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“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then
…even thought impossible.”
― Roger Bannister

Up until 1954, athletes in the world of running didn’t believe that running a mile in less than 4 minutes was possible. Several athletes came close to the 4-minute mark, but none were able to actually break the record. No one had ever done it before, and the overall belief at the time was that the body just wasn’t capable of achieving that speed. Everyone, except for one person that is; Sir Roger Bannister. 

Bannister was a 25-year-old British runner who participated in many races, including the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. While he did set a new record in another race category, running a mile in under 4 minutes was still an impossible dream. That didn’t prevent him from attempting.  His goal was to be the first to break the record. The closest an athlete had come to that was Gunder Hägg in 1945 at 4 minutes and 1 second. Bannister practiced regularly while attending medical school, and on May 6, 1954 he did it in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. He was the very first athlete to break the 4-minute mile barrier, breaking the previous record that was in place for 9 years.

While this is already an amazing feat in itself, what’s even more interesting is the fact that less than 2 months later, Banister’s record was broken with a time of 3 minutes and 58 seconds. Since then the record for fastest mile run has come down to 3 minutes, 43 seconds held by Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999.

This is not a story about running, record-breaking, or even about the late Roger Bannister, but a perfect example of Self-Confidence. 

Bannister wasn’t necessarily sure he would be able to break the 4-minute mile record, but he had a vision. He worked towards it, improving his running time little by little. He failed several times in his attempt to break the record, but that didn’t stop his resolve. During each failed attempt, he would analyze his performance and identify where and how he could improve. The only way he could have learned these crucial lessons was by trying and failing, learning and adjusting, and trying again. He wasn’t seeking perfection every time he ran. He was seeking progress. 

Once he broke the 4-minute mile record, it gave the other athletes the confidence that they too could run a mile in less than 4 minutes, and maybe even break Bannister’s record, if they prepared themselves, if they took action, if they tried. And they did.

Seeking perfection will kill your confidence. We wait to start, we wait to try, we wait to explore until everything is perfect. Because perfection is so elusive, we freeze and don’t get anything done. By not taking action, we don’t get to have the small successes to build up our confidence. Failing in itself doesn’t take away our self-confidence. It’s not learning from our “failures” and mostly not daring to try again that’s the evil-doer. Notice that I place the word failure in quotations. While many people consider failure to be a bad thing, most successful people recognize that it was the times that they failed that propelled them into becoming successful at whatever they were trying to achieve.

Our aim should be for progress, not perfection. If you did better today than you did yesterday, then you’ve shown progress and that is success! 

Are you born with Self-Confidence or is it a skill you can develop and master? The answer to that is Self-Confidence is a skill. It’s not part of your DNA, you’re not born with it and it doesn’t magically appear out of nowhere.  Reciting “I am confident” to yourself over and over again and hoping it will be there when you wake up in the morning is futile.

Self Confidence is earned; developed; built. If you want to be self-confident, you need to do the work. 

What does it take to build Self-Confidence? It takes…

  • The realization that failure is crucial in order to improve your performance;
  • Small incremental actions that will bring you closer to your goal. It will allow you to see how far you’ve come and will encourage you to take action tomorrow;
  • The willingness to try, to take risks, to learn from failures and try again. Low confidence comes from inaction. You’re better off trying and failing, than not trying at all;
  • Preparation. Practice your art;
  • Being resilient. Being flexible.

You aren’t defined by the errors you make. You, and your life, is a work in progress. Life is never finished. Whenever you try something, regardless if you were successful or not, celebrate yourself for trying. That one try has brought you one step closer to your dream. If you don’t let that mistake define you, and you try again, then soon enough you will have achieved your goal. 

The beauty of self-confidence is not that you’re sure you will achieve your goals every time you go for them, it’s that you recognize what it takes to achieve them. Your strength, wisdom, talent and perseverance are within you! 

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