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Self-Efficacy and The Art of Doing Things


The High Level Bridge

Editor’s Note: This a guest post from Ian Walker.

A Thing I Didn’t Do

In Lethbridge, Alberta, where I went to university and lived for five years, there is a very large, very long, and very high train bridge. It stretches across a giant valley that has been carved away by the Oldman River. It’s a beautiful area in the heart of the city. The river is surrounded by rolling hills, and the university sits atop them like a boat carried by the waves of the sea. The valley is so deep and just wide enough, that were a train to go down into it, even gradually, it would never come back out. So in an effort to prevent trains from being swallowed in the belly of Lethbridge, early workers built the bridge across the valley. Trains don’t have to dip or climb: they just go straight across. Over 300 feet tall and 1.6 kilometers long (just under one mile), the High Level Bridge, as it’s called, is the largest of its kind. It was completed in 1909 by manly men who probably all had moustaches or beards, wore suspenders or flannel suits, didn’t have safety equipment, and had never driven a car. And I don’t understand how they did it. The bridge has always fascinated me. And from all angles – from the highways on both sides, underneath it, and even on top of it; whenever I really look at it, I’m in awe. It’s the symbol of the city and its main attraction. People have their picture taken by it, it’s on postcards, and a Google image search of “Lethbridge” fills the screen with mostly pictures of the bridge. It is Lethbridge, and in a sense, my whole experience living there revolved around the bridge.

Early on in my time in Lethbridge, I mentioned in conversation how fascinated I was by the bridge and how I would love to know how it was built. The person I was talking with happened to have recently visited the local museum, where a video is regularly shown that documents the construction of the bridge. Perfect. I was talking to the right person at the right time and my problem was solved. A gift from the universe. But I spit in the universe’s face. Despite my deep interest in the topic, the proximity of the museum, the low admission fee, my flexible student schedule, and the fact that the experience would provide me exactly what I was looking for, I never went. The whole time I lived there, I never went.

I’ve thought about this many times. Why didn’t I ever go? Why wouldn’t I do something so easy – something I wanted to do?

Theory of Doing Things

Bored out of his mind in Mundare, Alberta (population 855), Albert Bandura decided to grow up to become a world-famous psychologist. And what Albert Bandura decides to do, Albert Bandura does. Now among the most cited psychologists, and clearly a doer of things, Bandura is the authority on getting things done. His Social Cognitive Theory revolves around the concept of self-efficacy. According to Bandura, self-efficacy is, “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” In other words, self-efficacy is your belief in your own ability to do the things you want to do.

People with high levels of self-efficacy:

  • See problems as challenges to overcome, or tasks to be mastered. Even completing small tasks is a source of satisfaction.
  • Develop deep interests and are active participants in various activities. Interests grow and develop and the world seems big.
  • Form a strong sense of commitment to their interests. They don’t go half-way, or start projects and give up quickly.
  • Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments.

Whereas people with low levels of self-efficacy:

  • Avoid challenges (or inconveniences) – big or small (or even very small).
  • Believe difficult things are beyond their abilities. They see other people doing things and assume the position of observer, not participant.
  • Focus on their personal failings. They don’t give themselves credit.
  • Lose confidence easily and quickly, giving up on new things when they’re difficult, uncomfortable, or just different.

I believe the answer to why I didn’t do an easy, and probably enjoyable, thing, lies in this concept of self-efficacy.

But what about doing hard things?

A Thing I Did

The bed was a little wider than my body and not quite as long. It sunk in the middle so it was more like a hammock or a trampoline than a bed. And the blanket was thick and stiff, suspended over the bed like a tarp on a canoe. I had been cold and lost and alone, but found my way to my room to regroup and recuperate. The room smelled like sulfur and I didn’t know what time it was. I didn’t know what time I arrived in Iceland, but found that it was earlier than stores opened. With no coat, no watch, no friends, no map, and no way to get any of those things, finding my room was a victory. Being alone in a strange place hit me hard, so I crumpled myself into my little nook and went to sleep. The nap was a success, and I soon turned things around and had a wonderful three days by myself in Iceland.

I had always wanted to go to Iceland. So I went. I spent three days alone there, finding my way around, doing activities, learning some of the culture, navigating the lunar landscape (a tour I went on informed me that NASA took their astronauts to Iceland to get a feel for what it would be like on the moon), getting goods and services without knowing the language, adjusting to the time change and the never-setting sun, exploring and going on excursions, and overcoming low spirits to relax and enjoy. By all accounts, doing all that was much harder than driving down the street to go to a museum. Both were things I wanted to do; I did the hard one and never got around to the easy one. Why? It would be easy to say that going to Iceland is more interesting than going to the museum in Lethbridge, but I believe my fascination with that bridge was equal to my desire to see Iceland. Self-efficacy can provide some answers.

Bandura’s Theory of Doing Things, Again

According to Bandura, self-efficacy is deep-rooted. It develops in four main ways:

  • Social modeling. Seeing other people succeed raises our belief that we too can succeed. This is especially true when the person is within our sphere of influence. We may think things like, “If that regular schmo can do it, I can too.” But it can also go the other way: “If that awesome dude can’t do it, why should I be able to?”
  • Social persuasion. Encouragement from others makes it easier to do things, and discouragement makes it harder. This can be obvious or subtle. Not getting the encouragement we’re hoping for, even with no direct discouragement, can severely weaken our ability to do things. This shows how fragile self-efficacy can be when not tended to.
  • Mastery experiences. Bandura says this is the most effective way to develop self-efficacy. Succeeding makes further success easier to attain. But it almost seems stronger going the other way. One failure, no matter how minor, can be a huge blow. Again, self-efficacy is a fragile thing when left on its own.
  • Psychological responses. Our moods, feelings, physical reactions, stress levels, and other states of mind can affect our levels of self-efficacy. But Bandura notes, “It is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important, but rather how they are perceived and interpreted.” We can take charge by being aware of them and how they affect our self-efficacy.

