When Roger Bannister set out to run the first sub-4-minute mile in 1954, most people thought it was impossible. In fact, some even argued he may die because humans weren’t meant to run that fast.
For years, hundreds of athletes had been trying to break the magic barrier, but none had quite reached it. After the world record stood at 4:01 for nine full years without anyone getting closer, athletes started to struggle with the idea that, just maybe, the experts had it right, and they were trying to do something impossible.
That´s when Bannister realized that physical training alone wouldn´t be enough to succeed in his quest. Even if he was physically prepared to run under 4 minutes, he would never be able to do it until he believed that he could do it.
So Bannister did something unusual at that time: Instead of just running, he began to incorporate visualization into his training regimen. Every day, he would imagine himself succeeding and breaking the 4-minute mile. He “saw” the starting line, “heard” the hundreds of fans, and “felt” the numbing pain he would encounter during the middle of the race, only to overcome it and break the 4-minute mark.
With the confidence he gained from this exercise, he ended up being the first person to break the barrier in 1954, in the process creating one of the most iconic moments in sports history.
The crazy thing came afterwards though, when two dozens of other runners broke the barrier in the same year! They didn’t suddenly have better training or equipment, but rather a belief in themselves that they could succeed as well.
The Power of Belief
Thomas Edison believed that he could invent the light bulb years before he succeeded.
Tiger Woods visualized his success for over a decade before he became of the greatest golfers of all time.
Muhammad Ali believed “I am the Greatest” long before anyone else saw it.
Jim Carrey, when he was still a struggling actor trying to make a living, wrote himself a check for $10 million for “acting services rendered”, and dated it for 1994, three years into the future. Every night, he would visualize himself succeeding and getting offers from movie producers. In 1994, he was offered $10 million for his role in Dumb and Dumber.
Arnold Schwarzenegger created a mental image of who and what he wanted to be first, and then lived that picture as if it were already true.
The list goes on, and on, and on.
One thing that nearly all the greats have in common is a belief in themselves and their abilities. The belief that anything is not just possible, but possible for them. That they can make whatever dream they have happen. Overcome obstacles. Beat the odds. Run under 4 minutes. Become the greatest.
“The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs.” - James Allen
Whenever we set a clear goal for ourselves, our brain`s goal-achieving system kicks into gear to make it happen. It is called the psycho-cybernetic mechanism, and works just like a thermostat:
When you set a thermostat to 70°, it will constantly monitor the temperature to make sure that it is right. The temperature may deviate from the setpoint when hot or cool air comes in, but the thermostat notices those changes and adapts by cooling or heating the room. No matter what happens on the outside, the thermostat will always hold the temperature even.
Your beliefs operate in exactly the same way. When you believe that you weigh 205 pounds, earn $50,000 per year, or run 4:01 in the mile, this creates a setpoint that your brain will always try to reach. It constantly monitors your progress, and if you fall off course, whether good or bad, your brain will do anything to get your back on track by motivating you to do better or coming up with excuses to stop you from overachieving.
Why most people fail to lose weight
When most people want to lose weight, they try to “power through” and use their willpower to sustain them. Joe gets excited, signs up for the gym, works out two hours a day, and bans all the chocolate chip cookies. He may even lose 10 or 20 pounds, but almost always, there comes the point where he suddenly falls off track and gains all the weight back, oftentimes even more.
Joe’s psycho-cybernetic mechanism kicked in and realized: “Joe is 20 pounds too light! He is supposed to weigh 205 pounds, not 195! And he wants to work out again! Alarm! We have to stop him! Let’s make him feel tired! Let’s come up with some excuses!”
And all of the sudden, all the good intentions and all the willpower in the world aren’t enough to sustain Joe’s new habit, and so he gives up and reverts back to his old behaviors.
Creating Lasting Change
In another article, I talked about two ways to create lasting change in your life: Tiny habits and our environment. Here’s a third one: Change your beliefs by visualizing yourself already being the person you want to be.
Imagine yourself 1, 5, or 10 years into the future, when all your dreams have come true. You have great health, amazing relationships, and the job of your dreams.
What would your life look like? How would that make you feel? What do you do on a daily basis? Imagine your perfect life in as much detail as possible and use as many senses as you can. See, hear, and feel yourself succeeding in every way.
Doing this once won’t do much good, but if repeated over time, this exercise can change your life. You will create new setpoints and beliefs about what is possible for you in life, be more motivated to pursue your goals, and act more and more in alignment with your ideal self.
A Word of Caution
Obviously, visualization is not a quick fix that will suddenly transform your life without any work. You won’t suddenly make millions or look like Arnold Schwarzenegger simply by imagining yourself to be like him.
To achieve anything in life, you need to get up and put in the work. As Schwarzenegger said, “everything is reps, reps, reps.” But visualizing your success will help you change your beliefs about what is possible for you, and therefore make it easier for you to take massive action towards your goals.
Every day, imagine the person you want to be. See it, hear it, feel it. Then act it. Pretend like you already are that person and simply act “as if”. Your life will never be the same.