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The next frontier of human performance is in the mind

Before Sir Roger Bannister ran a mile under 4 minutes, people thought it was next to impossible. Sportswriters dismissed that as a fantasy and a few doctors had even propounded medical explanations as to why it wasn't viable. But, in May of 1954, on Oxford grounds, the unthinkable happened as Bannister became the first athlete to run a sub-4-minute race. What is more interesting is the number of people following that year who were able to do the same. In fact, just 46 days later, on 21 June 1954, Bannister's record was broken by his rival Landy with a time of 3 minutes 57.9 seconds.

Bannister hadn't just broken a record. He had broken a mindset.

We are all too familiar with the role played by our beliefs, motivation and attitude (or the lack of it) be it in our day-to-day life or peak events.

What we under-estimate is the extent of the impact. Take for example the case of Lauren Kornacki, a 22-year-old woman who lifted a BMW 525i off her father when the car toppled from a jack. The weight of such a vehicle is estimated at 3000lbs (~1.5 Tonnes). To put it in context, the world record for deadlifting stands at a third of that at 1,155lbs (524kg), held by Zydrunas Savickas, four-time winner of the World's Strongest Competition. In fairness often in such cases of superhuman endurance motivated by exceptional circumstances, the 'whole of the car' is not lifted - only a portion of it lifted a few inches off. It still however is in the range of hundreds of pounds at least if not thousands! So how is this even possible?

Scientists in the latest understanding call it 'central governor theroy' where the brain rather the body controls physical performance based on our psychology instead of the physiology of oxygen-starved muscles. This is in contrast to the 2012 theory where body's ability was determined by the supply of oxygen to muscles and subsequent generation of energy with no involvement of the brain. What now sounds like a 'dogma' had won AV Hill his Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1922. Well, what is science if not progress based on invalidation of fallacies?

It's no secret that Olympic teams use visualization techniques. Here is a New York Times piece with details on using mental imagery effectively in sports. Many sports psychologists use principles of mindfulness and the latest insights from neuroscience. An NYU psychologist even came up with an acronym (WOOP) for a technique she devised based on Wish --> Outcome--> Obstacle --> Plan. The last two steps in my mind are essential and just what that differentiates a 'fantasy' from a strategy. But equally, that's where we mostly get stuck in corporate boardrooms - an endless loop of just that.

When all we need is to be naive enough to start and stubborness to stick with it!

I've talked about sports here because I agree with Netflix. Good organizations are a great team, not family. They are like a professional sports team. And as such, to draw inspiration for performance in business is but obvious.

I am fascinated by the possibilities - in business and in life - underpinned on the new science of understanding of our mind. I am presently reading a stunning paper on how our mind basically doesn't discern between reality and imagination that very much.

Next, I will take a shot at decoding the paper and implications for business - more as a test of my comprehension and coming up with ways of its applications relevant to my circle of influence. Drop me a note if you'd find that useful too!


(Side bar: I was super made-up to see Demis Hassabis's name as one of the contributors. Demis of #AlphaGo, #AlphaZero, #AlphaFold & Atari DQN fame!!!)

(The title is courtesy Dr Ranganathan Chatterjee's inspiring line in his podcast episode)

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