But why didn’t I go to the museum?

I mentioned above that people with high levels of self-efficacy have deep interests, form deep commitments, recover quickly from setbacks, and take satisfaction from completing tasks and overcoming challenges. People with low levels lose interest and give up easily, remain uninvolved, focus on their failings, and avoid challenges and tasks. So according to that definition, I have both high levels and low levels of self-efficacy: I make deep commitments, have deep interests, and overcome challenges, but also give up easily, and avoid tasks.

My own experience tells me that we can have different levels of self-efficacy in different areas, or for different types of tasks. It seems that I have higher self-efficacy in doing more involved things, and low self-efficacy when it comes to smaller tasks. We could categorize tasks in many ways: big, small, medium, long-term, short-term, involved, straightforward, complex, simple, and so on. And I believe if we plotted our levels of self-efficacy on a graph, with self-efficacy on the vertical axis and categories of tasks on the horizontal axis, and connected the dots, most people would have a mountain range. It would be really high in some areas, really low in others, and everything in between. But just as seeing ourselves succeed makes further success more likely, looking at our high levels in one area makes it easier to increase those levels in another. Remembering that I can do big things makes it easier to do small things. And if it’s the other way for you – small tasks are easier but you avoid big things – remember that big things are just a lot of small things piled on top of each other.

So how do we increase our levels of self-efficacy?

The first step is to know yourself. What types of tasks give you difficulty? No one finds everything difficult, but everyone probably struggles with something. Examine your life. Think small for now. Imagine yourself going through a normal day. What do you put off for later? What do you get done right away? Here’s an example from my own life. A typical Ian day:

The alarm goes off at 7:00 AM, and I hit the snooze button and get up at 7:10, or sometimes I hit it again and get up at 7:20. If I get up at 7:20 I have to skip breakfast and pick something up at the cafeteria on my way to my office at the college. This late riser’s breakfast is usually a giant muffin and 2% milk. The muffin is delicious but too sweet and it usually gives me the jitters, and by lunchtime I don’t feel like eating. It’s safe to say two snoozes is too many.

I head to the shower where I use a giant bottle of shampoo I bought from the dollar store. I didn’t know there’s a difference between shampoos, because I am a man. Now I know there is a difference. The one I use seems to be made of barely more than water, and I guess my hair feels a bit cleaner after using it. I should replace it.

I only shave on days my beard feels itchy, even though I don’t look good after two or three days.

I get dressed and if there’s time, eat breakfast. If I can get up at 7:00, I have time for eggs and toast. But I don’t usually. So it’s just toast. Not bad, but the protein from the eggs makes me feel virile and supercharged, and I miss it when I don’t have it.

I drive to work in my car with the burnt out signal light and overused oil and park far from the office because I enjoy the walk. I get to my office and sign on to work email, which is usually empty, and personal email, which is usually full. I keep my phone on my desk and respond to texts and emails as they arrive. I have intermittent periods of focus throughout the day. I wonder if I have Attention Deficit Disorder, or if I’m just a modern human. The project I’m working on at work is very interesting, and I have innovative and exciting ideas about it, but only manage to focus on it in short spurts. When a thought comes to mind, I act on it – no matter how unimportant or unrelated it is. The internet on my computer is very fast, and I can find answers to my stupid questions very quickly. Is Channing Tatum in both G.I. Joe movies? BAM! Imdb. I wonder how some people rack up so many frequent flyer miles. BAM! Travel blogs everywhere. Did Stephanie Meyer think of the idea for The Host before or after Twilight? BAM! Um…I don’t know where I’d find that one. I’ve never actually wondered that, but you get the idea. Each of these detours lead to more and sometimes I’ll go for a while before realizing I’m off-track. Then I’ll get back on track, get on a roll, and make major progress on my project. And then it happens again. Whenever possible I do my work off of the computer to avoid this problem.

I come home for lunch because I enjoy seeing my family, and the food there is freer and healthier than what I’d get at work.

After work I make a list of things I want to get done that evening. An old note in front of me now has two tasks related to the business I’m starting, and one administrative task. I did the two business related ones, and still haven’t done the other.

I spend time with my family. Now that the weather is nice, we try to do something outside and avoid watching tv or movies. We’ve gone on picnics, walks, played at the park, threw the ball for the dog, and other things. My family is the most important part of my life, and I make it a priority to spend time with them, even when I have other things to do.

We read before bed because we both enjoy it. We do it even when we get too bed late.

My Self-Efficacy Strengths and Weaknesses


I’ll start here because the weaknesses are more obvious.

  • I’m good at working on big things and things that have long-term impact. This includes the project at work.
  • When I set priorities, I stick with them. Time with my family is non-negotiable. I think reading is one of the better ways to use time, so I make sure to do it regularly. I’m conscious of my health. That doesn’t mean I always make the right choice, but choosing to eat at home is a good choice that I make regularly.


