“If you believe you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” —Henry Ford
It was the spring 1954, and there was one sports record that was as elusive as capturing a Yeti: the four-minute mile. The best that man had run in competition over the centuries, was 4:01.3 and that time had stood for nine years.
Athletes, and, perhaps more importantly, scientists, believed that breaking the four-minute barrier was physically impossible. The latter posited that our bodies would not allow man to run 1,760 yards in 240 seconds—case closed. As it was the era in which scientific pronouncements were viewed as absolutes, people around the globe blindly accepted that no one would beat the record.
There was one man, though, who felt differently—a British medical student named Roger Bannister. He was an unlikely holdout, as Mister Bannister (whose name today is prefaced with the moniker “Sir”) was a talented runner, but had failed to medal in the 1952 Olympics in the 1,500 meters (the race roughly equivalent to the mile). Although his studies occupied much of his life, Bannister carved out time to step up his training, as he fervently believed that he could shatter the seemingly inviolable mark.
Bannister went all in on May 6, 1954, as a mile race was held at a small track in Oxford. This was an important date, as it marked the last time that Bannister would have a shot at breaking the record before one of his key protagonists—an Australian runner named John Landy—would mount his own assault on the four-minute barrier.
The starter’s gun went off at 6 p.m. under less than ideal conditions, as it was cold, windy and soggy. Bannister fought crosswinds throughout the race and had the record in sight with one lap to go. Just when Bannister thought he had nothing left, he tapped into his deep mental reserves and did what others thought impossible: he finished in 3:59.4!
What followed in the ensuing months and years was almost as remarkable as what had occurred on May 6, 1954. With the four-minute barrier gone, runners felt no limitations. Landy, for example, lowered the record a mere six weeks later when he ran 3:57. In fact, in the next five years, 20 more runners also completed the mile in under four minutes. Think about it: no one had run in under four minutes in almost 2,000 years. Once one person did, 21 others followed suit in just five years.
“The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen.” —Frank Lloyd Wright
Bannister was hardly the most gifted runner of his time and was not, by any means, a physical specimen. Bannister dispelled what seemed to be a scientific and populist truism through a lot of training, his indomitable spirit, and a deep-seated belief in himself. His acute concern that Landy may beat him in setting the record, was also a likely factor in pushing Bannister even harder in his preparations.
The power of belief and its thesis that you can accomplish virtually anything you put your mind to, is pooh-poohed by some as New Age nonsense. The critics assail the concept as happy talk that is unproven and certainly has no place in professions such as law.
I beg to differ …
“Magic is believing in yourself; if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
None of us know what the earliest residents of this Earth thought, but some philosophers, who were here centuries ago, have had their words immortalized. One such person, Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome from 160 to 181 A.D., opined on this very topic of the power of belief:
“If you find something very difficult to achieve yourself, don’t imagine it impossible—for anything possible and proper for another person can be achieved as easily by you.” — (Meditations, 6.19)
This principle was espoused by many other leading minds through the centuries that followed. In the early to mid-1900s, the power of belief took center stage, as it was an essential underpinning of the books and speeches written and given by acclaimed persons such as James Allen, Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill. More recently, science, the discipline that had fomented the belief that the four-minute barrier could not be broken, now has demonstrated why the power of belief works, as our thoughts can actually change our genes and DNA.
The power of belief impacts all aspects of our lives, including the practice of law. I have seen this play out in the careers of lawyers who are of my vintage and with many others I have worked with or otherwise have known in 30-plus years in the legal field. There are many traits that define some of the most successful lawyers I know: intelligence, industriousness, relentlessness and risk-taking are just a few examples. If there is one, though, that every single one shares, it’s their unshakable belief in themselves.
I know of one such attorney whose family had no ties to the law and, in fact, had no one in it who had ever attended college. This lawyer was bright but certainly was not the most brilliant attorney I know. He seemingly was overmatched by much more highly pedigreed compatriots in his starting class in a highly acclaimed law firm. I remember him telling me, very quietly, that he would make partner and that he would out-achieve every person in his class. If he had said those words more publicly, it would have triggered derision, but I never doubted him as his resolve was so strong that it burned through when he talked with me. As you might have guessed, he has had a stellar career and has far surpassed the goals he set for himself.
“Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.” —Charles Kettering
You can use this power that lies inside you in any facet of your career. For some, it may involve progression up the ladder, to partner, general counsel, head of a government unit, a judgeship or running a law firm or company. For others, it may apply to setting specific goals, such as developing a certain amount of business, becoming a top-flight trial lawyer or dealmaker, or having the courage, and belief, that you will excel when the time arrives to make any type of change that confronts you.
The key is to form your belief, remain committed to it, and to then take action. In some situations, you may simply need to recall that you have successfully done something before and can do it again—much like the golfer who calmly drops a winning 15-foot putt after thinking about having done the same thing years ago. In other settings, it may entail shattering your own four-minute mile equivalent in your career by feeling, in your bones, that you can do it. Don’t be dissuaded by the naysayers, especially all the risk-averse persons who love to sit on the sidelines.
“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” —Stuart Chase
If you need inspiration, there are books and videos galore on this topic. The following are some of my favorite such books: “As a Man Thinketh,” James Allen, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (the revised edition by Mark Allen, New Word Library, Second Edition, is recommended); “The Magic of Believing,” Claude Bristol, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin (read the version that includes “TNT: It Rocks the Earth, ISBN 978-0-399-17322-6); “Think and Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill, Tribeca Books; “The Biology of Belief,” Bruce Lipton, M.D., Hay House, Inc., and “You Are the Placebo,” Dr. Joe Dispenza, Hay House, Inc. For those who prefer short videos, do an Internet search for “power of belief” and include the names Eduardo Briceno, Gregg Braden, Tony Robbins, and Carol Dweck—you won’t be disappointed.
You need to believe in yourself. If you don’t, why would you expect others to do so? •