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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

The Roger Bannister Effect

Through the first half of the twentieth century, experts thought it was impossible for a human to run a mile in under four minutes. Then, on a rainy day, in 1954, a skinny medical student from Oxford named Roger Bannister became the first person to run a sub-four-minute-mile. He electrified the world when he ran 5,280 feet in 3:59.4.

Sir Roger Bannister passed away this weekend at the age of 88.

Bannister showed others what was possible. In the decade that followed Bannister's run, five more runners achieved a 4 minute mile. And in the next decade… now knowing that the human body was capable of a four-minute mile.. 300 hundred runners would go on to break this time barrier.

This first-of-a-kind achievement, followed by many others that replicated became known as The Roger Bannister Effect.

“If you want to understand the Bannister effect,” says high-performance psychologist Michael Gervais, “you have to understand that the brain tells stories. When most hear about an impossible feat— the sub-four-minute mile— our first reaction is: ‘Not real, no way, not possible.’ But we have a strong need to make meaning out of experience and this new reality forces us to change our story. We move to, ‘That’s crazy, far out, unreal.’ Pretty soon, we accept this new reality and shift our paradigm further and this engages imagination. We start imagining the impossible as possible. What does impossible feel like, sound like, look like. And then we start to be able to see ourselves doing the impossible— that’s the secret…”

(Excerpt from The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler)

Think about The Bannister Effect in the world of social innovation, philanthropy, and impact! What limiting stories do we tell ourselves? What is possible if we ignore those stories? What if we are the FIRST to show others what’s possible?

  • Observe — in your community — how a civic leader makes a $1M gift. Suddenly, everyone is emboldened to ask that person for $1M.
  • Don’t make decisions for your prospects!! Many DECIDE something can’t be achieved. But we only decided that on the basis that it has never been done before.
  • Use the Rogister Bannister metaphor!

    Think about your work. Perhaps you strive to achieve a Roger Bannister Effect for social innovation. What if we could show others what was possible? With changing, saving, or impacting lives?

    “Just as Roger Bannister did in 1954, we want to show others what’s possible!” – You