  • I’m bad at small things.
  • I snooze.
  • I use gross shampoo.
  • I sacrifice a good breakfast.
  • I shave as little as possible.
  • I ignore problems with the car because I can’t be bothered to take the time to do the minor repairs.
  • I get easily distracted at work.
  • I only do items on my list that will bring long-term benefits.
  • And so on.

It’s a bit humbling to look at how much I suck. But it’s a good start to figuring out how to suck less.

I encourage you to do the same exercise. Think about your day, and print off this page and fill in these blanks (or write your answers on another piece of paper at least – but actually do it, fellow Manly Doer of Things).



List 5 things you got done today.







List 5 things you should have done today, but didn’t do.






The weaknesses should be easier to spot. But focus on your strengths. When you understand your strengths – the areas where your self-efficacy is high – you can understand how to improve your weaknesses. Let’s look at me again.

I’m good at doing long-term or complex things, and avoid doing smaller and simpler things. It’s much easier to buy a bottle of shampoo than it is to build a business. It might be easy to say I’m more excited about building a business than I am about getting shampoo. And that might be true. But when I do finally get around to replacing the shampoo, I’ll feel very satisfied and look forward to using it. Completing any task always brings some level of satisfaction. Often the satisfaction level is the same from completing small tasks as it is from completing big ones. But I avoid the smaller tasks.

When I look closely, I see how little this makes sense. Any long-term, big, complex, complicated, multi-faceted, in-depth task is just a bunch of small tasks in a row. And there are no exceptions. Completing each of these small tasks is no more satisfying than buying a new bottle of shampoo. Even just keeping that in mind helps make any type of small task more manageable.

Or we could look at it the other way around.

If I’m motivated by long-term benefits, it helps to realize that each small task has a long term benefit. And again, there are no exceptions. They may not be earth-changing benefits, but they are benefits. Fixing my car will save me money on more serious repairs later. New shampoo will keep my hair healthier, because there’s no way the slime I use now does it any good. Getting up one snooze earlier means better breakfast and better health.

But maybe your self-assessment had the opposite results.

Maybe you’re good at getting every item on your list done, but you have big dreams, goals, plans, or tasks that you don’t bother with.

I think you already know what to do. But to illustrate, here’s a story. Anne Lamott relates the story behind the title of her guide to writing, Bird by Bird:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen  table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper  and pencils and unopened books on birds,  immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

Remember, big tasks are just a bunch of little tasks piled on top of each other. Use what you know about getting small things done. Start small, and take it task by task.

Understanding is a giant step to overcoming. Thinking like Bad-Ass Bandura (as his friends probably called him) — consciously tending to your self-efficacy and realizing it is a driving force behind your actions or inactions — will open up your whole life and jump-start your progress as a man. Few things are manlier or more satisfying than doing exactly what you set out to do.


Ian Walker is a normal guy with a good life who wants to enjoy it even more. He writes on his site, “Doing Things” ( a place for people who want to do things but haven’t done them, or who have done things and learned what it takes to do them. Stop by and say hello.


In today’s episode I talk to Creek Stewart, owner of Willow Haven Outdoor, and author of Building the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit. His most recent book is The Unofficial Hunger Games Survival Guide. Creek and I discuss his new book and things you can do now to prepare for an emergency.

Highlights from the Show:

  • How Creek became a survival trainer (short answer: lots of hustle)
  • Common barriers that keep people from preparing for a disaster
  • What does “Bugging Out” mean?
  • The most important survival skills a person needs to have
  • Creek’s prediction on whether society is headed towards a Hunger Games scenario (Just for fun)

Listen to the podcast!

Other ways to listen to the Art of Manliness podcast:

Listen to this episode on a separate page

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Special thanks to Keelan O’Hara for editing the podcast! Much better than my GarageBand job.

Unofficial Hunger Games Survival Guide Giveaway

willowhaven.jpgCreek’s latest book, The Unofficial Hunger Games Survival Guide, is a primitive skills manual themed after the popular book series The Hunger Games. It’s a great read packed with practical lifesaving primitive survival skills in the areas of shelter, water, fire, food, and rescue. Great for getting kids interested in survival skills, but can be enjoyed by readers of all ages! If you’d like to get your hands on a copy as part of a prize package Creek put together that includes a 5-in-1 survival aid, leave a comment about the podcast below. Two packages are up for grabs!

Deadline to enter is Friday, July 19, 2013 at 5PM CDT. We’ll then draw two random comments to select the winners. Post will be updated with the winners names within 72 hours of the close of the giveaway

How to Pick the Perfect Pair of Sunglasses [VIDEO]

Gary Black from Black Optical in Tulsa, OK shows us how to pick the perfect pair of sunglasses. Enjoy.


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from John Romaniello.

I want to tell you about a book that will change your life. The book isn’t new. In fact, it was published back in 1949 without much fanfare. And yet, since the time of its publication, it has made an impact that can be seen in the movies we watch, the books we read, and even the life we live.

This book has influenced thousands of writers and filmmakers in their work — but it isn’t about films or writing. This particular book has also influenced countless individuals in their own lives, helping shape them into better people, but it isn’t a self-help book. It is a book about stories, and storytelling — the stories that drive our societies, and the way we tell them. And because of the commonalities of those stories, it is very much a book about us, and the way we view the world.

