In August of 2008 I sat alone in my living room watching the Olympics when suddenly I was up off the couch and yelling at the television. In the next instant I was crying because I knew I witnessed something incredible. Something that still inspires me today.
When you believe something you give your mind and body an unquestionable command to behave or perform in a certain way. Think about it. Our beliefs are essentially the rules we live by. They keep us playing small or they encourage us to reach big.
Consider the story of Roger Bannister. For years doctors said it was IMPOSSIBLE for the human body to run a mile in less than four minutes. As a result, people believed it as scientific fact and it became a rule no one tried to break. Roger Bannister proved it wrong in 1954. Within one year, 37 runners broke the belief barrier. And the year after that, 300 other runners did the same thing. In the 2012 London Olympic games all 12 of the top finishers finished with mile times ranging from 3:34 to 3:43. Many amazing athletes with miles under four minutes did not even qualify.
There are countless amazing stories from Olympic games that prove the power of beliefs. But my all-time favorite occurred in the 2008 Beijing Olympics while I watched alone from my living room. Most believe the swimming hero of the Beijing games was Michael Phelps. He is a phenomenal athlete and with his eight medals in those games alone it is hard to argue. However, my personal hero is Jason Lezak.
In 2008 the French Men’s 100 M Relay team was favored to beat the American’s and they were not quiet about it. Alain Bernard, the French captain, vowed that the French would “smash the Americans”. All the numbers and the stats continued to put the French as the favorites to win a gold medal. But four American athletes gave it their best shot and defied those beliefs.
Phelps led the relay team off with an American record of 47.51. The race was tight; all three top teams were making world record splits and the Australians had the first lead. By the time the French anchor, Bernard, and the American anchor, Lezak, jumped in the water the French had a clear lead. Lezak found himself a full body length behind. In swimming, this is considered a country mile.
Even the commentators were saying, “It’s gonna take a lot”, “the Americans should have the silver”, “I just don’t think he can do it”, and “how many times has Lezak anchored and not won?” Then suddenly there was a shift in the water. And this is when I was off my couch and Lezak was shredding his own and everyone else’s beliefs to bits.
In just one length of the pool, Lezak changed the impossible to the improbable and in with less than 10 yards left of the pool he made it possible. Lezak reached out and won by a fingertip. The French finished eight one-hundredths of a second behind. Lezak beat Phelps split and with a 46:06 he swam the fastest relay leg in history. (Click here to watch the whole race).
Lezak was the oldest swimmer on the team. In the two previous Olympics he swam the anchor and came up short. All the numbers pointed to the French and the French hadn’t stopped talking since they got off the plane about how they would smash the Americans. He had all sorts of reasons to believe that he couldn’t do it. But he knew the power of beliefs.
Lezak believed he could do it and he knew that every muscle fiber, every cell in his body was listening to his thoughts. He gave himself the command to perform at his very best and even he was surprised by his fastest relay split ever.
Most of us will not be called on to break world records. But our belief systems are put to the test every day and sometimes in the most mundane aspects of life. Beliefs have the power to limit us or empower us. Take the time to look at the beliefs you have about yourself, your abilities and the world around you. Check in and find which ones are limiting you, then create new patterns and beliefs that will challenge you to reach beyond what you thought you were capable of.
Whether you are an athlete or not, the greatest difference between you and the person ahead of you is between your ears and the belief system in your heart. You have untapped potential. Go reach it!