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?

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, with time and performance experience, the nerves would just go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing, and start enjoying more satisfying practice days that also transfer to the stage.


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