More importantly, it’s about how we can become better men. The book is about self-actualization at its core and has a replicable approach that applies to every man.

The Hero with A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell, is ostensibly about myths and mythology. But the lessons in this book can help us identify and navigate the paths we take to better ourselves and the changes in our lives, in order to become better at change, and better people in general.

Campbell, a professor at Sara Lawrence College, studied lore from every conceivable culture; he looked at everything from the ancient religions of antiquity to the mythology of more modern religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Campbell’s research led him to focus on comparative mythology; specifically, he looked at what myths from different cultures had in common, rather than what they didn’t. Everywhere Campbell searched, he found it: a single story-telling arc, the ubiquitous story that every culture from Mesopotamia to our modern Western Society uses to pass along information, tradition, and worldly perception. Collectively, Campbell put this information into his seminal and most influential work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Borrowing a term of James Joyce, Campbell called this universal pattern the monomyth. You might know it as the Hero’s Journey.

It is a single myth, told in a thousand different ways; a single hero, with a thousand different faces. The monomyth is in every story you’ve ever heard, most of the movies you’ve ever seen — and it’s present in your own life, every day. And understanding it can make you a better man.

The Hero’s Journey and Why It’s Important

The monomyth begins with the main character, or Hero, in one place, and ends with him in another — both physically and emotionally. Campbell asserts that this Hero is the same regardless of the story, and that he appears in different forms. This is important because the hero can be the star quarterback or he can be the accountant in cubicle nine. The paths are different but the journey is the same.

Within each journey, the Hero will encounter other characters that play an essential role in growth. Campbell labeled these archetypes (the Herald, the Mentor, the Goddess, the Trickster, etc.), and they appear in the vast majority of stories. It’s easy to spot an archetype once you know what you’re looking for. So whether the hero is Harry Potter or King Arthur or Frodo, his path is always very similar. Whether the mentor is Dumbledore or Merlin or Gandalf, his role is always to guide the hero.

This structure appears everywhere, but is most easily recognized in movies and books. Luke Skywalker starts his journey by leaving his home on Tatooine, having grand adventures, and fulfilling his potential as a Jedi. The events might be different, but the journey is the same one King Arthur takes. And this is the same exact course that prominent figures in religious stories all follow. Campbell shows us just how accurate this concept is, and how it replays over and over again. And it’s happening right now in your life, too.

Not yet convinced? Okay, let’s break it down with some examples and let’s take a look at the steps of the Hero’s Journey. While Campbell’s model is 17 stages, for the sake of brevity, I prefer the more abbreviated version used by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey.


Vogler’s model of the Hero’s Journey.

Now, looking at that picture, as well as chart below, you’ll probably get a good idea of what each stage signifies based on the name; the examples will drive home that all of this is applicable to every story you have ever heard.


Stage of the Journey



The Ordinary World The Hero’s starting point Dorothy Gale living on her farm (The Wizard of Oz)
The Call to Adventure The Hero realizes that there is a larger world that he can be a part of Harry Potter gets a letter from Hogwarts (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
Refusal of the Call In a moment of doubt, the Hero decides not to undertake the quest Luke Skywalker tells Obi-Wan Kenobi that he can’t go to Alderaan (Star Wars)
Meeting with the Mentor Either the first encounter with the Mentor figure, or the moment when the Mentor encourages the Hero to take on the Quest Daniel LaRusso meets Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid)
Crossing the First Threshold The Hero moves from the Ordinary World to the Special World, and sees the difference between the two The Narrator walks into Tyler Durden’s house for the first time (Fight Club)
Tests, Allies, and Enemies The Hero begins to undertake tasks that will help him prepare for the road ahead; he also meets friends who will aid him, and foes who will try to stop him Frodo leaves Rivendell with the Fellowship of the Ring, and has to learn how to be on the road as he goes (The Lord of the Rings)
Approach Internal and external preparation; usually includes an imposing destination Neo and Trinity gather an arsenal before heading off to rescue Morpheus (The Matrix)
The Ordeal The central conflict in the story, the big boss fight, where the possibility of death is imminent Dorothy and her friends battle the Wicked Witch in her castle (The Wizard of Oz)
Seizing the Sword/Reward Having slain the enemy, the Hero is free to take the treasure; sometimes this is an item of great value, like the Holy Grail, or a person, but very often it’s something more abstract, like the end to a war After the death of the dragon Smaug, Bilbo and the dwarves are free to help themselves to his treasure (The Hobbit)
Apotheosis and Resurrection Often, the Hero needs for all of his growth to come to a head and manifest itself all at once in a moment of enlightenment called apotheosis; this realization is the death blow to the old self and beliefs, and the embracing of the new; this is punctuated by a symbolic (sometimes literal) death and resurrection The Narrator realizes that in order for him to stop Tyler Durden, he must kill himself — by making peace with his own death he accepts mortality, and is, for a moment, truly at peace; he shoots himself and lives, though Tyler is dead (Fight Club)
The Road Back The Special World, with all of its lessons and adventures, may have become more comfortable than the Ordinary World, and for some Heroes, returning can be harder than the initial departure. After the One Ring is destroyed, Frodo has a hard time adapting to life as a normal Hobbit in the Shire (Return of the King)
Return with the Elixir and the Master of Two Worlds The Hero returns home changed, and uses the gifts he received and lessons he learned on the journey to better others; at the same time, the Hero must come to terms with all of the personal changes he’s undergone; he must reconcile who he was with who he has become Luke, now a Jedi, restores balance to the Force, helping bring peace to the galaxy; concurrently, he is able to resolve his relationship with his father and move on (Return of the Jedi)

But Campbell’s thesis is not simply that nearly every culture in history has found an identical and effective way to tell stories; it’s that the commonalities in storytelling exist because they are a fundamental part of the human experience. The monomyth isn’t only the structure of how we tell the undertakings of heroes and characters in stories, it’s also how we relate those stories to ourselves, and, in a very real way, how we understand the things that are happening to us.

