Before we get started, let’s cover a little background. This blog post is directly tied to The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. While reading that book isn’t imperative to understanding the nature of this blog post, it’s a good read either way so I would challenge you to read through it. If you’re a writer, you can pick up a copy of The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Both are filled with analogies to superheroes and movie characters so why wouldn’t you leaf through it. Do yourself a favor and grab one (or both) to read.
You’re a hero.
Yes, a real one. You have something in common with Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and hell, even Quailman whether you know it or not. Sure, you might not run around with a cape around your neck or wear your underpants over your shorts, but you live the life of a hero. You may not go around putting out burning fires or stopping burglaries, but you move throughout the same sequence of events, just at a different magnitude.
If you’ve heard of Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, you’re probably familiar with this concept. If not, here’s a little refresher. The Hero’s Journey is based upon the idea that all heroes and mythological characters proceed through a similar development throughout a trilogy or series. This doesn’t only apply to fictional characters. Movie directors often use these concepts in Hollywood when creating an attractive plot line. It’s been looked over by mythologists, writers, and producers alike. The basic tenants in Campbell’s theory hold true across entertainment mediums. Simply put, if you’re going to create a compelling novel or movie, there are essential elements to include. Campbell just laid them out in an understandable and applicable method.
Let’s recount the basics. The following graphic outlines the proceedings of any successful story from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to any Rocky movie.
Note: There are several renditions of the following steps. Each different rendition contains slight changes but the overall concept remains the sam.
Now, how might this apply to your own life and more importantly, your journey to new levels of fitness?
If you look closely, each of the steps outlined above closely resembles the phases someone would go through when they’re starting a new workout routine. Arguably, these steps are imperative to your success in health. If you never experience the brink of failure, when all hope is lost and you don’t think you’ll make it, you will not appreciate the success when you see it.
In act, I’m willing to argue that the weeks of failure are more important than the weeks of success.
The failures outline your true character. Are you willing to go the extra mile to lose that few extra pounds?
Back to the Hero’s Journey – each point coincides with a pivotal moment during your journey. Let’s look at them each in closer detail.
Step #1: Ordinary World
In a hero trilogy this stage would represent something like the Shire from Lord of the Rings. In a real-world sense, this represents everything you’re comfortable with. It looks like your comfort foods that you turn to when you’re upset or tired. It disguises itself as friends and family that don’t bother you to become more fit. They don’t harass you to get on the treadmill or head to the gym. You’re happy. You’re at home. I think it’s imperative to note that this doesn’t mean you’re life is stress-free. In a health and fitness sense, you’re comfortable with how you look and feel and hadn’t thought about changing.
Step #2: Call to adventure.
Think when Bane took over during the Dark Night Rises or when the Sandman starts menacing the town in Spiderman 3. Whatever the cause, the hero is now called into action. In the case of Bruce Wayne, he’s forced out of retirement and back into the game. In your case, the “call” can stand for a variety of things. It might be your doctor telling you that you’re blood work is worse than you had previously thought. It might be the time you finally realize you can no longer keep up with your kids outside. You may be embarrassed when your friends go to the beach, but you’re afraid to take off your shirt.
This moment can be intimidating, and it sure as hell can be a difficult pill to swallow. Whatever the moment, it’s flipped a switch that has made you conscious of just how out of shape you really are.
Step #3: Refusal of the Call
In Frodo’s case, this is attempting to turn down the journey proposed by Gandalf to carry the ring to Mordor. In the Hancock story with Will Smith, he repeatedly turns down the offer to become the hero of the town and sport a skin-tight costume. In your story, it may be the stress of a life-changing movement. It may look like your significant other still keeping treats in the house while you’re cleaning up your diet. Either way, losing weight/running farther/lifting more weight proves to be too challenging and overwhelming so you shut down and give up.
It’s at this stage that many people fall short. They backpedal. To hell with the diet, here comes the Cheetos. They slide farther into unhappiness and despair with their current level of fitness, but they try to block it out or rationalize their thoughts with the idea that “At least I tried”.
Some people are going to give up right here. This is the tipping point between those that are going to be successful and those that are going to look the exact same next New Year’s.
