The first step to achieve huge goals begins with believing in yourself. Here are two inspirational stories of people who made the impossible happen
1. George Dantzig who solved 2 unsolved statistical problems
2. Rodger Bannister who ran a 4 min mile the first time in history
- The story of George Dantzig
- The story of Rodger Bannister
- The power of belief
- Consequences of Lack of Belief
- What does believing in yourself lead to
- An Exercise To Check How Much You Believe in Yourself
- Conclusion: How to improve your self-belief?
The story of George Dantzig
Back in 1939, Dantzig was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. For one of the classes, Dantzig was late to class and had to rush to make it as soon as possible. After some huffing and puffing when Dantzig finally reached the class, the professor had already started. Though late, the professor allowed the student in.
Happy to be allowed into the class, Dantzig took a seat in silence and noticed two problems written on the blackboard. Guilty of being late, he could not muster the courage to clarify. He wrote down the questions and assumed that was the homework for all students.
He went back to his room and tried solving the problems. They seemed harder than usual. But he had the mindset of the spider who tried many times to get the web from one edge to another. He did not want to slip up on assignments, so he spent days to work out a solution. Unhappy that the assignment was overdue, he breathed a sigh of relief when he finally solved them. He handed them to the professor and forgot about them.
Six weeks later, Dantzig was in for a surprise when the professor visited him. “I want to talk about the 2 solutions you submitted”, the professor said. Dantzig would have probably thought he was about to receive a mouthful from the professor for not completing the assignment on time.
To his astonishment, the professor said that Dantzig had managed to solved two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics.
If Dantzig knew the professor had written unsolved problems on the blackboard, would he have found a solution? No one knows. But he managed to find answers to problems people considered unsolvable because he believed he could find a solution.
The story of Rodger Bannister
Back in the early 1950s, the world believed that running a mile in less than 4 minutes was beyond human abilities. Studies had indicated anyone who dared to try would die because the lungs would explode and the body would collapse.
A 4-minute mile was not considered ambitious or risky. People considered it physically impossible.
Doctors and scientists had a theory that the only way a runner could breach the 4-minute barrier was if the temperature was a stable 68 degrees with no wind blowing.
In the 1940s, the best time clocked for a mile was 4:01. The record remained for over a decade causing people to further believe running a 4-minute mile was beyond human prowess. But Bannister had different plans. He believed it was achievable and decided to hit the mark.
Back in those days, the experts would consider a runner crazy for even attempting such a feat, let alone break it. But Bannister stood by his belief and trained hard. Little by little, he worked his body to stretch its limits.
On May 6th, 1954, the day arrived. Make no mistake, it was not a day of the perfect weather of 68 degrees without any wind. Instead, it was cold, the track was wet with the wind blowing fiercely at 25 miles an hour. People would have laughed at anyone claiming to cover a mile in under 4 minutes that day.
Since Bannister was determined to beat the record next time he ran, he contemplated not running the race to save the energy due to the extreme weather conditions. When the wind subsided a little, he decided to run but the conditions were still far from ideal.
At the sound of the trigger, Bannister ran, one step after another. His shoes hit the wet track and the cold wind blew against his skin. But it would take more than a soggy track and a chilly breeze to shatter the belief of this man. Bannister ran lap after lap.
He clocked the first 3 laps in 3:01, averaging over 1 minute per lap. He had to run the last lap within 59 seconds if he had to achieve his goal. To make it worse, he was not even in the first place. Bannister pushed hard and took the lead with less than half a lap to go. He pushed his ultimate limits and hit the finish line.
He had to wait for the announcement because the technology was not advanced back then. The announcer teased the crowd by delaying the news as much as possible. When he finally said, “The time was three…”, the roar of the crowd drowned the rest of the announcement. No one could hear that Bannister had completed the race in 3:59.4, but that hardly mattered because people realized one man had finally done the impossible.
Rodger Bannister had busted the “scientifically proven” physical barrier. Every rival runner rejoiced because someone had proved that the barrier was only psychological. Once Bannister broke that mental hurdle, other runners started believing themselves as well. Only 46 days later, another runner broke the record by clocking 3:57.9. Once people started believing, it took less than 2 months to break the barrier which had stood for years.
The power of belief
Every massive dream, every successful entrepreneur and every pathbreaking invention started with a spark triggered within the mind of one single person. The spark nurtured by the power of belief and nourished by the energy of persistence led to unbelievable results.
Many people consider luck as a driving factor for success. Little do people know that hardly anyone triumphs by accident. Victory does not fall into the lap of anybody. People who look at results as a stroke of good fate fail to look at the hard work involved in the background.
In the stories where Dantzig and Bannister showed self-belief, people only look at the results and forget the effort that went in.
Consequences of Lack of Belief
If you are wondering is self-belief important, here is what happens when you lack belief.
1. Mediocre goals
If you do not believe in yourself, you will encounter the fear of failure in every step of your life. The same fear makes your goals shrink in size like Antman from the Marvel movies. The only difference is Antman can grow in size while your goals remain small forever.
With mediocre goals comes an ordinary life and run of the mill living.
2. Not achieving your full potential
Try standing up and twisting your body by your waist as much as you can.
Now imagine your body turning as flexible as rubber where you can complete a 360-degree circle. Believe it happening for real.
Now try twisting your body again. You should be able to twist further this time.
That small exercise illustrates the power of belief. When you do not believe in yourself, you fail to live up to your full potential. For example, an athlete winning at the university level finds the nationals beyond his ability. Maybe the same person had the potential to win Olympic gold, but no one will ever know.
3. Convincing your brain that you’re average
Tony Robbins explains in his book Awaken the Giant Within, how human beings have a Reticular Activation System(RAS) within us. The RAS determines what you notice in the world around you. When you do not believe in yourself, you start looking at other mediocre people and consider that as the benchmark.