I would take it a step further.

I believe that while the monomyth is exceptional for storytelling, and therefore exceptional for exploring cultural ideas, it can have just as great an impact when applied to an individual — when applied to you. Put somewhat more directly, the Hero’s Journey is the perfect lens through which to view any change in your life — whatever new journey you’re taking, you will go through all of the phases of the monomyth as you grow, adapt, and ultimately fulfill your goal.

Of course, I’m not the only one who suggests this. For years, the Campbellian model has been used by people in various fields to help people advance; for example, some therapists use it with their patients to help structure psychoanalysis. Similarly, it’s used to help people deal with the grieving process — after all, the 5 stages are grief each have their mirror in the monomyth. Still others use it for mindset or success coaching — helping people understand where they are in the journey not only provides a sense of comfort and control, but also a clear path, making it easier, conceptually, to get to the next phase.

Because all changes in your life can fit into this structure, whether you realize it or not, at any given time you’re going through at least one such journey — and mastering the ideology of the monomyth will make you more successful. Because not only is the Hero’s Journey a lens for viewing change, but it’s also an excellent operating thesis for propelling change forward.

Practical Application – the Journey of a Gym Rat

My exposure to Joseph Campbell and to the gym came at roughly the same period of time in my life. I was a sophomore in college and in need of massive changes to my mind and body. I was 25 pounds overweight, clinically depressed, and generally just unhappy. An inauspicious beginning to my tale, but true nonetheless. That year, I was assigned to read The Hero with a Thousand Faces in a class on Utopian/Dystopian literature. Within the first 30 pages, I was hooked.

At that point, I certainly didn’t think I’d found a problem-solving methodology, but being a guy who was heavily into medieval fantasy and mythology, Campbell spoke to me as a storyteller. Reading Hero was immediately beneficial: it made all the books I was already reading even more accessible, and enjoyable. (And believe me, at 19, it was hard to imagine anything that could make re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the eighth time even more enjoyable — Hero did.)

Around this same time, I entered a gym, underwent a massive physical transformation, and changed my life in a number of ways. Not only did I build an impressive physique that opened a number of professional doors from fitness modeling and personal training to writing, but I also learned a variety of lessons that have carried over to every aspect of my life, and became successful in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

It might seem a little silly to think that getting fit helped me do better in school and have better relationships, and sillier still that it eventually allowed me to start my own business, live life on my terms, and even write a book. But it’s all true.

Perhaps more importantly, my transformation, and the lead up to it, was a step-by-step retracing of the Hero’s Journey. As I said, all changes can fit into this model. Let’s take a look at mine.

The Ordinary World – I was fat and depressed, but didn’t know much else. Like Harry Potter under the stairs or Frodo in the Shire, my Ordinary World was my everyday life.

The Call to Adventure – In my case, it was an actual phone call. At this point in my life, I was working in a retail store (Gap, of all places), and a woman called asking me to have 30 white polo shirts ready for her when she walked in. Long story short, it turned out her husband was opening a gym about 5 minutes from my house. At the moment, I wanted to make a change. Now, “I need 30 white polo shirts,” isn’t quite as dramatic as “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope,” but it got the job done.

Refusal of the Call – Change is hard. Sometimes the Hero is more afraid of change than they are of continuing to be unhappy in their situation, or body. The majority of the people who want to embark on a fitness journey (or any journey, for that matter) never get past this point; they think it will be too hard, or that they can’t change. Or, they start and simply give up. In my case, although I was interested in changing, I was nervous, and it took a few days before I mustered up the resolve to go check out the gym.

Meeting with the Mentor – Heroes can’t do everything on their own; we all need mentors. When I finally walked into the gym, I met the owner, Alvin. He had an encouraging manner and an inspiring physique. I took to him immediately, and let him guide me. When it comes to changing your body, that mentor doesn’t necessarily need to be a person with whom you have direct contact; the role of the mentor can also be filled by a book or even website. The author will help you without ever meeting you.

Cross the First Threshold – Threshold crossings happen throughout journeys, and the first is always the most impactful. It’s what separates the Ordinary World from the Special World. When I first joined the gym and started reading about fitness, it was like Dorothy stepping into Oz; there was so much to take in it was intimidating.

Tests, Allies, Enemies – As I began on my transformative journey, I quickly realized that there were people who wanted to help, and people who didn’t. Some people will support your fitness goals and avoid tempting you; others will call your goals silly and vain. Every time I went to a party or dinner, I had to deal with the invariable, “Just have a bite,” or, “Just one drink.” These things are tempting, but to make my transformation a reality, I had to pass these tests.

Approach – As I prepared for the final showdown — the real meat of the transformation — I had to arm myself to go through it. There were a lot of small events during this time — cleaning out your fridge and throwing all the junk away, restocking with healthy food, mastering proper exercise form, and learning about nutrition.

