Most of us unconsciously mythologize our lives. Earlier this year, I wrote about the Preservation to Expenditure ratio. In that post, I touched upon Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is essentially a mythologizing of your life.
You could argue that adding the word “hero” itself is mythologizing. I want to touch upon an idea that I recently had about the negatives of mythologizing. These usually show up when you take it up a notch in your headcanon.
The Hero’s Journey is an observed structure in storytelling which roughly involves anywhere between ten to seventeen steps.
The hero starts from the Ordinary World, which is their original setting, the known world. Then, they move to the Special World, where they go through significant changes. Then, they come back to the Ordinary World as a new person.
Here’s an illustration for the same thing.
The idea of mythologizing isn’t a new one when it comes to psychology. Humans have always talked in stories. Most stories have a hero. We always mythologize to create an epic tale. Often, these help us go forward, take caution and so on.
Strictly psychologically speaking, mythologizing helps an individual go beyond their general challenges and believe in a story. Tad Waddington’s short piece on Mythologizing dives deeper into this idea in different directions. They argue that mythologizing brings out heroic qualities in an individual that helps them face challenges and fare better from them overall.
Another interesting perspective is that of the feeling of belongingness. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d say this might be why we bond over shared trauma.
We have a story in our head with a start, a middle and an end. When someone shares the same beginning, middle and end, we feel companionship with them because they are privy to our journey.
Also, the fact that someone from the same small town meeting you coincidentally in a large city is bound to become your friend because you both have a similar myth in your head.
Often, telling ourselves a story helps us cope with events in our lives. We believe in a myth that helps us comprehend an event which we put off for a while until we can deal with it correctly.
For example, during a breakup, it’s easy to paint your (ex) significant other as the physical manifestation of evil on Earth. However, as time passes (and if they weren’t toxic to your context) you realise they’re human too and the myth disappears.
But stories are just tools. They shouldn’t become our goals or our yardsticks. When we forget that they are mere fiction, we lose touch with reality.Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus
Myths serve their purpose. For example, I wrote about first grade and the first time I got out of bed late at night to finish homework in the Midweek Nudge #26. That story has helped me stay accountable for almost all my life. However, often, it shifts from motivation to burden.
The burden that I always finish work or whatever I take upon myself on time. Often, when I’m exhausted, I still remember that story and keep going. When I’m absolutely out of steam, I would still have the myth in my head.
That’s what I’ve been trying to fix recently.
Try it from another angle. If the myth you tell yourself continually is that you can’t have a stable relationship because so-and-so person didn’t work out, and if you have a group of friends who agree with you because they’ve had similar experiences, you all need to de-mythologize yourselves.
The myth helps you cope with the breakup and find a support system, but once that has happened, you need to lose it. It’s a tool. Tools don’t define their users.
Yet another example is the stories of millionaire dropouts, and how attached, we are to those as people. Nonetheless, we fail to see that there is a huge confirmation bias in those stories and that even they couldn’t repeat the same successes.
So, we may have dropped out, and we may be hustling, but that story can often take away the practical signs that something isn’t working out until it’s too late.
Mythologizing is when we put our stories in the perspective of larger-than-life events: when a breakup becomes a large obstacle you’re overcoming or when you are taking a life-changing decision becomes a quest. It can help motivate ourselves, find belongingness, overcome hurdles et al. It works when it does. However, there is a fine line here. Any story you tell yourself or relate too strongly with can be detrimental to your day-to-day life.
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