Overcoming the Four Stages of Life

Every story is about how the hero changes. In most cases, the hero changes into a better person but in tragedies, the hero changes into a worse person. In either case, stories must show change.

However, no hero changes drastically from one type of person to another. Instead, heroes must change gradually in four stages:

  • Fear
  • Success
  • Temptation
  • Danger

The reason why every hero starts off in a dead end life is because they hold a limiting belief about themselves. Luke in “Star Wars” initially lacks confidence in himself. Rose in “Titanic” believes she has no choice but to marry a man she doesn’t love just for his money. Initially, what holds the hero back is their own fear.

The hero wants to change, but he or she is too afraid to even try.

The second stage occurs when the hero summons up the courage to try, and suddenly finds themselves in a new, unfamiliar world. At this point, the hero still clings to their limiting belief, but also acts like they’ve embraced a more empowering belief.

The end result is that the hero manages to achieve initial success despite not giving up their limiting belief. This initial success tempts the hero into holding on to their limiting belief because they’re actually getting what they want.

In “Legally Blonde,” the hero still thinks she needs a man, but she starts doing well in law school. In “Tootsie,” the hero still treats women poorly, but he’s become a successful actor masquerading as a woman on a popular soap opera.

Fear tries to keep the hero from changing. Success tries to keep the hero from changing because they’re getting what they want.

Suddenly, the hero’s life starts falling apart. That’s when temptation appears to keep the hero from changing. Temptation offers the hero what they want in exchange for giving up what they really need.

In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the villain offers the hero a well-paying job to tempt him away from running his savings & loan. Once the hero leaves the savings & loan, the villain will be able to destroy it and take over the town.

By offering the hero a well-paying job, the villain tempts the hero with financial success that the hero always dreamed about. If the hero takes this temptation, he can never become a better person.

In “Tootsie,” the hero has achieved tremendous popularity and success on a soap opera, playing a woman. The temptation is that if he continues hiding his identity as a man, he can stay in the soap opera and remain rich and popular, but he’ll never get to fall in love with his co-star.

Once the hero turns away from temptation, the final stage involves danger. The villain has tried to use temptation to keep the hero from changing. Now the villain uses danger to keep the hero from changing. This involves a direct threat to the hero from the villain.

In “Terminator 2,” the villain directly attacks the hero (the good Terminator). The final battle in every story involves the villain threatening the hero. By defeating the hero, the villain can keep the hero from becoming a better person.

So when outlining our story, think about these four stages to keep the hero from changing: fear, success, temptation, and danger. When your hero can overcome these four stages, he or she will finally change into a better (or worse) person than they were in the beginning.

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