Central Ordeal – The Ordeal is about the act of change, and the necessity for it. As it applied to changing my body, this was the actual transformation program — that 16-week period where I focused ardently and made it my goal to bend my body to my will. Metaphorically, the Ordeal is about the war between the light and dark halves of your psyche, and your attempt to balance them.

Apotheosis/Resurrection – Anyone who has gone through a major transformation understands that the results of the Ordeal are pretty intense. In almost all cases, you achieve a sense of heightened awareness — not necessarily supreme enlightenment, but, at the very least, an unveiling of a world or experience previously hidden from your eyes. In my case, this was the realization that being fit was possible for me, and that all of the benefits of being in this “club” were mine. As a storytelling device, apotheosis is about becoming godlike, at least for a moment; in most cases, this only occurs when the character sets aside all resistance and fully gives in to the experience. In that moment, you will not be a god, but you will be like a phoenix — your new, better self rising from the ashes of the old one you’ve left behind.

Seizing the Sword/Reward – This is what you get after the battle — something for you. It’s when the heroes gather together and say, “Wow, look what we’ve done.” It may be a celebration, or a love scene. For me, it was an increase in self-esteem and health that accompanied my new body. Much more than that was the belief in myself that I could manifest change; I’d done this thing which I previously thought impossible, which instilled in me an unshakeable belief that I could do just about anything.

The Road Back – After the battle itself is over, the Hero must return home. This is sometimes more difficult than leaving in the first place. The Road Back is emotionally trying, because you fear that you’ll lose what you gained on the quest. In my case, I had some trepidation that once I was no longer in the throes of focusing on a transformation, I’d revert back to my former self.

Return with the Elixir – In the best of cases, Rewards are not just for the Hero, but also for everyone around him. Frodo destroying the One Ring brought peace to Middle-Earth; Harry Potter destroying Voldemort did the same for the wizarding world. Well, my transformation sadly didn’t end any wars or save the world, but it did help a lot of people. The act of changing helped me become a better version of myself; many of my better qualities were amplified. I was happier, and made other people happier; I was also more helpful, more dedicated, and (strangely) more punctual. My transformation also inspired others to take journeys of their own. More than anything, the knowledge that I’d gained over the years — starting with when I made my own transformation — allowed me to become a coach and author, helping first hundreds, and eventually thousands of people change their lives.

Master of Two Worlds – The last stage of the journey is when the Hero becomes the Master of Two Worlds — he is able to unite the light and dark within him. Metaphorically, this stage is about balance — about reconciling who you were with who you have become, and allowing yourself to accept both. For me, it was about mastering life in my new body — understanding all of the benefits it provided without going overboard in any direction. This was a continuation of the Road Back, and was about slowly moving away from the more extreme stuff and finding a way to live life and do things that normal people do, like go to dinners and have the occasional beer.

I should mention that at the time I made my fitness transformation, I didn’t realize that I had been on what could be called a Hero’s Journey — my familiarity with Campbell was fresh, and I wasn’t able to see the parallels quite as clearly. It wasn’t until I began my business (Hero’s) Journey that I understood that Campbell could be applied to anything. From that point on, I began to incorporate some aspects of the monomythic structure into my client’s programs and my lessons with them; I found that teaching Campbell helps teach fitness information, or at least drive the point home. And it was from this general understanding that I wrote my book, Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha. And I used that platform — a book that become a New York Times bestseller — to show how to use the Hero’s Journey to get in the best shape of your life.

Outside the Gym: Other Examples, and How Campbell Affects You

Of course, a fitness journey is just a single example of how the monomyth can be applied to your life. Once you know the general structure, it’s not difficult to plot journeys in all aspects of life — everything from your decision to enroll in college to your romantic relationships.

It has exceptional validity with regard to love, actually — just look at the standard plot outline of a romantic comedy: boy meets girls, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, could just as easily be boy hears the call to adventure, boy refuses call to adventure, boy goes on adventure anyway. In either case, through the assistance of a mentor (could be a wise-cracking friend or parent figure), the Hero will go on a journey of introspection and come out on the other side worthy of the girl.

A more detailed example might be that you get married, and settle into married life (Ordinary World). Your wife gets pregnant (Call to Adventure). You freak out at first (Refusal), but are obviously thrilled. Over the course of the pregnancy, appointments with your doctors (Meeting with the Mentor) help you and your wife (Allies) prepare (Approach) for the birth of the child (Threshold Crossing). Being a parent is now your main responsibility (Ordeal) and at the end of the quest there is your child — your legacy — who will carry on in the world after you’re gone (Return with Elixir).

Want a professional example? How’s this: you lose your job (Call to Adventure), and although you feel its loss and want it back (Refusal of the Call), you eventually decide that you want to move on to a new career. This can go in any number of ways, let’s assume you seek the help of a business coach (Meeting with the Mentor). Eventually, you decide to start your own business, or start a blog — something you’ve never done before (Crossing the First Threshold). There are a lot of challenges along the way, as well as successes and failures (Tests, Allies, Enemies). Follow this path to its ultimate conclusion and you wind up creating something — income, a book, a product — (Reward) that betters you (Apotheosis) and allows you to better the world (Return with the Elixir).

Closing the Circle

While the strength of the monomyth is certainly due to its universal applicability, perhaps the greatest benefit comes after it’s been applied. As I alluded to above, the act of change itself changes you.

