Is your belief system (BS) curtailing your growth and development?
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By ROSHAN THIRAN
At the 2012 Olympics in London, an old man named Sir Roger Bannister was one of the torch-bearers. Aged 83, Bannister is one of Britain’s top neurologists, and regarded by many as Britain’s finest athlete. He never won an Olympic medal, but is credited as the man who helped the world believe in achieving the impossible. In the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, a then 23-year-old British medical student, Bannister set a British record in the 1,500m. Unfortunately for him, he finished fourth and did not win any medal. This humiliation pushed him to attempt something never done before in human history – to run the mile under four minutes.
For centuries, people believed that it was impossible for a human being to run a mile in less than four minutes. In fact, many doctors and scientists concluded that the human body would break apart and that it could be fatal. The world was in consensus that it was impossible to do. Everyone believed it was impossible, except Bannister. His belief system was not in tandem with the world. As a medical student, he was well aware of the physiology and composition of the human body. He was also a good runner and knew his own limits. He knew planning and strategy were the key to breaking the four-minute mile.
Bannister started training to achieve his goal but faced significant criticism. First, people mocked him for having an impossible goal. Everyone knew he was wasting his time. “Why waste time on something impossible,” scoffed the critics. It did not deter him. In fact, he started using unconventional training methods. This again resulted in heavy condemnation. In spite of the barrage of disapproval, he kept focused on his goal.
On a chilly May 6, 1954 evening, Bannister’s date with destiny arrived. He journeyed to the Iffley Road track in Oxford, and could not believe the conditions that greeted him. A horrible cross-wind, rain, cold temperature and a drenched slippery cinder track would be the site he had to break the record. According to some sports physiologists whom he consulted, the only way he could remotely achieve his goal is if he had “ideal conditions”. This meant having temperatures around 20 degrees celcius, having no discernible wind, and a track made of hard dry clay. His conditions were completely the opposite of ideal.
The race began. Bannister ran the first lap in 57.5 seconds. He continued running in blistering fashion the next two laps clocking in at 1:58.2 and then 3:00.7. He had another lap to go. Could he do it under four minutes? The crowd started shaking their heads. Impossible! No one could do it. He would fall in exhaustion. In fact, the two runners who were keeping pace with him had collapsed out of breath in lap two and lap three. Suddenly, with 300 yards to go, Bannister started running faster, tapping into every ounce of energy he had and hit the finish line, passing out momentarily as he broke the tape.
The crowd waited for an official announcement. Many believed he was not successful. Finally the announcement flared over the loudspeaker: “A time which is a new track record, and which, subject to ratification, will be a new English native, a British national, a British all-comers, European, British Empire, and world record. The time was three minutes fifty-nine and four-tenth seconds.”
Bannister had done the impossible. Within one year of him breaking the world record, 37 other runners broke the four-minute mile barrier. And the following year saw 300 other runners go under four minutes for the mile. In 6,000 years of human history, no one was able to break the four-minute mile, but once Bannister proved it was possible, so many others have been able to do it. Why?
It’s Your BS!
It had nothing to do with improved training or better tracks or more skilled athletes. It had all to do with the belief systems ingrained in these athletes’ mind. The moment Bannister showed the world it was possible, people believed it was possible.
There is no other more dominant directing force in human behaviour than belief. Your beliefs have the power to create and to destroy. And these beliefs are all stored up in your mind’s eye in a system I call your BS – Belief System!
Your BS is shaped from childhood by your upbringing and life experiences. It is the set of precepts which govern your thoughts, words, and actions. If you believe something is impossible, you will not attempt it. Centuries ago, people held to the belief that the world was flat. This belief curtailed exploration for fear of falling off the earth. Christopher Columbus believed otherwise and had a hard time trying to get funding to go to India with his ‘world is round’ theory.
Even today, we have so many beliefs that curtail our progress. Many parents believe that success can only be attained through certain “stable” jobs such as a doctor, lawyer, engineer or accountant. They, then force their children to pursue such careers even when there is no interest or passion, resulting in mediocrity of performance. Belief systems determine success in your business. Fortune’s manager of the century, Jack Welch, claimed that “ the essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important – and then get out of their way while they do it.”
By influencing the belief systems of his employees that their work was so significant, he managed to draw out the best performance from them.
Are you a Victim of your BS?
The British philosopher Stephen Law has described some belief systems as “claptrap” as they “draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves… if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again”. Many times, we are trapped in our belief system, not realising we are slaves to it. There are numerous examples of organisational belief systems that have trapped companies and stifled their growth.