Your brain has a tricky operational style. You can convince your brain to believe anything you like unless of course, the belief is too absurd. Tell yourself that you’re average and your mind accepts even if you have the potential to achieve more.
4. Losing before even trying
If you visit the gym, you will notice an umpteen number of people lifting the same weight every day. Ask them why and they will tell you that lifting heavier is beyond their physical capacity. Any person can lift more weight by incremental increase barring any medical conditions. Yet, the barrier in the minds of people stops them from stepping the weights up a notch.
If you believe you aren’t good enough, you lose before the fight has even started.
Such behavior occurs often in sports where teams and individuals fear the strong contenders so much that they lose even before the contest has begun. Many of the boxing and MMA fights are over before the contestants step into the ring.
5. Excuses and self-depreciation
When you believe you cannot do it, you never hold yourself at fault for any failure. You accuse the circumstances, another person or lack of luck for your loss. Many stock market traders criticize the market for losing money. If such people believed in their abilities, they would have put in the effort to handle such scenarios. Even if they made a mistake, they would look at how to avoid such damage the next time.
If you do not believe in yourself, you manage to find excuses left, right and center.
- Did not get promoted? My boss does not take my side
- Lost the game? The referee made a terrible decision
- Did not workout today? It was raining
Such excuses are your way of assuring yourself that you did your best. But did you? I don’t think so.
What does believing in yourself lead to
The importance of believing in yourself is understated. When you improve your self-belief, things start changing around you.
1. You start living your dreams
Only when you believe that you can achieve your dream can you manage to accomplish it. If you want to become an entrepreneur, you will start working towards making it happen. If you think running a business is not your cup of tea, you will never even dare take the first step.
To start living your dream, you need to believe in yourself.
2. You focus on the right things
Your brain has a bazillion things to do each day. When you believe in your dreams, your mind knows what to focus on and what to discard.
For example, let’s say you want to become an actor one day but you currently work full time at a different job. If you have set your eyes on that goal and believe you will achieve it one day, your brain works on putting in the effort. If you have to choose between partying with friends and attending an acting class one weekend, your brain says no to the booze and drags you down the acting hall. The best part is you do not even realize what your brain did for you.
If you think you are too old to pursue a career in acting you will end up drinking all night and wake up with a hangover.
3. More opportunities seem to magically appear
If 2 people have a goal to shoot a mango by pelting stones, who do you think has a better shot at success? The one who tries many times or the one who gives up after a couple of attempts assuming a bad aim? The answer is obvious. The more the effort, the higher the possibility of the result.
Your belief makes you a hard-worker like the person who tried more shots. You attempt more things, learn from your mistakes, take risks, share ideas and look out for opportunities. The power of conviction transforms you for good.
The harder you work, the longer you persist, the more attempts you make towards reaching your goals, the better are your chances of achieving them. There is no sorcery at play or some reaction in the cosmos or an unbelievable stroke of luck. It is simply a game of numbers.
4. You start doing more
Your brain makes decisions in ways you cannot always comprehend. If you believe you can achieve a goal, you do more and more to make it happen. If you lack belief, your mind chooses to skip an action thinking it isn’t worth the effort anyway.
Until Rodger Bannister ran the 4-minute mile, no one bothered to take a stab at it. Bannister accomplished the target by putting in more practice and building better fitness routines. Since he had a belief that he could breach the so-called impossible timeline, he gathered the determination to work towards it. If he lacked belief, he would have put in far lesser effort. Would he have achieved his goal without self-belief? Probably not, but we will never know for sure.
An Exercise To Check How Much You Believe in Yourself
If you had a magic wand which would help you achieve anything you wish, what would you choose? Do not think of something impractical for humans like flying in the skies without any gear, being able to control metal like Magneto or other superpowers. Think of anything massive but realistic.
Do you want to be the richest man in the world? Do you want to be a serial entrepreneur? Do you want to scale the Everest? Do you want to visit every country on this planet?
Think of your wish before you read further.
Ok, are you done? Now think why haven’t you achieved it yet? Have you even tried? If you are already working on making it happen, you have a strong self-belief. But if you think your goal is impossible to achieve without a magic wand, you lack the belief in yourself.
Conclusion: How to improve your self-belief?
Believing in yourself involves no rocket science. You just have to toggle a switch in your brain. The challenge however is, the switch is old and rusty, so it won’t turn on easily.
I can tell you one and only one tip to help make the mental change. I will present the tip as a hypothetical story.
A group of frogs decided to have a competition. The target was to reach atop a tall tower. All the participants geared up for the race and a crowd gathered to watch the event. The participants could hear the crowd muttering things like, “no frog can do it”, “the tower stands too tall”, “the goal is impossible”.
As the event went by, some frogs started falling off. The crowd continued saying, “See, we already knew the result. These frogs are foolish to even try.”
Some frogs continued higher and higher. The crowd murmured, “Stop trying you lunatics, you will hurt yourself.” Soon enough more frogs started believing what the crowd was saying. They either fell off or gave up.
But one frog kept going. Little by little, he kept going higher and higher while the crowd kept yelling at him to stop. By the end of the competition, to everybody’s surprise, the frog managed to reach the top while the others had given up. All the frogs swarmed around him to know the secret behind his success.
It turned out… that the frog was deaf.
So to start believing in yourself turn a deaf ear to what people have to say. The world around you consists of mediocre people who pull you down to their level and tell you, “You cannot do it.” Do not listen to them. The power of believing in yourself is unparalleled.
The only tip I have for you to enhance your self-belief is this:
To start believing in yourself, stop believing what others believe about you.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.