Every compelling mythic story follows the same narrative structure, and features the same recurring characters. The elements of this universal story are etched into our subconscious, and understanding it will allow you to use the power of narrative to take greater control over your life.
This universal story is called The Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth. it is outlined in Joseph Campbell’s classic work of comparative mythology, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
According to Campbell, the key elements of the Hero’s Journey are as follows:
- THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
- THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.
- REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
- MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
- CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.
- TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
- APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.
- THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.
- THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
- THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
- THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
- RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.
(From The Writer’s Journey)
Once you read The Hero With A Thousand Faces, you’ll start seeing the Monomyth everywhere, from the stories of Buddha, Gilgamesh, Perseus, Moses, and Jesus, to contemporary literature, film and TV. Some notable contemporary examples are The Matrix, Fight Club, Star Trek, The Lion King, Harry Potter, Groundhog Day, Lord Of The Rings, and most superhero origins movies.
Since we’re all about the The Red Pill here at Thumotic, let’s use The Matrix as an illustrative example:
1. Ordinary World
2. Call To Adventure
3. Refusal Of The Call
4. Meeting The Mentor
5. Crossing The Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
10. The Flight Home
12. Return With The Elixir
Campbell also discusses common story elements (Meeting With The Goddess, Atonement With The Father, Woman As Temptress) and the various Hero archetypes (Warrior, Lover, Emperor, Redeemer, Saint), and other character types that present themselves in mythic stories. He proposes the Freudian explanation that The Monomyth exists deep in our collective unconscious, and the Hero’s Journey is the story of the human race. A Christian might believe that the appeal of the Monomyth is a result our innate familiarity with the story of the Resurrection, and consider Jesus Christ to be the origin of the Monomyth rather than a mere example.
Wherever you land on that, let’s just agree that the Hero’s Journey is the most powerful and narratively compelling story structure humanity has ever developed.
The Importance Of Storytelling
Humans understand the world through stories. We only take action when it makes sense in the context of the story.
Sales, marketing, political campaigns, and corporate communications are all driven by storytelling; everyone whose vocation involves eliciting emotion and behaviour must become either a storyteller or a job-seeker. Also, any job-seeker who is not a storyteller, will remain a job-seeker.
Attracting women also requires storytelling skills, and not just the superficial ability to convey anecdotes.
Most smart people already understand the importance of interpersonal storytelling. But have you ever considered the role of storytelling in motivating your own behaviour? If you’re trying to motivate yourself to get healthy, work harder, be more organized, be kinder to your loved ones, or whatever your goals are – what story are you using to explain your growth and self-development?
The Story Of Your Journey
It’s January. You’ve recently set some goals for 2015. Maybe you want to build muscle and get lean, start making more money, and be more successful with women. But if you want to be effective, you need a story to tell yourself. You need a story in which you are a Worthy Hero.
Imagine that I’m watching a reality TV show about your life. The premise of the show is that you’ve set a few realistic but challenging goals for the next month.
Now, if you spend the next thirty days screwing around, I’m not going to care if you succeed or not. In fact, I’ll be uncomfortable if you do succeed.
But if you spend a month waking up at 6:00 AM, pumping iron, working twelve-hour days, pushing your social comfort zone, taking on new projects, and treating people well, I’ll feel that you deserve to win. I’ll be happy and satisfied when you succeed, and I’ll feel cheated if you lose despite your hard work.
Now, obviously, I’m not actually watching the story of your life unfold. But you are. So ask yourself: Do you deserve to succeed? Are you putting in the work? Are you the hero or the villain in your own life story?
The Benefits of Heroism
Life is easier when everyone is expecting you to win. If you’re working hard, your peers will be cheering for your success. They’ll be expecting it.
More importantly, you’ll be expecting it too. The reality of life is that no one is paying that much attention to you. But it is essential to earn the support of the most important audience member – yourself – in your own life story. You need to look in the mirror in the morning and see a worthy hero. You need to reflect on every day, and see the actions of a hero.
The Danger Of False Narratives
Stories can empower you, or they can enslave you. A good story will lead to good actions and results. A bad story will have the opposite effect.
If you’re genuinely trying to do the right thing and aren’t getting the results you want, maybe you’re being held back by a false narrative:
- The Nice Guy Gets the Girl In The End
- The Loyal Employee Gets The Corner Office
- The Guy Who Eats Healthy Grains And Avoid Saturated Fats Gets Fit
Even Social Justice Warriors are heroes in their own eyes. Before you start your journey as a virtuous hero, make sure you’ve defined virtue correctly.
The Call To Adventure
Are you reading this from the comfort and safety of your ordinary world? Consider this post your personal call to adventure, and start looking at the world as your personal Hero’s Journey.
First, you have to Cross The Threshold. Do something momentous to signify a break from your current life.
You’ll feel an urge to Refuse The Call. Push through the resistance.
In the coming days, you’ll have to find Mentors, Friends, and Allies who will help you. You will cut off Enemies who are holding you back.
You will pass through Trials and Ordeals.
You will do all of this in pursuit of The Elixir, whatever that means to you.
Throughout the course of your journey, you will change and grow as a man; this is your death and resurrection.
The Elixir you return with will not be the same as you thought, or you will experience it differently than you anticipated. But it won’t matter, because you will be the Master of Two Worlds.
Crossing The Threshold
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, but I really hope you use it as a tool to start moving your life in a more productive, more conscious direction. I want you to start seeing yourself as a Hero. When you’re stuck in a rut, sometimes the solution is to just find a new way of looking at things.
Check out Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. It’s a fun read, and a much more in-depth analysis of the Monomyth than I’ve provided here.
Make sure you’re not poisoning your mind with unhelpful stories by switching off mainstream media and reading The Red Pill Review instead.
Need help crossing the threshold? Complete the Thumotic 30-Day Challenge and start lifting weights to kick-start your life.
If you find this post useful, share it with your friends and tell us about your personal Hero’s Journey in the comments.