Mental Hurdles

Roger Bannister

RunnersWe all experience mental hurdles in our lives. Those things that seem to pop up and prevent us from achieving our goals. We experience them at home. We see them at work when our boss puts us in charge of an out of control project. And, it can happen to us while we are competing in our chosen sport. These mental obstacles are roadblocks that we put up in front of ourselves on our way to our goal. They can make our goal unattainable. It’s a way of self-limiting our achievements. What we have to remember though, is that they are hurdles. They are meant to be jumped over. They can be overcome.

One famous example from the sports world centers around an event that took place on May 6th, 1954 in Oxford, England.  With a crowd of nearly 3,000 spectators, Roger Bannister, finally broke the 4-minute mile mark (3:59.4).  The old record (4:01.3) stood for nearly ten years and many people believed that the 4-minute barrier could not be passed.Roger Bannister With thousands of attempts, that appeared to be the case. However, the impossible was now possible.

The most remarkable thing about breaking the 4-minute mile barrier was now that it was done, it was obvious that the barrier was self-imposed by the runners and coaches themselves. With the expectation that you couldn’t surpass 4:00.0 no one did. By the end of June, 1954, not even two months later, another mile record was set nearly two seconds faster than Bannister’s. It seems there were a lot of athletes that could “all of a sudden” run a mile under 4 minutes. Over the next decade, the mile record would be broken 5 more times. The current record is more than fifteen seconds faster than the 4-minute mile barrier (3:43.13).

How do mental hurdles impact your training?

There are three things that you need to consider when looking at the mental hurdles you face: expectations; self-talk; and goals.


As an athlete, you set expectations on how you train and how you perform in competition. These expectations can form the basis of a mental hurdle.  How do you come up with these expectations? Do they come from a coach, or maybe from colleagues or opponents you face? Are they reasonable? Challenging? Maybe a little too comfortable? If you expect too little of yourself, you can expect too little improvement.


I find with a lot of athletes, their self-talk provides a blue-print for their future performances. When an athlete believes that something cannot be done, they repeat to themselves, over and over again, that what they are trying to do is impossible. Impossible, impossible, impossible. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The athlete doesn’t work as hard since they don’t want to waste their energy on an impossible task, and their chance of success becomes almost zero. If you find yourself before this hurdle, you need to stop your negative self-talk and re-frame what you are trying to achieve. Use your self-talk to emphasize the opportunity you have to test your skills and learn where you can improve before the next challenge.


Goal setting, like expectation, influences your behaviour at both training and competition. Your goals can also be restricted by the expectations you hold for yourself. By monitoring your goal successes and failures, you can identify situations where you maybe self-limiting. If you find yourself always achieving your goals, they are not challenging enough and you’re limiting yourself. Finding the balance between building confidence through achieving your goals and developing your skills through making challenging goals will be your key to success.

Now I know that for 99% of the world’s population, running a sub 4-minute mile isn’t realistic and that just by having the expectation that you can run that fast (however delusional), being very positive and acknowledging challenges as opposed to reinforcing roadblocks, and setting goals that challenge you to reach this milestone, will not make you a 4-minute miler.  This post isn’t about becoming a world champion. It’s about performing at your best. It’s about pushing yourself beyond what you know you can do, and finding out how far you can go.

Enjoy this video. You too, can overcome your mental hurdles and become the best you possible. 

Share some of the mental hurdles you are experiencing or have already overcome in the comments. Sharing your experiences can help others facing the same obstacles.

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