at the present moment) the approximate upper limit of what you will be capable of.

Wha..? That was just an imaginary picture in my head, who says that’s my limit?

Let me explain. What you’ve just done is clarified your beliefs about what is most likely to be possible for you in the future. And for better or for worse, what we believe is possible for us, sets the limit of what is possible for us.

Remember how I said that the key to success is persistence? Well, how persistent are you going to be if you don’t believe something is possible for you? How many setbacks before you decide to quit trying?

Our life is a reflection of all the choices we make

Someone once told me we cannot choose that which we don’t believe we can have. In other words, you will not continue to make the choice to keep trying, if ultimately, you don’t believe it is within the realm of possibility to eventually reach your goals. Indeed, why would one continue to try to do something if they believe they’re eventually going to fail anyway? Do you remember how indefatigably optimistic Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd was in Dumb and Dumber? Where his beliefs could not be shaken no matter what? We might laugh, but that’s the same dismissive laughter many successful individuals had to endure on their climb to improbable heights.

So what the heck is 3:59.4?

In 1954, it was believed by many (including a number of athletes, coaches, and physicians) that running a mile in under 4 minutes was humanly impossible. It was thought that the strain on one’s body would exceed its capacity. Some even suggested that one would die shortly after finishing.

Not everyone believed this, however. One individual in particular believed that man could run the mile in under 4 minutes. Furthermore, he believed that he could do it. This individual was a 25-year old British medical student named Roger Bannister.

For two years, Bannister came within seconds of the 4-minute mark, but never did reach his goal. Then, on May 6, 1954, he made history by running the mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.

Guess what happened when everybody else saw what he had done and began to think to themselves “Gee, if that guy did it, why couldn’t I do it?”

Yep, in the next three years, 16 different runners ran the mile in under 4 minutes.

Is future you inspiring enough?

Let’s go back to that image you created of future you. It’s probably a pretty decent imaginary future, but is it inspiring? Does it cause a jolt of electricity to spark within you, bring a smile to your face, and put a skip in your step just thinking about it? One of the keys to successful goal achievement is an inspiring enough goal which will keep you motivated when you encounter the inevitable bumps in the road.

But I don’t want to get my hopes up and be disappointed if I fail to get there.

Fair enough, but know that if you fall for this common trap, all you’re doing is substituting possible disappointment in the present for probable regret later. When asked what they wish they would have done differently in their lives, 4 out of 5 people regret not what they did do, but what they failed to do. In other words, when you look back on your life, you won’t regret those times when you did the gutsy thing and ultimately came up short. You will instead regret those moments where you took the easy way out, allowing fear to get the better of you.

You don’t know enough to be a pessimist

Keep in mind that you don’t know what’s possible for you. Nobody ever knows the upper limit of their potential. Research suggests that talent is overrated, and our experience confirms this. Look around and you’ll see that the most successful and accomplished people in the world are not necessarily the most “talented” or for whom things appear to come easily. Instead, they are among the most hard-working, persistent, passionate, and self-confident people you will ever meet.

Want to increase the upper limit of your potential? Just change your beliefs about what’s possible for you.

Plastic surgery of the mind


Well, our beliefs are essentially a reflection of the beliefs of those around us, the beliefs of respected authority figures in our life, and the things we tell ourselves.

Much as we might want to at times, we can’t change other people’s beliefs and prevent them from speaking their mind. However, we can change the pictures and movies that we see in our own mind. It’s time to revise that picture you created of future you.

Some nights when I go to bed I will tell myself, maybe 150 times, “I hit the ball solid. I hit the ball solid. What do I do for a living? I hit the ball solid.” I see the result from my mind’s eye out. I see myself from the fans’ perspective. From the manager’s view in the dugout. I picture myself on the field from different angles.

I don’t want to sound cocky, but early in the 1996 season, I visualized winning the American League Most Valuable Player award and holding it above my head. I visioned winning the batting title and holding up that trophy, too. I visioned a .380 batting average. In my mind I could see the number, flashing and blinking on exit signs….380….380….380.

-12-time All-Star and 3-time MVP Alex Rodriguez

Can’t see yourself as a principal in the New York Phil? Well, start where you can see yourself. Perhaps you are principal of a regional orchestra. Then maybe you move to a section role in a bigger orchestra in a more metropolitan area. Add a few sprinkles of experience, a dash or two of luck, and now you see yourself being the newest member of the NY Phil. From here, it may not be as much of a stretch to imagine yourself one day stepping into a principal role.

Is it really so crazy?

Progressively push yourself to imagine slightly higher or bigger versions of yourself, until the voice inside your head starts to say “Well, why not? Crazier things have happened, I don’t know for certain that this is impossible, maybe this could happen someday.”

Don’t worry about convincing that stubborn part of your brain that your dream is absolutely, positively, going to happen. At first, just get your mind to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, your dream is possible.

The one-sentence summary

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”    ~Henry Ford

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills, and perhaps a few other tweaks in your approach to practicing too. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing – a home-study course where you’ll explore the 6 skills that are characteristic of top performers. And learn how you can develop these into strengths of your own. And begin to see tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.


8 Responses

  1. This is really an inspiring post. I can’t thank you enough. If I haven’t lost count of how many people I’ve recommended this blog to, I soon will.

  2. I am not a musician but am a leader in my field of nuclear decommissioning and I find great passion and drive to become a better leader through your blog

  3. Dr. Kageyama, thank you! Your blog is going to change my life, I just started reading it recently, but lots of things have already been happening in my career. I am a classical musician living in new york city, do you speak in public anywhere? I would love to meet you someday.

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Clara,

      I’m glad to hear you’ve found the blog to be helpful! Most of my group workshops tend to be for organizations or institutions, but I’ve been considering the idea of putting together a workshop open to the public. I’ll be sure to put a notice on the blog if something like this were to happen.


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