This principle is what allowed me to take the next step in my own journey and write Engineering the Alpha as a way to make the journey relevant to all men and help them see the path that could guide them to their biggest goals — whether physical, emotional, or social. The result has been a testing ground where thousands of men have been able to transform their lives in ways they never thought possible.

And it’s all because of Campbell. Understanding the Hero’s Journey is comparable to the moment when Neo understands the Matrix. It allows you to comprehend what is happening and why, and exactly how you should respond and react to make the best decisions possible. Life slows down, and when that happens you can speed up and make better choices that ultimately lead to change.

By going through a massive change, you will come to a greater understanding of yourself, and what you’re capable of. Success is a learned habit, and success begets success — the more positive changes you go through, the less resistant to change and growth you will be.

All that’s left is one simple question: Are you ready to become the hero? If so, it’s time to recognize your ordinary world, begin the journey, and ultimately become a better man and the best version of you.

Where are you in the Hero’s Journey? Let us know in the comments!


John Romaniello is an angel investor, coach and nerd living in NYC. When he’s not rambling about the influence of the monomyth on comic books or the cultural importance of Star Wars, he spends time helping people change their lives and bodies. His new book, Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha: A Real World Guide to an Unreal Life (HarperCollins), debuted on the New York Times bestseller list, with a follow-up in the works.




I can’t remember how I first heard about Krav Maga, but I do remember being immediately intrigued. All martial arts have an appeal to most men and their fighting spirit, but Krav Maga’s draw owes less to the mystique of many of the traditional disciplines and more to a distinct aura of bad-assitude. It’s a simple and effective “street fighting” self-defense system that’s more martial than art. A well-trained practitioner of Krav Maga is basically a walking human weapon.

Wanting to learn more about Krav Maga, I first looked for a reputable gym that taught the system in my area, but I unfortunately came up short. So I got a set of Mastering Krav Maga DVDs for Christmas last year to familiarize myself with some of its basic principles. Wanting to know still more, I then called up David Kahn, the badass dude who made the videos and the Chief Instructor of the U.S. Israeli Krav Maga Association, to get his insights firsthand.

What I discovered is that Krav Maga is a brutally effective tactical mixed martial art/combative and self-defense system that lives up to its reputation. If you too have ever wondered what Krav Maga is all about, here’s your primer.

The History of Krav Maga


Imi Lichtenfeld, founder of Krav Maga.

To fully appreciate Krav Maga, David says, you need to know its history.

The origins of Krav Maga can be traced to pre-World War II Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia) and a young Jewish athlete named Imi Lichtenfeld. Imi was a nationally and internationally renowned boxer, wrestler, and gymnast. Beginning in the mid-1930s, fascist and anti-Semitic groups rose to power in Czechoslovakia and began inflicting violence on Jewish communities. Feeling duty-bound to protect his neighbors, Lichtenfeld organized a group of young men to patrol his community and defend against would-be attackers. He quickly learned, however, that his training in sport martial arts was no match for the anti-Semitic thugs he encountered. Fighting for points in a match and fighting for your life in a street fight require a different mindset and different techniques. To effectively defend himself and his community, Imi began synthesizing his martial art knowledge and started placing an emphasis on attacks that quickly disabled and neutralized a threat.

By 1940, Imi found himself living under a Nazi-allied puppet regime and decided to head for Palestine to join the Zionist Movement and fight for a Jewish state of Israel. When he moved to Palestine in 1942, he joined the Haganah, a pre-Israel Jewish paramilitary organization with a mission to protect Jewish settlers from locals who did not welcome the new arrivals. Israeli military leaders quickly noticed Imi’s fighting skills and his ability to teach those skills to others. They put him in charge of training the military’s elite fighting forces, including the Palmach (elite strike force), the Palyam (marine commandos), and the Haganah.


After Israel gained statehood in 1948, these separate fighting forces were merged into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and Lichtenfeld was named the Chief Instructor of Physical Fitness at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. It was in this role that he developed what today is known as Krav Maga. Lichtenfeld needed a combative system he could teach new military recruits in just three weeks — one that was simple, efficient, and effective, and could be applied in a number of lethal situations. To create such a system, Lichtenfeld combined the most effective techniques of boxing, aikido, judo, wrestling, and jujitsu into a single, fluid, fighting military discipline that emphasized continuous motion, simultaneous defense and attack, and attacks to an assailant’s soft tissue and pressure points. He called his self-defense system “Krav Maga,” meaning “contact combat” in Hebrew. It quickly became the official combative of the IDF and continues to be today.


After retiring from the IDF, Lichtenfeld began teaching Krav Maga to Israeli citizens.

Imi taught Krav Maga for nearly 20 years in the IDF. After retiring from military service in 1964, he began devoting his time and energy to modifying and teaching the self-defense system to civilians. Imi opened two Krav Maga studios in Israel where he taught thousands of students and instructors, all while continuing to add and improve upon the fighting discipline he had developed in the military. In 1974, Imi founded the Krav Maga Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and teaching Krav Maga in Israel and throughout the world.


Krav Maga is still the official combative system of the Israeli Defense Forces.

A few of Imi’s early disciples brought Krav Maga to the United States, and it quickly became a preferred close-combat system in many U.S. military and police forces. Several commercial Krav Maga organizations have formed over the years to teach and promote Krav Maga in the U.S., each with a counterpart in Israel. Each of these organizations claim to be the “true” heir and guardian of Imi Lichtenfeld’s original Israeli Krav Maga, and go out of their way to show their connection to Krav’s founder.

