At the heart of almost every film and book is the hero’s journey. This is the classic storyline in which the main character has to overcome various trials and tasks and then returns home transformed. Along the way, the hero is usually accompanied by friends. There will be a teacher or mentor to offer wise advice and an adversary who will challenge and push the hero to their limits.
Examples of classic hero’s journey tales include Frodo Baggins in Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.
Let’s take Frodo Baggins’s hero’s journey and look at this in more detail. Called to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo leaves his home in the Shire and starts the long trek through unfamiliar lands towards his destination. He is joined on his journey by friends Samwise, Merry and Pippin. Gandalf, the wizard, becomes Frodo’s mentor, offering support and encouragement. Sauron, a form of the ancient spirit, is the main adversary in the novels and tries to thwart Frodo. There are multiple tests for Frodo on his journey. He’s injured, hurt and tormented, and yet he is able to overcome all the obstacles in his path to complete his task and return to the Shire a more courageous, grounded, and wise hobbit.
In the same way, Frodo was transformed by his experiences; we can embark on our own hero’s journey and use the stages to anticipate and prepare for obstacles and highlight where we can get external support.
(1) Your call to action – What’s something you’ve always dreamed of doing? What goal can you set for yourself? Make the goal as specific as possible. This could be a short-term goal, such as starting a new helpful habit like cooking healthy meals from scratch two nights a week, or it could be something that will probably take more time and organisation, such as finding a new job, moving to a different city, making new friends or starting to date again. It could be a personal development goal around healing past trauma or reducing anxiety.
To illustrate how the hero’s journey can work in practice, let’s use the goal of “Cooking healthy meals from scratch” as an example.
(2) Entering the unfamiliar and the unknown – At this point of the journey, you’re likely to feel scared, anxious, or worried that you’re not up to the task. You might fear failure or come to the conclusion that it’s not worth all the hard work and effort. All these thoughts and feelings are normal when you embark on a new path and try to make changes in your life. Remember to be kind to yourself when you notice these feelings and worries. Focus on making small steps that feel manageable and realistic. If you were to measure progress using a scale from 0 (no progress) to 10 out of 10 (goal fully achieved), what does 1/10 progress look like? Starting small might not yield immediate visible rewards or changes, but with repetition, eventually, you’ll see shifts taking place.
For the cooking goal: A 1/10 action step might be to start researching recipes online and keeping a note of those that look tasty and easy to prepare.
(3) The obstacle or adversary – When you’re trying to work on your dream or goal, think about what might get in the way of you achieving it. The obstacles could be internal (limiting beliefs) or external (a person, people in your life or a situation/environment).
For the cooking goal: Obstacles might be thoughts such as “I’m useless at cooking” or “I’m too tired to cook in the evenings”. External obstacles could be that your family want to eat different foods at different times or that you have a limited budget with which to buy food. List all the potential solutions to these obstacles and then select one of the solutions to try out.
Example solutions might include preparing big batches of food at the weekend, which can then be heated up in the week when you’re stretched for time or more likely to feel tired. Perhaps you could prepare a couple of different types of meals in advance so that there are options for other family members. Involving others in cooking meals could also be a potential solution to overcoming unhelpful thoughts about your abilities. This way, you’re all learning new skills together. Writing out your budget for the week and experimenting with shopping at local grocers or cheaper supermarkets could be another idea to try.
(4) Friends and Mentors – Who can support you in working towards your dream or goal? How can they help you? What do you need from the people around you?
For the cooking goal: Do you have a friend who would like to work on the same goal as you? You can encourage each other by sending check-in texts at meal times or swapping recipes or cooking tips. Which famous chefs do you admire? Are there videos on YouTube you can watch of experienced chefs cooking meals?
(5) The transformation and “return home” – The changes made may become more familiar and ordinary after a while. You’ve now established a new habit, adjusted your lifestyle, or gained new awareness and clarity. This stage is about acknowledging your achievements and considering ways to build upon your progress.
For the cooking goal: You could use a meal planner notepad or wipe-board to help keep on track with preparing fresh meals. Maybe you could take up cooking classes in your town (if they are available) or start experimenting with more complicated recipes.
This simple example shows how you can create your own hero’s journey to support your goals. The hero’s journey can also be used to help you navigate unexpected changes that happen in your life. At the start of something new, fear usually kicks in, as it does with Frodo in Lord of The Rings, and your mind will want to pull you back with thoughts like “Don’t do this! It’s too frightening! We’re going to feel pain!” Remember to start with small steps and get support when you need it. And if you’re still struggling to get motivated, think about what might happen if you choose not to answer your call.
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Photo by Thomas Schweighofer on Unsplash