It’s a funny thing about human nature: believing we can do something that seems difficult to us is often more than half the battle. The 4 Minute Mile is a case in point. Until May 6, 1954, many believed that no human being could run a mile in less than 4 minutes. But on that day, Roger Bannister, a British medical student and amateur athlete did just that — ran a mile in 3 min 59.4 sec. While times on the mile had been decreasing steadily over time, the 4 minute mark had become a psychological barrier for many and a goal for some. Exactly 46 days after Bannister broke the record, Australian John Landy beat his record by a split second, and in the coming years the record time shrunk even further still, as seen in the chart below. Psychologically, the other runners essentially said to themselves “If he can do it, I can do it.” And then they did.
Every day in our practice we see the same thing. It’s why we use so much demonstration as well as individual practice. When students see someone else demonstrating a behavior, even one that appears very difficult — for example, they see someone start a meeting in Partner mode, coming across as both warm and competent — it gives them the knowledge that they, too, can master those communication skills. As one student put it, “If she can do that, I can do that.” We live for those breakthrough moments.