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Do you want to change yourself? If so, you look to examples of other people who have. Some of these people don’t exist, but they are real to you anyway.
That’s right, I’m talking about books, movies, videogames, and stories of all kinds.
Most big stories involve character change. We recognize that change is a part of life – a part of life that should be handled as intentionally as possible.
There are 3 layers to characters. They mirror reality in how well we know the men and women who pass by and interact with us each day. I’ll give examples for each to show how simple, yet deep, this is.
1. One Dimensional – Just the facts.
Do I really need to describe it when I can just show you instead?
I am a writer and I write. The butcher chops meat. The student studies. The jock wrestles varsity in the heavyweight class.
2. Two Dimensional – There is a reason behind the action.
Everybody does what they do for a reason.
I am a cop because my father was a cop. I start businesses to make a profit because I grew up in a poor household, and don’t want my family to suffer like I did. I volunteer at a homeless shelter because I want to help those who have nothing.
3. Three-Dimensional – There is a purpose that justifies my reasoning.
Now you’re getting somewhere. Now we not only see the reason behind the action, but the reason for the reason. At this level, you start to really know/love/hate a person.
I bribe people to pass laws that favor me because I don’t want any competition – I am afraid that if other people could compete on the same level as me, the world would find out that I’m not really that smart/wise/creative/competent/superior-by-birth.
I start businesses to make a profit because I don’t want my family to grow up poor like I did – because being trapped and powerless is scarier than death, and I would not wish it on anyone.
I read the Bible every day, even though it sometimes confuses me, because I realize the Being who cares more for me than anyone else is God; pursuing the only relationship that really matters will bring the most fulfillment.
It’s the key to great heroes and villains.
We don’t have time to give every person on the street three dimensions. Way too much to keep track of. Somewhere in an underground base, a government computer is short-circuiting.
Nor can stories have all three dimensional characters, at least not without it being a very small world (Tom Hanks in Castaway is a good example). We need first, second, and third dimension characters.
In the end, the story is about the third-dimensional character. That’s the guy with the sword who we identify with. That’s the lady with the bow and arrow.
The problem is that we often don’t allocate the time to see our own selves as three dimensional characters. Yet we absolutely must if we want to experience the same level of change that we see as necessary – and crave in our favorite stories.
Change is Good
For a long time, psychology treated these underlying our motivations as tracks that have already been laid by past experiences. They couldn’t be changed. While it’s true that we can’t undo the past, it is a lie to believe that what happened to you in the past will shape and determine the rest of your life.
Many of the great stories either involve a hero accomplishing his goal despite everything set against them, or a character who goes through a change.
The deeper the change, the more powerful your story.
So What About You?
Think back to the last time you made a mistake with your job. If you’re anything like me, you don’t have to think back too far.
First dimension: What did you do?
Second dimension: Why did you do it?
Third dimension: Why was your answer in the second dimension so important that you acted out?
I took 20 minutes with my break instead of 15.
Why? Because the boss makes me work later.
Why do you think he’s making you work later? Because I’m too afraid to say no to her. What if I get fired?!
So, in this example, taking a longer break would allow you to express just enough discontent to not get fired, but enough to vent your frustrations and feel like you’re getting SOME of your time back. Right?
If you had a character in a book that did this, and the author articulated exactly why they did it, you would totally understand and relate. You’d read on to know more about this character even if nothing has happened yet.
By understanding the deeper motivations, and then choosing to script your own deeper motivation, you’ll become more effective.
Eventually, you’ll come to the conclusion that you need to establish some boundaries, but in a helpful and tactful way. And if getting fired is still a concern, then you’ll ask why and learn that IF you get fired – yes – it will suck. But you know what? If you’re tough enough to have a difficult conversation with your boss, you’re also tough enough to find a better job. Chances are, it won’t even get that far anyway.
The Third Dimension is Tough!
You’ll look in the wrong places. You’ll probably have to think. You may even need to talk it over with trusted advisers or friends. In my opinion, that’s what trusted advisers are for.
When you find a better third dimension, you’ll have a better second dimension, and therefore, you’ll take more effective actions.
In the end, your own life will be a story worth telling.
Have you ever seen yourself as a third dimensional character? How do you think it will change the way you interact with the world around you? Let me know in the comments!