The Principles of Krav Maga


As mentioned above, Krav Maga is a tactical mixed-martial art/combative and self-defense system that combines boxing, judo, jujitsu, and aikido. In recent years, other martial arts have been incorporated into Krav Maga such as muay Thai and Wing Chun.

Neutralize the threat. The primary goal in Krav Maga is to neutralize your threat as quickly as possible. This overarching goal governs all the other principles of Krav Maga. Because your aim is to dominate and incapacitate your attacker as soon as possible, pretty much anything goes in Krav Maga. You can’t worry about fighting etiquette when your life is on the line. You do whatever you have to do to preserve your life.

Keep it simple. There aren’t katas or patterns in Krav Maga. Just strikes, holds, and blocks. Krav Maga was designed so that it could be put to use as soon as possible.

Simultaneous defense and attack. Many martial arts treat defensive and offensive moves as separate and discrete actions, e.g., first you block (defensive), then you kick when you find an opening (offensive). The downside of this approach is that it’s reactive and you typically just end up in a cycle of never-ending defensive movements. In Krav Maga, the fighter looks to combine an offensive movement with every defensive movement — he wants to disrupt the attack and simultaneously counterattack. For example, if an attacker goes for your throat, you’d not only try to deflect his attack, but also simultaneously counterattack by going for his eyes, groin, or throat. The goal is to neutralize your threat as quickly as possible. (Sidenote: Wing Chun also has a similar simultaneous defensive/offensive principle.)

Retzev, or continuous motion. Related to the principles of simultaneous defense and attack is retzev, a Hebrew word for “continuous motion.” David Kahn describes retzev as a “seamless explosion of violence,” in which the goal is to neutralize your attacker with a continuous series of aggressive defensive and offensive movements. As your attacker reacts to your counterattacks, you’ll respond with more punches, kicks, and headbutts until the attacker is no longer a threat. Retzev requires a fighter to work from instinct and not rely on a pre-set routine. A well-trained practitioner of Krav Maga will know how to react to any type of threat without hesitation.


Use of weapons of opportunity. You can easily incorporate firearms and knives into Krav Maga. Besides these traditional weapons, Krav Maga also teaches practitioners to improvise and use any object at their disposal as a weapon. Keys, pens, belts, and chairs can all be incorporated into Krav Maga techniques in order to neutralize your opponent as quickly as possible.

Weapon defense. Besides teaching students how to use weapons, Krav Maga also shows how to defend yourself from an armed attack.

Focus on vulnerable soft tissue and pressure points. A well-known principle of Krav Maga is its emphasis on attacking vulnerable soft tissue and pressure points. Many counterattacks involve eye gouging, groin attacks, and strikes to the throat. Some criticize Krav Maga for this, arguing that “it’s not manly to punch a guy in the nuts.” I brought this criticism up with David during our conversation and this was his response: “Krav Maga’s goal is to neutralize a dangerous attacker as quickly as possible. Plain and simple. Sometimes a strike to the groin is the best option to neutralize an attack. When you’re violently attacked in the street, the person attacking you isn’t following some sportsman’s code of chivalry — he wants to hurt, maim, or possibly kill you — so why should you give him the courtesy of not punching below the belt? You can’t worry about fighting etiquette or what’s ‘manly’ when your life is at stake.”

Subduing techniques. In addition to striking attacks, Krav Maga also utilizes subduing techniques in order to de-escalate a violent confrontation. Joint locks and various grabs are used to exert control over your attacker and put you in a position to end the threat.

Krav Maga in Action

How to Get Started in Krav Maga

Join a Krav Maga gym. The best way to get started with Krav Maga is to join a Krav Maga gym. “Krav Maga, like any martial art, is best learned in a group and under the guidance of a well-trained instructor,” says David. Because Krav Maga is designed to prepare you for real-life attacks, you need to have people who can help simulate those situations for you in a gym. It’s hard to practice how to defend and counterattack a headlock if no one is there to put you in a headlock.

David did have one caveat about joining a Krav Maga gym. Because of Krav’s growing popularity in the United States, there are a lot martial arts studios saying they teach Krav Maga in order to get new students, even though the instructors sometimes have little or no formal training in the system. “Do your research and make sure the instructors are legit,” David says. If the instructor has trained in Israel, that’s a good sign.

As mentioned above, there are several competing Krav Maga organizations that claim to be teaching the “true” Krav Maga of Imi Lichtenfeld. It’s a touchy subject among Krav Maga followers and there have been lawsuits between the groups. David is the Chief Instructor of the U.S. Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA), a non-profit formed in 1978 by Imi Lichtenfeld to govern and promote the teaching of Krav Maga. There are gyms across the country that associate with U.S. IKMA. David teaches at the gym in New Jersey. If you’re in the area, stop by and check it out. David is a super nice guy and you’ll learn a lot.

Buy videos and books. If you can’t find a reputable Krav Maga gym in your area, there are plenty of instructional books and DVDs on the subject. Watching a DVD is definitely no substitute for actually training in a gym, and you shouldn’t try out moves you’ve learned solely by video in a street fight, but the DVDs will give a basic overview of Krav Maga and its techniques. I highly recommend David’s set of DVDs, Mastering Krav Maga. They’re very well-done and David does a great job explaining and demonstrating the methods and movements.