Step #4: Meeting the Mentor
For Harry, it’s Dumbledore. For Frodo, it’s Gandalf. For Daniel in The Karate Kid, it’s Mr. Miyagi. For you, it might be a personal
trainer, but it doesn’t have to be. A friend that’s been through the same kind of scenario can act as a mentor. In fact, almost anyone can be a mentor, but it’s imperative that they have the appropriate skills and qualities.
You might be sitting there thinking, “I’ve been successful in the past without a mentor.”
I’d argue that you haven’t. You may need to look closer to find that person or figure. It doesn’t even have to be a person you know. It could be Chris Powell from Amazing Transformations: Weight Loss Edition. It could be Lance or Arnold. It’s anyone that you look up to as a guide for where you want to go. You have one whether you know it or not.
The mentor serves a pivotal purpose – to point you in the right direction. The right mentor can make the whole process a hell of a lot easier. Hopefully, they share your passion and drive. They get you. That’s why personal trainers should be selected carefully. I’ll put it this way, every personal trainer can give you a decent workout; few can connect with you on a level beyond casual acquaintances that you see a few times a week. It’s critical to your success that you define your mentor and look to them during points of confusion.
Step #5: Crossing the Threshold
That’s it – you’re all in. You’re ready to take on the evil villan Diabesity. You’ve donned the hero outfit and sprung into action. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re literally dressed in a Spiderman costume. But, it does mean that you’ve taken the necessary steps to start the journey. This could encompass a wide variety of steps including picking up good tupperware and a suitable cooler to take your lunch to work or maybe buying some new workout gear.
Just because you cross the threshold doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. However, in order to be successful, you must cross the threshold. You must take the plunge in order to see success.
It’s at this point of the Hero’s Journey when the hero transitions into the special world or the “zone” if you will. They are ready to kick-ass and take names. Picture yourself like you just stumbled upon an invincibility star in Mario Cart (or you’re “on fire” for those Street Hoops fans) and almost nothing can touch you. That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to experience ups and downs or bumps in the road. Like I said before, you’re on your way, but you haven’t conquered the evil dragon yet.
Step #6: Tests, Enemies, and Allies
Seems simple enough right? What would a good story be without bumps in the road. I doubt we would have all played Zelda Ocarina of Time if all you had to do was walk Link through a field to win the game. We play because of the struggles, because we know it will be entertaining. That same draw is what leads many people to attempt the impossible – to start their own business and fly solo for example.
Realize that although you in particular may not be a thrill seeker looking for adventure and obstacles in your path, you’re going to come across all three of the aforementioned characters or events. You’re going to have down weeks. You’re going to bump into naysayers that challenge why in the hell you’re spending money on a personal trainer or why you’re busting your ass on a treadmill on Saturday morning instead of slouching on the couch. That’s perfectly fine because victory is much sweeter after overcoming those individuals.
Along the same lines, you’re going to find allies whether it’s friends at the gym that you come to know or your family that morphs into a support system. Allies help get you to the gym when it’s snowing outside. You need allies just like Spiderman needed help from the Goblin to defeat the Sandman.
Don’t push away allies or turn the other direction when enemies present themselves. Find a way to overcome and challenge them.
Step #7: Approach
The approach is the part in the journey where you’re getting close. You’ve lined all of your ducks in a row, and you’re headed for gold. In a hero’s situation, Frodo is making headway on the trip to Mordor. Harry is planning his attack on Voldemort.
But, you aren’t there yet. The approach is often one of the most exciting points of a journey in that all of the training and preparation begins to come to fruition. Remember in the Rocky movies when the motivational music would start to boom, and you would see Stallone going through all of his training. You couldn’t help but get excited for what was going to come next.
In movies and stories, you know what comes next. It can’t be all glory all the time. There has to be a big climax. Most times, you know the story. You already anticipate what’s coming next. Rocky must go into the ring with Ivan Drago, and you know it’s going to be a blood bath.
With your own journey, you don’t know what’s going to come next. You’re hoping it’s all cake and candles from here on out. You’ve put in the effort like a deserving college student; now, you expect to reap the rewards.
Step #8: Ordeal, Death, & Rebirth
So Spiderman has officially been attacked by the organism that turns his suit black and amplifies his cockiness and swagger. All of the successes and hope gathered throughout the journey thus far seem at risk. We’re about to see our hero fall.
