Recently I had the chance to listen to (read: audio book) The Talent Code, written by Daniel Coyle (which I would highly recommend!). It was a nice mix of research and theory along with anecdotal examples that Coyle discovered as he travelled the world looking at "talent hotbeds." The premise is that some places seem to produce high performers at a rate that is far beyond the norm. He wanted to see why.
One of the first elements according to the Talent Code are Primal Cues. These are things that strike a deep chord including how we view what's possible and how we see ourselves. Seeing someone else we can identify with achieve success sends us a cue that we can too.
The 4:00 mile was considered "physiologically and biomechanically" impossible. No human could do it. Roger Banister breaks the 4:00 mile which has stood for decades. In the weeks after another person did it, then the following season more, and in the next few years 17 people did it. They just needed to know it was possible.
Last Saturday I was working out, and decided that I would try a weighted chin up. Chin ups are challenging and I am proud of the fact that I am able to complete them, period. The thing is, I watched a video of Neghar Fonooni (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp7P53cGtng), a Strength and Conditioning Coach in the States, completing not a chin up, but a pull up (which is more challenging) with a 16 kg Kettlebell (that's about 35 lbs) and she changed my view of what I thought was possible, so now I had to try.
I picked up the 15 lbs Kettlebell, decided that I would like to be able to complete four (an arbitrary number) and just like that, I did it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_Se_RuyMok). I was shocked. I had no idea that I was going to be able to complete one, let alone four. I wasn't any stronger than I was yesterday when I didn't do weighted chin ups, but my view of what was possible had changed and therefore, I had.
"The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can't are both right? Which one are you?" ~ Henry Ford.