Mind Over Sports

WHY BATTING .400 CONSISTENTLY IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL WILL BE LIKE BREAKING THE 4-MINUTE MILE. AFTER ONE BATTER DOES IT, OTHERS WILL FOLLOW.

Posted on: June 13, 2015

In sports, there is such a thing as a self-limiting belief. But beliefs can also work in a positive way, like placebos in medicine, authorizing athletes to achieve what they are already capable of achieving. The classic example is Roger Bannister, the first human to break the four-minute mile. As soon as he broke that mental barrier to human capability, other runners began doing it. The fact that no one had run a mile faster than four minutes had become a self-limiting belief that no one could do so. After Bannister proved such a feat was possible, many other runners accomplished it. Their beliefs, not their bodies, had held them back.

In his book The Silent Pulse, George Leonard refers to the process as “positive physical transformation” — dealing with the power of, what he calls “intentionality.” This is often identified as the “placebo effect” — an effect that is derived not from the potion but from the process, which is one of authorization. Roger Bannister was capable of breaking the 4-minute mile, as were many others, and when Bannister finally broke it, that was an “authorization” for others to do the same. This is the “power of intentionality.” The following is a quote from George Leonard’s book: “Now that the mile is run in less than 3 minutes and 50 seconds and weight lifters can clear and jerk more than 560 pounds, these feats are not called supernatural. But if you had told a sports expert of the year 1878 that such performances were humanly possible, he would have thought you quite mad. In recent years, as a matter of fact, a fifty-year-old man has bested the time of the 1908 Olympic marathon champion. Now it’s true that some of this fantastic improvement can be attributed to technology, better selection, training methods, nutrition, and vitamins. But the same kind of technology has been applied to racehorses — with no such improvement in performance.”

A baseball player planning to join the Mets AAA team told me that he expected to hit .300 in the farm club. I asked him: If he could hit three out of ten pitches, why couldn’t he hit four out of ten? Who was stopping him from hitting .400? He looked at me thoughtfully and replied, “Nobody.” He realized how his expectations had been limited to conventional beliefs.

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N. V. I.
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