In 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in the world to run a mile in less than four minutes. He did it, exactly, in 3.59.4 minutes. Until then, the popular belief had been established that no human being was capable of doing so. There were scientific studies that claimed that our body was not physiologically prepared to get it. Doctors came out who claimed that whoever tried could collapse. But nevertheless, that May 6 Bannister broke the physical and mental barrier of the four minutes. The most interesting thing is that, after years of failed attempts by athletes from around the world, just a few weeks after setting this record, another athlete managed to lower the Bannister brand. And so, one after the other until reaching the current 3.43.23 minutes.
This story has been used in a multitude of motivational talks to reinforce common places such as the importance of believing in oneself and not letting anyone tell us that we can not achieve our goals. But, although the reasons for which different athletes surpassed the mark after Bannister surely have more to do with the improvement in the training after the end of the Second World War and the evolution in the technique thereafter, this milestone also serves to explain the function of motivation and learned helplessness to achieve objectives.
Bannister was the first to demonstrate that the four minutes were a barrier that was created arbitrarily. The key to this story is not that it was a feat really impossible to achieve, but that everyone He said that was impossible This contributed to the athletes facing this challenge with an attitude of learned helplessness. Many tried and failed, in addition, they had experts saying that it was not possible to do so and they ended up convincing themselves that they were right, because there was no indication to the contrary.
"When it comes to achieving a goal, the levels of motivation serve as the motor to carry out the necessary concrete actions", explains Diana Navarro, clinical psychologist. "If they tell you to do what you do, you're not going to get it, you lose self-confidence, you think you're less capable and you probably do not invest enough resources to do it." The fact that they tell you that something is possible or impossible to achieve influences your motivation. Seeing Bannister crossing that goal was not a demonstration that anyone can achieve what is proposed, but that self-imposed mental barriers blur the vision we have of our capabilities.
A clear example of this is the search for employment, especially among those people who have been trying without success for a long time. After many unanswered requests and failed interviews, they end up believing that they are not able to get a job. Their self-esteem diminishes and this affects their motivation to seek employment, becoming a vicious circle. One of the consequences of learned helplessness in this aspect is that these people end up believing that there are factors that they are not able to control and lose confidence in themselves.
- It is not enough to look
Another lesson that is drawn from Bannister's feat is related to the false illusion of observational learning. Seeing someone get it is not enough for you to do it. To this day, you can find almost any skill you want to learn on the internet. YouTube tutorials have served an entire generation to acquire knowledge in a self-taught way. However, they are not as useful as it seems. Seeing someone do something can make you feel like you can do similar activities, but a new study suggests that learning by observation can be illusory.
In six experiments, recently published in Psychological Science, The researchers, from the University of Chicago, concluded that people overestimate how much their skills improve after observing the performance of others. After watching a video of a dancer explaining how the moonwalk, you think you are more capable of doing it. But when it comes to the truth, you're just as bad as if you had not seen it. Observers improve their confidence, but not their ability.
What is it that makes people so confident? "One thing is to memorize what steps you have to follow and another, to experience how it is to carry them out," explains Michael Kardas, head of the study. Everyone knows that to learn you need to practice. The curious thing about this study is the increase in viewers' confidence in their own abilities after watching a simple video. "Often, the subtleties are lost as they watch, and after seeing the experts, they are likely to underestimate the complexity of the skill and overestimate their own abilities," says Kardas.