This is a pivotal part in any story. In fact, stories would never be successful without it. This is the point where you almost want to look away. You can’t bear to see what’s going to happen next. Some part of you wants to believe that everything will be alright, but then again, some part of you expects to see the hero die in peril. Your heart is racing.
As you well know, the hero can’t die here. It’s difficult to wrap up an ending without a hero. It’s not very commonplace to watch the bad guys win. We don’t like to see it that way because it symbolizes failures in our own life. If the bad guys win, we feel like we’re going to lose at our own game of life.
This part, right here, is the best part of your own journey. It separates the men from the boys as the old saying goes.
It may not look like a dragon in your face but you encounter huge ordeals throughout each story you enact. It may be craziness at home or work that snaps you out of the gym and creates a void in your life. It might camouflage itself as you getting sick, being sidetracked, and gaining a few pounds.
It’s a major f-in problem whatever “it” is.
But, as in the story of a hero, you need to face the dragon and overcome it if you’re ever going to fully appreciate life after the ordeal.
Step #9: Reward – Seizing the Sword
You did it. You defeated the dragon. You lost the weight. You benched 500lbs. Now what? Just like Frodo can’t revel in the Mordor achievements forever lest he fall into the fire pit himself, you must return back to normal. For the majority of individuals, fitness can’t be the frontrunner in their life for the entire time. Life still needs to take place. You may have to turn your focus towards your family or your work. The dedication that prevailed throughout the journey can’t be as strong now.
Step #10: The Return Back
Here’s the point where it either sticks or not. In terms of a hero, you have either defeated the enemy or the enemy is rebornin someone new. With most trilogies, we know the hero hasn’t won yet. We know that Voldemort is still on the rise after the first and second Harry Potter movie. We know that Superman will have to face another villain that threatens to wipe out North America.
Similarly, many individuals are doomed to repeat the steps above in their health and fitness journey. Many will backpedal once they return to the real world.
The trick to maintaining your success is developing sustainable habits throughout the journey.
Step #11: The Resurrection
The journey wouldn’t be complete without one last test or one final battle scene if you will. In Star Wars, Luke has one final battle scene where he’s almost killed and is reborn into a new being afterwards. Similarly, there may be one final test in your story. Maybe it’s your family threatening to pile the house full of junk food and tempt you to fall back into old habits. Overcoming this last final obstacle will prove to you and everyone around you that you’re a changed person. You’ve turned down something you once enjoyed in favor of your new lifestyle.
Step #12: Return with the Elixir
The hero is reborn. Harry is identified as a leader among the students at Hogwarts – envied by many. Just like the hero is remade, you will be reborn after a journey. You’ll be changed. If they journey was a success and you aren’t destined to repeat it, you’ll have parts of you that are different. You won’t enjoy the same foods. Fried delicacies won’t taste as good. Sodas will burn your throat, and you’ll wonder how you ever choked them down. Just like Harry, some individuals will be jealous of your success. Take it as a compliment. They’re upset because they haven’t gone through a transformation themselves.
This step – the resurrection – gives you a responsibility. Remember that step about having a mentor, here’s your opportunity to guide and lead someone else. All of the compliments and attention you get are likely from friends or family that want to make the same changes. Pay it forward. Help them find the resources necessary to start and finish their own successful journey. After all, that’s why we admire heroes. They represent all of the perfect morals we hope to see in ourselves.
Demonstrate you’re a hero. Help someone else.
Not only do these steps closely mimic your health and fitness journey, but they probably come close to outlining your life story. There are ups and downs, periods of rebirth, and most certainly tests, enemies, and allies. In a hero’s story, the happenings are simply on a much larger scale including superpowers, evil villains, mythical swords, and such. But, they aren’t too far off from your daily life minus the whole superpowers thing.
So, we know the steps that make up a journey. What now?
The purpose of knowing where you are in the journey is finding out the steps you need to take in order to finish the story. By figuring out where you are along the path, you can prepare for bumps in the road up ahead, but more importantly, lay out a plan to help you get to the finish successfully.
Speaking of Heroes…
I have a series that will be starting soon titled #HeroStatus where I lay out a training plan to help you achieve your favorite superpowers. I have a fantabulous list laid out so far, but I want to hear from you. Any superpowers you want to hear about? I’ve already got invisibility covered. Nothing is too far out of whack. Let me hear ’em.
Post your thoughts below (and more importantly, your favorite superhero)!