For years, IBM and traditional computer hardware resellers believed that you could not sell computers online. Dell shattered that belief. Likewise, Netflix destroyed Blockbuster Videos by overcoming a traditional belief on how videos should be rented. For years, music producers believed that selling music via CDs and DVDs was the only way to get value and profits.
So, when P2P networks like e-Mule and e-Donkey, which allowed people to download music for free popped up, they immediately sued them and tried to get them closed. Instead of succeeding, more of such sites sprouted. They continued to keep firm to their belief until Apple decided to leverage the P2P sites and make money through iTunes.
Last year, I spoke at the East Asia Insurance Conference where another speaker spoke about the need for the insurance industry to innovate and create more game-changers. His clarion call for change was really a call to break the “Four-minute mile” in his industry. For many of us, we are stuck in our ways. Our industry is griped with fear of change. When a ‘Bannister’ appears and drives change in that industry, others will almost immediately follow suit. For example, prior to Apple entering the telecommunication and music industry, most players kept to industry norms and beliefs.
The same happened with Southwest Airlines in the aviation business, Nirvana in the “property” industry and Starbucks with the café business. They were all like Bannister, breaking belief systems in their industry. So often our beliefs hold us back and limit our progress. So, what are other limiting beliefs that we may have? Among them are:
I don’t have the talent to do this.
I can’t change. This is just the way I am.
I am born with no talent.
I have to be realistic.
Being average is OK.
He has always been luckier than me.
Who am I kidding? I am a nobody.
They are successful because they’ve been doing this for many years.
I don’t have the educational background required for success.
Just as we have limiting beliefs about ourselves, we also may have beliefs about other people, which bind us in many ways. If we see someone by himself, we may interpret that he is not friendly and may not ask him to help us. If we think others are more capable and superior, then we will not challenge them.
About 15 years ago, I lived in London and used to play for a small team in a park weekly. Our team was pretty decent and we used to win our matches against rather poor opponents. I always believed that we would win every game as the opponents were weak. One Saturday, the opposition team took a 3-0 lead at half-time. I was extremely angry that we were losing to a “lousy” team. So, I started taking the ball and dribbling towards the goal. I scored a goal, then another, and finally late in the game another goal.
The game ended 3-3 and I was upset we drew such a game. After the game, some of the other team members came to shake my hand and introduced themselves. I was shocked that many of them were part of a professional football set-up in Sweden. If I had known I was playing against professional players, I would never have dreamed of dribbling pass them. But as my BS told me that these were just our usual “normal” opponents, I played out of my skin.
Overcoming self-defeating beliefs
Here are a few steps to help you reframe your belief system:
> Identify those self-defeating beliefs in your life that are derailing you from your goal. Review this list of “derailing” beliefs and start noticing when they pop up in your life.
> Identify specific situations which trigger these beliefs.
> Begin the process of changing your belief system. This requires changes in three areas:
1. Change your language – Stop saying “I can’t do this” and say “yes, I can”
2. Change your physiology – Get up and move around whenever you feel a belief is constricting you. Jumping and moving around is a powerful tool to interrupt your thought patterns.
3. Change your focus – Stop focusing on how great the opponent is or how unqualified you are but focus on your end goal. Keep reminding yourself that regardless of how challenging the road ahead may be, you must overcome these challenges to achieve your goal. Remember, the four-minute mile was not a physical challenge, but a mental one.
Belief alone does not yield success. Great break-throughs can only be accomplished through hard work, planning, leadership and practice, but without the fire of belief, most people quit. Bannister practised hard, strategised and ran hard. But if his belief system told him it was impossible, he would probably have never achieved his feat. We often compromise our goals through our limiting and self-imposed BS which cripples us with fear. Only you can change that.
What are the things in your life that you want to do but everyone thinks are impossible? Maybe even you believe they are impossible. Perhaps it is a goal you have given up on, or a target you think can’t be achieved. Maybe you think it is impossible to turn your business around or to inspire your employees?
Whatever may be your ‘four-minute’ hurdle, you can only start planning and working to achieve it if your belief system is altered. So, start by re-framing your beliefs from “I can’t find a solution” to the belief that “I can”. Bannister was asked in a recent interview what he thought from a standpoint of physiology was the limit to our ability to break records. His reply was “There is no absolute limit.” The same applies to us. There are no limits to what we can achieve, if only we believe.